The Future of News – European Parliament

March 1, I spoke at a workshop on the future of news in the European Parliament organized by MEP Marietje Schaake (Dutch Democratic Party (D66),part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group).

A video of the event should be available here.

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The video should be well worth watching — lots of interesting and important discussion, of fake news, of filter bubbles, and of various policy issues including copyright.

I was particularly struck by the contrast between what I couldn’t help but feel was deep pessimism from Francois Le Hodey (CEO of the IPM publishing group which owns, amongst other things, the daily newspaper  La Libre Belgique) and Rob Wijnberg (co-founder and editor of DeCorrespondent), who had a more optimistic take.

Despite (rightly) highlighting that many European publishers have built significant digital audiences and are investing aggressively in digital initiatives, Le Hodey said several times “we have got five years”. He argued that it takes “between €50 million and €200 million” a year to fund and run a proper newsroom, and pointed out that print revenues are currently shrinking much faster than digital revenues are growing.

Wijnberg in a way was much more critical of existing journalism in terms of the quality and public value of much of it (arguing it often doesn’t actually help people understand the world, because it focuses on episodes and exceptions rather than longer-term developments and general trends). But he was also much more optimistic about developing a sustainable business around reader contributions and others sources — as deCorrespondent has done in the Netherlands, now with more than 50,000 paying subscribers. His optimism may in part be about expectations — unlike the figure Le Hodey offered (based on what newspapers have historically been able to invest), he said deCorrespondent operates on a budget around €3 million a year — not easy to generate (as other start-ups have found), but surely easier than €50+ million. His position has, I felt, a lot in common with that Melissa Bell outlined earlier this year in her lecture at Oxford.

I gave a short presentation based on some of our recent research, including our work on private sector legacy news media (this report, with Alessio Cornia and Annika Sehl), digital-born news media (this report with Tom Nicholls and Nabeelah Shabbir), and broader trends in media use, markets, and policy across Europe (this report with Alessio Cornia and Antonis Kalogeropoulos), as well as some of the work we have under way on the notion of filter bubbles (see a short piece Richard Fletcher and I wrote here).

My main points are summarized on the slide below.

future-of-news-eu

The other speakers were Francois Le Hodey (CEO, IPM Group), Rob Wijnberg (Founder, De Correspondent), Marco Pancini (Director Of EU Public Policy, Google), Anne Appelbaum (Columnist, Washington Post), Richard Allen (Vice President Public Policy EMEA, Facebook), and Krisztina Stump (Deputy Head of Unit, Converging Media, Content Unit, Directorate General, Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission).

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