This article is part of our special report #Media4EU: Can innovation beat the crises facing the EU and media?.
European media organisations have responded to the sector’s crisis by focusing on domestic markets, while online platforms confirm their global vocation. But what if the key to success was more cooperation?
The Media4EU project was born from the assumption that the European media sector needs to innovate faster in order to overcome its crisis.
In a “Gattopardo”-esque tale, “everything will have to change” if the traditional media want to be able to keep providing quality content to wide audiences.
In this hyper-competitive market where social media platforms, tech giants and digital natives absorb the vast majority of online ad revenue, mainstream organisations aren’t informing their audiences properly about political developments in Europe.
The result? Fake news inundates social media feeds and populist movements ride the resulting wave.
When interviewed by euractiv.com, Edwy Plenel, co-founder of Mediapart, wondered if his organisation’s success was “simply due to the invention of a new kind of press based exclusively on the internet or is it also due to the crisis of the French democracy and of the independence, autonomy, and thoroughness of the traditional French media sector?”
Beneficial exchange partnerships
The reality is that to stay independent, news organisations will need to source more and more content from others, especially for their international and European sections. But instead of re-taking most of that material from agencies or freelancers, they could develop cross-border content-exchange partnerships for more pluralistic and in-depth coverage.
Similar projects have been launched and closed down throughout the years. Some are still ongoing and have produced a few success stories but their main pitfall remains the lack of a sustainable business model to support them.
European Commission-funded radio network Euranet Plus, for example, ensures 75 minutes of weekly European coverage across 16 states. Its existence was recently called into question but the network has been working successfully since 2007, bringing in almost 22 million listeners every day.
Editor-in-Chief Jean-Michel Bos explained its success to EURACTIV, saying that “we noticed that each member was very open to sharing content to other members but that syndication-in was poor.
“We decided to strengthen our investment in the human aspect of cooperation. […] we make a point of ensuring that Euranet Plus members meet regularly every year to build relationships across journalistic cultures, instead of focusing on a strictly contract-based type of cooperation. It is a long and laborious work, but I believe that it is actually more effective and sustainable.”
Media cooperation: about people
Although not part of the initial assumptions, issues related to media professional mindset and skills progressively took on a central role in the #Media4EU project.
Professor François Heinderyckx, dean of the faculty of letters, translation and communication at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, said “we should not fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about money and technology because we have to consider the human factor.
“What is overlooked here, I think, is working towards something which we could call an editorial project. This means finding a target audience, motivating them to access the content and finding ways for them to come back for more. That doesn’t rely on technology, it doesn’t rely necessarily on money either, it is based on imagination and clever innovation.”
The need to innovate the skills of journalists and media professionals soon became the leitmotiv of the #Media4EU series.
Der Tagesspiegel Publisher Sebastian Turner told EURACTIV that “The key point is that reporters need to step out of their bubble, whatever that may be. […] I think that business innovation in the media is easiest when it’s driven by technology-wise journalists. You have to connect these two worlds, technology and journalism, and bring along a new breed of people who master both. That is the real challenge.”
Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Il Sole 24 Ore Fabio Carducci also cited the lack of collaboration between commercial and editorial teams as a problem when it comes to innovation.
“The problem is that in Italy the managerial and the editorial parts of newspapers traditionally don’t interact much, because of the fear of contamination […] I think that’s wrong: the managerial part of an editorial group could help in understanding the reader’s real needs,” he warned.
“The two should cooperate more […] I think it would be useful if [they] could face each other in a clear setting, maybe with an institution providing education, long-life learning or skills improvement programmes,” Carducci added.
“I think that innovation is costly, and that no one in a situation like the one of the media industry wants to risk failure. I know a lot of publishers and editors who want to be much more innovative and risk-taking than they actually can be,” he said.
Castro also warned that “there are also many others who still hope to get back to a time where media was something I don’t think it will ever be again.”
Erasmus4Media: Bringing professionals closer together
So an ambitious challenge is set: developing innovative solutions to foster interpersonal skill-building across borders, age-groups as well as the commercial and editorial sides of media organisations. It is on this basis that the Erasmus4Media programme took shape, targeted to young professionals in the sector.
The idea of exchanging people is not new: the ERASMUS project is the most successful integration programme ever established by the EU.
Moreover, secondary programmes such as Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs and, most recently, movements to extend student mobility to secondary education, demonstrate the high demand for more exchanges across member states.
Marco Zatterin, vice director of La Stampa, said that “journalists should be a very forward-looking group of people, and most of them aren’t. We still think too much about our own affairs and not about global affairs.
“I absolutely support this [Erasmus4media] because I think there are not enough people with experience in the field, especially in the international field. My personal experience is that the moment you send them out, you tell them about Europe, they come back convinced that there is a chance for the EU.”
Experience abroad brings quality to news coverage
Even media organisations in the UK agree that there is a need for more information about Europe. Some go even as far as to say that if national journalists had known more about the EU, their coverage of Brexit would have been different.
According to The Economist’s John Peet there is “a big divide” between people that have spent time in Brussels and understand the functioning of the EU and the European Central Bank, and those who report on national politics.
He added that he finds it “striking how journalists who are involved in reporting on national issues often know very little about the European Union”.
Emma Tucker, Editorial Director at The Times, acknowledged the importance of her time as a Brussels correspondent. She revealed that she is “grateful for the six years I spent in Brussels”, explaining that “it’s never been more important for British journalists to understand what goes on there”.
“Having lived and breathed really detailed areas of the European project for six years has definitely helped me understand what’s at stake, the extent to which Britain is part of European Union and what the challenges ahead are,” she concluded.