The European media landscape
News outlets in Europe generally focus on the domestic market when reporting EU issues. This often revolves around the impact of decisions, proposals and debates on the country in question. The attention paid to European issues and the EU is particularly high when the country where the agency is headquartered is in the process of applying for EU membership. The correspondents report mainly from a national perspective and therefore mostly work independently of each other.
Correspondents in Brussels thus act as intermediaries between a European and a national public. In the joint European Newsroom, news agency journalists have the opportunity to collaborate across borders. This also involves the question of how EU coverage from and within Europe can be improved through cooperation.
Europe’s development from a vibrant news continent to provider of medial diversity
The relevance of and need for an enr becomes clear when one examines the European media landscape and the historical development of news agencies on the European continent: In the 20th century, Europe was considered the most vital continent within the global news ecosystem, with internationally operating news agencies. These included Reuters, AFP, dpa, EFE and ANSA, an extensive network of national news agencies and numerous high-class daily newspapers with international audiences and excellent reputations. Europe was the world’s leading news provider in the first half of the century and again after 1980.
Today, this view is outdated in several respects. Firstly, technology has created new ways of producing and distributing news, giving consumers alternative ways of accessing the news that interests them. Secondly, new influential players, such as Facebook, Google and ByteDance, have emerged in the fields of news agencies and news transmission, especially from the USA, the Middle East, Russia and China. Thirdly, social media, in particular, have accelerated the development to the point where everyone is no longer just a recipient of news, but also a distributor. The exclusive gatekeeping function once held by the media has lost its significance.
Agencies are competing with a much greater number of players today than in the 20th century. To survive in the current market, they should reflect on their strengths as news agencies. Important secrets of agency success are journalistic credibility and reliability: Audience trust is of crucial importance for every news agency. Media players only benefit from the services of an agency if they can publish its news without having to check the underlying sources for reliability. Objective, reliable and fact-based information has always been the defining quality characteristic.
News Agencies in the EU Institutions
The size of the so-called “Brussels press corps” has increased in line with the number of member states and the political influence of the European Union. In 1976, when the European Economic Community had nine member states, only 259 journalists were accredited to the European institutions. The number of journalists accredited by the European Commission peaked in 2018 at 1,031, and as of September 2020, 899 journalists were accredited by the European Commission for the year 2020.
There are several reasons why the number of correspondents has declined recently. Firstly, newsrooms across Europe – and most correspondents in Brussels are from that continent – have been reducing their staff since the mid-1990s, owing to economic crises and a decline in revenues. Moreover, maintaining an expensive office abroad can put quite a strain on financially weakened media organizations. Secondly, the number of foreign correspondents is declining as traditional media outlets are forced to focus on national coverage, thereby devoting less and less time to international news. Thirdly, numerous journalists from Central and Eastern Europe who came to Brussels to cover the EU accession of their own countries returned home after the country became a member.
As of September 2020, 189 of the 899 journalists in Brussels, or 21 percent of all media representatives on the ground, worked for news agencies. News agencies from six European countries (the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain) clearly dominate this segment, each having more than ten correspondents in Brussels.
In addition to the higher number of journalists in general, the number of media representatives from the Western European countries of the EU working for news agencies (100) is more than four times that of the Eastern European countries (21). It is clear from these figures that Western countries invest more heavily in news agency coverage of the European Union. Hiring reporters to follow what is happening in Brussels is also not a priority for many of the Eastern European countries. As a result, people in these nations have access to only a minimum of news sources and perspectives on EU affairs.
It is noticeable that journalists from small, new EU member states sometimes tend to rely on the official information they receive from their own diplomatic representatives. They have limited access to sources within the European institutions. These smaller member states sometimes do not have the financial resources to permit their correspondents to live and work in comparatively expensive cities like Brussels or Strasbourg. Therefore, they are forced to rely on freelance correspondents in Brussels or to do without reporters on site altogether.
The enr wants to counter these tendencies: Through the cooperation project of a newsroom with a joint technical infrastructure and a collective network, the journalistic power in Brussels and thus the diversity of European agency reporting will be strengthened. Smaller agencies, which otherwise cannot afford their own correspondents in Brussels, will have easier access to EU and European coverage. By permitting different perspectives on Europe to coexist, the enr can also help to improve the journalistic quality of reporting. This means the participating news agencies can all benefit from the mutual exchange.
Source: The text is based on the chapter on European news agencies from the preparatory feasibility study on the enr. cf. Jääskeläinen, A. (2020): European news agencies. In: dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (2020): A home for Europe’s agencies. Feasibility study on the establishment of a Joint Newsroom of European News Agencies in Brussels. Hamburg. You can download the German and English versions of the study here.