Can European (blog-)journalism learn from the US?

It was a smooth 6 hour train journey mostly with the TGV and ICE. Coming late (here: one week before travelling!!) meant that I would not get the prefered seat at a table – actually no seat reservatation at all (remember: we are supposed to be in summer time). A good read was what I needed then and bought myself the FAZ, FT and DNA for the journey. The FT and its weekend magazine were excellent (as always). The one thing that kept me thinking most was the “Quick off the blog” article about one the US’s leading journalist-blogs, the Talking Points Memo.

TPM logoThe story behind its success is as simple as this. A freelance journalist started to put some of his unpublished articles on a blog. But more than that he started to try a follow-up to issues which he deems highly relevant for the US’s political life – but which were not taken up by the leading but careful mainstream newspapers. It all started off with the Florida recount and has lately led to the strong criticism and obvious abuse of powers by the US attorney-general (read European: minister for justice). Apparently his assistants were trying to get rid of illoyal federal attorneys all over the country. As long as this is perceived as an individual issue by the individual attorney and their local/state-wide public, no one would become suspicious. But only thanks to the adding up of several such cases over the whole country, the matter became one of significance.

What is interesting about this particular case is that it resembles some parallels to the lack of control of European multi-institutional affairs. Without any functioning or established network of pan-European investigative journalism similar cases would probably go unnoticed. And with investigative journalism I mean also to include the European blogosphere which is still far from play a significant role in making EU news (look for reasons at the Euroblogger study here). Now, you could argue that no such case of relevance as that in the US can happen in Europea because the “federal” powers are still weak. But imagine this. A more self-confident Commission president makes sure that a good “buddy” from the same “colours” occupies the oversight of DG Communication and its prerogatives in running the national Commission representations. No one would notice if they installed skilled party-friends at the posts of deputy heads of the Commission representations and friended press persons. With the right persons in place and a good coordination you could pretty much run the show on EU news.

A more constant concern is the scrutiny of Council voting behaviour of national governments, in particular in fields outside crucial “national” interest. Any voting against own party premises would never go unnoticed if conducted on Länder level inside Germany. On EU-level there is no outcry whatsoever when any creepy subsidies to “outermost regions” (i.e. booming Canary Islands) are granted, or the big agro-holdings increase their share on export subsidies. Maybe was a first turning point in which journalists teamed up with academics to have a better grip on agricultural spending. But so much more needs to be scrutinised when it comes to Council-led action in the EU. Another crucial institutional issues is parliamentary control of the IGC – and more recently its preparation (= Sherpa-IGC). A more truly pan-European media would possibly have wondered, and therefore compared, how the individual national parliaments are taking it with the interaction with the Sherpas (see my German comment from late June).

My believe is that traditional press (and even less so TV or radio) can hardly cover these issues by themselves. That is until the point when they would (be forced to?) form coalitions in order to follow EU issues and their national back-up more closely. Until then the pan-European interaction of freetime, part-time and “professional” journalists through blog-like forums is possibly the only way to establish closer scrutiny of coordinated and non-coordinated wrongdoings at European level. I would hope that at least the EP elections in 2009 could find the next step after farmsubsidy and the first kind of European campaigning – with a European press chasing the inconsistencies of the European political actors.

5 thoughts on “Can European (blog-)journalism learn from the US?

  1. Giacomo Dorigo

    I think you are perfectly right. I have also read your previous post about the study of Claudia Huber, and I express here what I think because it linked to the topic of this post too.

    First, we need a kind of “conscience of a politicized collectivity” as Ms.Huber stated, but as she also clearly stated there is this well known division among Eurosceptics and Europhiles, a division that I think at present cannot be solved.

    So I think at present it’s better to work among Europhiles and let Eurosceptics to organize by them selves.

    Second, how we can organize?
    I think it’s better to start with some kind of loose organization. This is my proposal:

    Let’s create an “aggregator” of Europhile blogs. I am not a English Lib-Dem (I am Italian…) but I want to use the English LibDem blog portal as an example of what I am talking about.

    If you go to their page and you look more or less at the middle of their sidebar there is a tool called “the LibDem blog box”. If you look to their blogs, you will see the same box in each blog.

    I think it would be useful to have something similar to their aggregator website and to their blog box. This can be the first kind of organization, a light and very informal one but anyway a starting point.

  2. Jan Seifert

    I agree with you that the point of creating a European blogosphere is not to bring everyone together, but to bring the like-minded closer. Assembling federalist or Europhile blogs is one way. Another one is party politics. Both should be done. I am sure that we can expect some of this kind for the elections in 2009.

  3. Giacomo Dorigo

    I also agree with you, party politics will be important, but I am not sure that the 2009 elections will be so different from previous ones. I am quite young and I remember few European elections, but they were all characterized by a total focus on domestic politics… at least here in Italy. I don’t know how it works in the other countries but here the European elections are just a test of people being satisfied or not with the national government. So I do not have too much hope that this situation will change in the near future, because I think the main problem is that we have not European newspapers or TV channels.

    So I think the only way is to start in the small trying to bring at least europhiles that are scattered throughout the blogosphere a little closer…

  4. Jack Thurston

    Jan, Thanks for an interesting post. One of the intentions of was been to sow the seeds for a pan-European demos about the future of European food, rural and agriculture policy. We felt there was a big gulf between the realities of where the money went in the CAP and the rhetoric of politicians and the farm lobby, who always talk about protecting small family farms (who actually get very little). There are some lessons:

    1. Be inclusive. has attracted a broad base of activists because it does not hold any policy positions collectively, it simply calls for more transparency. We have a ‘self-denying ordinance’ that the name should not be used for policy advocacy, although network members are of course free to use the data and analysis for advocacy in other roles. To fill the gap in policy debate we launched a few months ago a blog called, which looks to the future of the CAP.

    2. It’s best not to have a masterplan. was a natural evolution resulting from the curiosity of a small group of people who finally met and realise there could be advantages from working together. This stepwise approach will allow you to be flexible and take advantage of windows of opportunity, when the ‘unknown unknowns’ reveal themselves.

    3. You need to bring something to the table – more than an argument. A lot of political blogging is really vanity publishing of op-eds that would not make it past a newspaper editorial meeting. For blog-journalists to be effective they need to lead the news agend not follow it. This is hard but between however many hundreds or thousands of us, it should be possible for blog-journalists to make at least a handful of powerful interventions (almost a case of infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters)

    4. It can be useful to have an existing model to work from – the Environmental Working Group in the US had used farm subsidy data to explode the debate on the 2002 Farm Bill.

    For more on the genesis of, see an article I wrote recently here.

    I’d be very interested in discussing this further, I am still working with and have begun working with a new think tank called the European Council on Foreign Relations, that is set for launch this autumn. ECFR’s objective is to have Europe be more active in global affairs, pursuing our common interests and values and making more effective use of European power.

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