November 2, 2011
In response to @SocialEUJ, because Twitter sometimes (usually) doesn’t give you the room one needs …
On November 8, MEPs will discuss ’10 concrete political proposals’ for creating the European public sphere via digital media, developed by IHECS (Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales) and their partners via Socialeuropeanjournalism.com.
The site looks good. At first glance, it also gives the impression that the ideas were developed bottom-up:
This exercise didn’t represent any political movement or union, and was basically a grassroots dialogue.
– Ten flagship proposals in support of citizen-centred European journalism will be discussed with MEPs
So much for bottom-up
A bit of digging turns up some anomalies, however. For a start, there are only 7 draft flagship proposals. Perhaps the other 3 will be published the day of the presentation to MEPs?
Anyway, most of the 7 ideas have been viewed under 30 times and have garnered a grand total of (count ’em) 10 comments: two received one each, with one getting 8.
Moreover, three ideas were submitted by one person (Esther Durin, who appears to be the site’s editor), while another three were submitted by someone called ‘Social European Journalism’, who’s ‘about’ link points to a 404 Not Found page. A site editor’s abandoned profile, presumably.
So much for a rich, bottom-up dialogue with citizens about developing a rich, bottom-up dialogue with citizens. This is unsurprising – many of IHECS partners’ are quintessential denizens of the Brussels Bubble.
And one of them is listed as Bloggingportal – when I asked the editors about this, they were as surprised as I was. Either they are taking our name in vain, or they can’t tell the difference between a list of partners and a blogroll. Ouch.
Is this what we need?
Interestingly, the one proposal not apparently submitted by the site’s editors was the one that received 80% of the (10) comments:
“… creating the first interactive meeting place of 4 groups of key stakeholders in European Affairs: EU journalists (correspondents), EU Institutions representatives, European NGO’s and National/local journalists. … these actors hardly ever manage to meet at the same place, which is unfortunate because when they do, they generate a rich and rare pluralistic debate on EU policies.”
– My proposal: an interactive platform to boost pluralistic debate in EU
As Ronny Patz tried pointing out in the comments, this is probably another example of a platform proposed without seriously considering whether it actually offers anything to its target audience. The web is littered with empty communities, meeting places and virtual watering holes that seemed necessary for the Greater Good, but didn’t offer the actual participants what they needed.
Perhaps I am being unfair – it’s possible that there is a demand for the above platform, beyond funding a few interns in the Brussels Bubble.
Still, there are two questions which the MEPs should ask of each and every proposal:
Have you done audience research?
Do you have a razor-sharp focus on who your audience is? How you are going to offer them something original which they actually need?
What happens when the funding dries up?
How will our investment make a meaningful, structural difference to the European online public space after we stop pumping in funds?
The problem with the exercise is that these platforms are conceived as projects, not businesses. This has two consequences:
- they will have difficulty competing for peoples’ online time with professionally-run online platforms – websites where a drop in traffic means bankruptcy and unemployment for the owners and editors.
- few people will invest their time in a platform that will die after a few years, when the public funding comes to an end.
Such general platforms – as opposed to communities aiming at specific EU programmes & policies – therefore have a particularly bad case of Chicken-and-Egg.
What the European online public space actually needs is a healthy ecosystem of sustainable media businesses, not a series of one-off platforms that come and go like moths in the night, driving media start-ups out of business with the help of public funds.
Still, as mentioned before, this is not a simple debate – state-funded media can be excellent, and when it comes to EU affairs there is a case to be made for answering market failure with public support, particularly if its oriented towards creating something which can live without support after a few years. Unfortunately, public procurement practices work against such projects.
Update (3/11/2011): I just stumbled across an answer to this post over on the Socialeuropeanjournalism.com. Odd that they didn’t post it here, or mention it on Twitter. Not that their response actually answers my points. I did reply, but it seems to have gone into a black hole – no ‘comment being moderated’ message, or anything professional like that. But then even some professional agencies can’t get the basics of blogging right…Mathew Lowry