EU Perspectives

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You’ve got to admire the Americans and their can-do attitude. Europeans simply pale in comparison. For years national media conglomerates from across Europe have been trying to establish a viable market for EU news. The greatest challenge to any media seeking to cover EU affairs and break even? Bursting out of the “Brussels Bubble” and engaging with a wider European audience.

No home grown European media outlet, until recently, has had the vision, verve or vivacity to write the broader picture. Most opted to cover the more mundane day to day workings of Brussels and floundered on the rocks of technical jargon. Politico, on the other hand, has seen the light and is ready to turn Brussels sexy.

Hallelujah! euperspectives of course, has been trying to do just that since it began publishing in December 2012 kicking off with “So you think the EU’s not sexy”. Unlike euperspectives which has no budget, Politco.eu has a budget rumoured to be in the eight figures. Politico’s publisher, Capitol News Company, has made it Politico’s mission to triple its size by 2019. To that effect it’s European launch this week had a budget to advertise on national radio programmes, pay for a 30 000 paper circulation in its first week of operations and recruit 95 staff. The new American kid on the block is clearly not coy about strutting into town with wads of cash and conforming to most European’s stereotype of a showy American flashing their bling-bling in front of cash strapped Europeans.

Happily for Politico’s Editor in Chief, John Harris, his expansion into Europe is timely. He arrived in town at a time when the traditional media, which Politico pretty much helped destroy, is on its knees. Many out of work journalists in Brussels have already upped-sticks and abandoned ship. Most have migrated in search of work. Many have ended up abandoning journalistic endeavour all together and have found employment elsewhere. Those that cling on have been wandering around the wilderness giving away their work free of charge. Copyright is a complicated concept in the brave new world of free on-line services.

No wonder Politico.eu resembles a knight in shining armour ready to rescue Brussels’s seasoned journalists from the drudgery of having to spend the rest of their careers on managing social media hash tags or flipping burgers. Quite honestly, who wouldn’t say yes to Harris and his promise of a job working as a journalist AND getting paid. Little wonder then that Politico has had a pretty easy ride in recruiting the cream of the crop, all of whom are ready to release their inner journalist and write newsworthy stories.

All of which rather begs the question – where exactly does all this lovely lolly come from and why is a Washington based media organisation interested in a hitherto non-profitable European market?

Whilst Politico may be happy to flash the cash it is coy about publishing its revenue income other than to say – it’s growing! By 25% a year in 2014. Capital News Company is a privately listed company and as such is conveniently not obliged to publish its annual reports. As a result many can only speculate on how Politico manages to grow when just about every other media outlet covering politics (as opposed to say fluffy kittens or the Kardashian butt) are losing money and clinging on for dear life?

The answer one suspects is through sponsored content, sponsored editorials, targeted advertising and organising glittering sponsored events. An extremely profitable business model but one which begs the question: is journalism morphing into an advertising agency? In this brave new world of on-line digital news the media is becoming worryingly dependant on one paymaster – big business. The slow creep of sponsored editorials and content is a clear sign the western world is slowly but surely sleep-walking into a corporate sponsored media that is going to shape and bend our views in the years to come? With media proprietors, editors and journalists increasingly dependant on a single source of income balanced, independent and quality journalism will soon become a thing of the past. No one bites the hands that feeds them. Those that do can go back to flipping burgers.

If this is Politico’s business strategy then Brussels has much to fear. With so many interests clamouring to be heard there is no doubt that those with the big bucks can and will control what news is going to be prioritised. Roll over smaller outfits sticking to their unprofitable principles to broadcast “independent and balanced” news. The old fuddy-duddy, traditional media with their out-dated notions of relying on paper sales, subscriptions, non-targeted advertising and classified adverts to pay for quality journalism is fading before our very eyes.

On the first day of launching in Brussels, Microsoft, in support of its American media compatriot, paid top ticket to have one of its CSR ladies write a piece on digital europe prominently featured on their front page. A further opening spectacular was an opinion piece by Richard Epstein, a right-wing American libertarian, who is “gunning” for Google in Brussels. Gone is the trusty old European Voice tagline “independent, authoritative and balanced coverage” and in comes “we use cookies to support features like login and sharing articles. Keep cookies enabled to enjoy the full site experience. By browsing our site with cookies enabled, you are agreeing to their use.” Cookies, naturally, suit both Google’s and Politico’s business practices and give the viewer the illusion they are reading the content for “free”. Google also just happened to be one of the Gold Sponsors for Politico’s opening “European Divides” event.

The European Competition Commissioner, Vestager, who has this week initiated anti-trust proceedings against Google is described as a “goblin” whilst the newly appointed American editor of Politico, Matthew Kaminski has already made one gaffe by dismissing her as an “an unelected Danish official” forgetting or just not knowing that she was grilled by the European Parliament before she took office. Google seems to be all over Politico like a bad rash at a critical time in their European operations all of which lead many to suspect that Politico.eu is just an advertising agency for Google and other big business interests masquerading as serious though funky journalism.

Good coverage of EU affairs is welcome. It is necessary. It can not come too soon. Be wary of this new brand of journalism. Putin favours state sponsored Kremlin-style news coverage. Washington is more in favour of giving big business the final say. Both approaches are a nail in the coffin of balanced news coverage. How to develop a truly balanced, quality and free from corporate interference media is one of the greatest challenges the free world faces today. Starting here in Brussels.

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