New Media For New (And Old) Europe

Article published on March 22, 2004
community published
Article published on March 22, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Imagine a European media covering Brussels and Rome, Paris and Warsaw in equal measure. The Internet, and café babel, can be at the heart of this new medium.

"The output of truly European news right now remains incidental". This according to Alain Chanel, head of the journalism school at Strasbourg's Robert Schuman University. But imagine what a truly European media could be like: its culture and arts pages would cover the latest opera in Paris or Warsaw's trendiest galleries; it would be like Le Monde or El Pais but its beat wouldn't be France or Spain but Europe. It's a challenging proposition, but one that should be taken up.

European News Does Exist

Europe is not void of enterprising reporting. In France the local television network France 3 has a dedicated team covering Europe from Strasbourg. Le Monde beefed up its own desk with about six reporters. Cable news channel EuroNews beams out programs in seven languages and, although not profitable, in certain markets it regularly beats the heavy hitters like BBC World and CNN. Arte, the Franco-German channel, is itself a European network. Weekly shows like The European Forum (Le Forum des Européens) discuss issues and trends affecting Europe's 360 million residents. "These two channels," explains Marco Schütz, web editor of French weekly Le Courrier International, "demonstrate an apparent willingness to go beyond national considerations."

Ahead of general interest media, the financial press, I believe, were the first to understand how to cover Europe's financial (and cultural) integration. Today the Financial Times regularly fills its first two pages with Europe-related stories. "Unease over pace of reforms in new EU states," "'Less talk, more action' on EU competitiveness" were some sample headlines from recent issues. Although based in Brussels, Dow Jones' Wall Street Journal Europe coverage remains a distant second behind the FT. Its pages are filled with pick-ups from the Washington Post or the Dow Jones financial newswire. But recent features, one on the Parmalat debacle and another chronicling the tense relations between Rome's growing Chinese community and the city's municipality, were a refreshing insight in a publication whose coverage is overall distant and too Eurosceptic.

Old Habits and New Traditions

Despite this, according to Georges Gros, former journalist and current Secretary General of the International Union of the Francophone Press in Paris, "there is an information deficit" when it comes to Europe. He argues that new organizations remain national outlets. Their reporting therefore first looks at what impact Europe as an organization has on their own country. Gros claims that this encourages an aggressive tone that focuses on redundant topics like "Runaway French deficits" or angry farmers and dwindling subsidies. This is often chronicled at the expense of the formidable political and cultural development the European Union also represents.

Where to now?

The media could help to foster a European consciousness. To do that "it should abide by the old journalistic rule of proximity" argues Alain Chanel. When Arte's Forum des Européens devotes an entire show to the life of single people in Europe, it is chronicling a shared reality, highlighting both differences and similarities across different regions and cultures. That is a form of proximity.

Beyond compelling stories and sharp editorial lines, language is the unavoidable 100-pound gorilla of any Europe-wide media endeavour. What language or languages should a European media use? English? Or should it also include French, Spanish, German and Italian? Can it be all embracing and include all European languages? "If we talk about a European media, it has to be multilingual," points out Marco Schütz . According to him, networks like Arte and EuroNews created a European identity by being multilingual. "By using a single language you're limiting yourself to a specific audience," he says.

With language outlining the structure of a European media, the medium is key. The classical route, a daily newspaper, would be possible only if it were limited to a single or at most two languages. Any more would turn readers off. “Internet and television are the obvious routes,” according to Chanel. With unlimited space, the Internet could be everything to everyone, Greek, Spanish, Hungarian, and European. café babel with its five linguistic editions has understood that. In America Internet magazines like Slate, which combines written commentary and radio stream, offer an array of possibilities that could be used to chronicle Europe’s reality.

But the challenge for any Internet media is credibility. Today the Internet still lags recognition as a viable and trusted medium. Much like Europe the Internet is new. What it lacks in recognition will have to be made up with a commitment to the rules of journalism and a constant quest for unique ideas and stories.