Why Europe needs a new kind of journalism
We share the same reality. Or do we?
Like the rest of us, I’ve been on corona lockdown for the past two weeks. I’m staying with my girlfriend’s family in Luxembourg. Twice a day, during lunch and dinner, I watch the French news on TV. I’ve heard most of Macron’s speeches, listened carefully to the epidemiologists’ recommendations, and memorized the death toll numbers.
Bathing in all this Frenchness, it would be easy to forget that Covid-19 is also an issue outside of France, like 15 km west of here, for instance, across the German border. Where are the images of overcrowded German hospitals, I wonder? Or the vox pops of Belgian kids sitting at home, bored to tears?
My thoughts are interrupted by a voice on the TV: “We, the French, have to stay united and fight this war together,” says Macron.
Voilà… the European media landscape in a nutshell.
At the height of this health pandemic, we are experiencing the same reality — an invisible virus that knows no borders. German lungs are not more immune to it than French ones. And, sadly for Donald Trump, there is no wall that can stop it.
So why is it so difficult to understand — let alone empathize — with what’s going on in countries that aren’t our own?
Europeans don’t exist. Or do they?
Four years ago, in 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. For me, it seemed to spell the end of Europe my generation grew up with — that of open borders and free movement.
But something else happened. Europe suddenly started making headlines. Politicians debated over the benefits of EU membership. And more tellingly, millions of Brits took to Google one day after the referendum to type the following search: “What is the EU?”
‘Borders’ and ‘control’ became the new buzzwords. Our continent was split into “globalists and patriots” by the likes of Marine Le Pen. Or, in the words of Theresa May: “you’re either a citizen of your country or a citizen of nowhere.”
In the midst of this polarization, we realized that nobody actually ever talked about what it means to be European. Surely, Europe had to be more than a common market or a set of bureaucratic rules? Yet, judging by the mainstream media, Europe was only talked about as Brussels, Brexit or breaking news.
This wasn’t the Europe we knew from our trips abroad — the continent we first saw from the backseat window of our parent’s cars, crossing invisible borders where there used to be checkpoints. It also wasn’t the Europe we learned about in history books — the Europe of freedom, of the fall of the Berlin wall, the Prague Spring, and the end of fascist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece. Nor did it resemble the Europe we knew from our conversations with friends and family — that of nightclubs in Berlin, hikes in Bergen, and art exhibits in Belgrade.
The first media collective for European stories and ideas.
What stories are waiting to be discovered beyond the five square kilometers of the neighborhood in Brussels where the European Commission and Parliament are situated? Where does the rest of Europe live and happen — the continent of Croatian beach culture and Finnish folklore?
Our journey with Are We Europe started as a tiny blog. It has now grown into an independent media collective of more than 450 journalists and creators. We publish award-winning, unexpected, underreported stories that are read by 15,000 monthly readers on our website. We show Europe for what it is — not just a boring bureaucracy, but a colorful patchwork of cultures and identities. Our quarterly print magazine, filled with beautiful photography, illustrations and in-depth journalism, is read and sold in bookstores all over the world.
We do what we do because now, more than ever, we need to talk about Europe as a place, and Europeans as a community. To face the challenges of the future, we need constructive critique and sensible solutions. And for that, we need a new kind of journalism that goes beyond borders and overcomes national echo-chambers. That’s why Are We Europe reports on the people, places and politics that we have in common.
The need to invent a new European journalism is urgent. Building a collaborative network of journalists across the continent isn’t just about providing quality journalism. It’s about building compassion, creativity and confidence by overcoming — not amplifying — our continent’s divides. That’s easier said than done. Here are some key challenges we’ve faced in the four years we’ve been at it, and some possible paths to explore:
- Funding: We’ve all heard the tale of the death of print and falling ad revenues. Journalism is in crisis. It still blows my mind: what other product can you think of that is produced and consumed on such a massive scale, yet which consumers are simply no longer willing to pay for? It’s a feeling most journalists and editors will share — that of hustling for scraps when you know you’re delivering real quality and value. Luckily, at Are We Europe, we’ve always remembered not to pin our entire measure of success on our financial performance.
Path ahead: We’ve experimented with a mixed revenue model, doing everything from sponsored content and micro-donations, to syndication, to live event coverage. Our aim for 2020 is to grow our base of loyal contributing members. Additionally, as a registered non-profit foundation, a part of our budget comes from subsidies (not, by the way, from the EU, as you might expect).
- Reaching a different crowd: Despite what some people may think at first glance, we’re not a flag-waving, federalist, pro-European platform. There’s a reason we’re called “Are We Europe”, and not “We Are Europe” — it’s a question, not a statement. We’re not a social movement. The challenge: how do you get other readers interested in European stories? The same goes for reaching non-white readers who might have less of a historic connection to the notion of Europe, or whose first language isn’t English. We’re not claiming to have figured out the magic formula. And the bittersweet irony is that niche audiences can strengthen your business model. If you’re trying to reach everyone, you’re likely to reach no one.
Path ahead: By focusing on personal, human and visually appealing stories, we manage to interest readers that usually do not follow European news. And by producing journalism from regions in southern and eastern Europe that deserve more attention — as well as ensuring a 50/50 gender balance in our community or writers, and our team of editors — we’re doing what we can to reach beyond the “usual suspects”.
- Borders: Since day one, we decided to publish stories from and about countries that are outside the European Union, because we believe Europe is a continent, an idea, that reaches further and wider than the borders of the political union.
Path ahead: The challenge as an editor has been to define where Europe starts and where it ends. Does a documentary from Moldova count as ‘European’ (spoiler alert: yes it does)? Then how about a photo-series from Norway, a non-EU member? Or, a tricky one — what about an American writer living in the German who wants to reflect on the differences between the two cultures?
Where do you think Europe begins and ends? Am I deluded in believing in a pan-European media space? And how European do you feel? Comment below, or send me your thoughts on Europe, the future of journalism or your favorite movies to watch while on Covid lockdown to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to continue the conversation.
Kyrill Hartog is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Are We Europe, a media-platform for European ideas. Speaking and writing in six different languages, he knows how to create impact through storytelling. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Welcome to the Jungle, and other publications.