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Why there is no serious blogging scene in Brussels

28 comments

I just listened to the short Fleishman Hillard podcast (via this blog post) with one of the Financial Times’ Brussels correspondents, Stanley Pignal, on how he as a journalist perceives social media communication.

He’s showing quite a hesitant view to the added value of social media, both regarding input and output of his journalistic work. I kind of agree or at least see his point, but have some points to add.

When interpreting Stanley’s hesitations, one has to take into account that he is speaking from the position of a journalist in a privileged position. Stanley is working for one of the – if not THE – most influential newspapers in Brussels, thus he’s very likely exposed to a lot of very good and very early and not yet public information.

If you can pick and choose to read and write about things few others have seen before that you get directly from insiders, reading shared news or comments on blogs or on Twitter probably doesn’t seem so exiting. However, for anybody not in such a position the situation is different. I myself wouldn’t even notice certain issues if I didn’t follow Twitter and blogs.

But Stanley is also raising an important question that – as a co-editor of Bloggingportal.eu – I’d like to quickly take up. Stanley, taking note of the limited Brussels blogging scene, ask why there are so few (good) blogs in Brussels.

In a way he is giving the answer himself at the end of the podcast:

In the Brussels bubble, everybody who could write a good blog has something at stake, so either people limit themselves to not write about stuff where they’d have something to say (e.g. not to fall out of message of their organisation or to be accused of hiding interests) or they only do it in the context of organisational communication where you feel that it is often quite strategic and not as genuine as good citizen blogging we know from the national scenes.

In other words: There are no citizens in the Brussels bubble as there are citizens in capitals like Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna or London, citizens who just have an interest in politics or certain policies and who become a pain in the ass of politicians or lazy media professionals because they can take a look in to the system without being part of it and say anything without having to think about consequences for their professional lives.

In “normal” capitals, citizens can watch and write about politics happening in these towns without having any direct involvement in the issues or power games you watch. But all those who are in Brussels and care about the EU are here because of the EU, because they work within the institutions or at the doors of these organisations.

The consequence of these thoughts: If there will ever be good (classical) citizen blogging about EU affairs in the future, it may be people who have worked around the EU in the past and settle down in Brussels to live and work outside the bubble.

Those people could just stick their nose into the muddy field of EU politics form time to time  to write about stories from the standpoint of a knowledgeable outsider. They could do classical hit and run tactics of bloggers, looking for good targets and leaving small but visible marks, making informed fun about things that are taken so serious here in Brussels but that’d deserve a good laughter, or to simply highlight important things going on that nobody else wants to write about.

That said, I still think that there is some valuable blogging about EU affairs coming from inside and outside the bubble. We at Bloggingportal.eu do our best to find such content and to highlight it. But I agree that most of it lacks the punch of good national blogs, providing both novel information and good commentary. So maybe we’ll have to wait for the first retired generation of social media savvy EU officials until we’ll see really good EU blogging.



28 Responses to Why there is no serious blogging scene in Brussels

  1. avatar Alisdair says:

    You make a very good point, particularly given that the nature of the debates we have in Brussels are very rarely about ideology or politics but rather about positions taken on highly technical issues. That is not exactly a recipe for interesting reading for anyone outside our bubble.

    As a consultant I would never blog on anything interesting that comes my way given that information has a value which I want to maximise.

    But if anyone is going to crack the nut it is bloggingportal.eu and I would wholeheartedly support its future development. Good luck.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    I am convinced that it is not the technical nature of EU politics that is the problem.

    Most modern policy-making is kind of technical. It’s the way people look at it, as insiders who mainly see the details or as outsiders who are trying to understand the real political or social interests at stake. The latter dominate public political debates in nation states, the former in EU politics.

  3. “….we’ll have to wait for the first retired generation of social media savvy EU officials”!
    Anyone specific in mind perhaps? :-))))

  4. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Dick

    I didn’t dare to write it. :D

  5. You’re quite right, there are no real citizens in Europe, not in the same way that nation states have citizens. It will take another fifty years or so, if the EU doesn’t come up with a shortcut to speed up the integration of citizens with the EU itself. My answer is to look at the role citizens play as consumers, but perhaps there are other interests that concern ALL citizens and that cut across national boundaries… But until that happens, blogginportal.eu is a good start!

  6. avatar Nosemonkey says:

    Not a bad theory, but I’ve been blogging about the EU for 8 years now, and during that time have spent a grand total of less than a week in Brussels. There’s this thing called the internet, you see…

    Proximity to politics isn’t necessary – what *is* vital is interest. The reason the majority of EU-focused bloggers are based within the Brussels bubble is simply because no one else is interested about the EU or what the EU does. Unless they’re strongly anti-EU.

    Meanwhile, the reason you have more “citizen” bloggers on politics on the national scene is because it’s far easier to see how national-level politics affects one’s daily life – and there are always alternative policies and parties to root for. There are people based in the north of Scotland who’ve never been to London blogging about decisions taken in Westminster because it affects them directly and obviously.

    Decisions taken in Brussels or Strasbourg, though? First, hardly anyone knows what the decisions are, and second hardly anyone knows what the impact is likely to be (even the supposed experts, a lot of the time). Even bloggers – hardly overly known for their reliance on research and fact-checking – are going to find it hard to get too excited when starting from a position of that much ignorance.

    It’s easier than ever before to find out about what the EU is getting up to – but it’s still deeply, deeply uninteresting and unexciting when compared to national politics. Blogging is mostly about passion – and it’s very hard to get passionate about the EU. Especially these days…

  7. avatar Bruno says:

    EU decision-making and institutions tend to be a public-free zone or, like the European Parliament, deeply estranged from politics as it is played out elsewhere.
    So it is not really that surprising that the EU doesn’t have any truly public expression. Just look at the ghastly or pathetic attempts to breathe some life into the corpse of “Europe Day” (a kind of anti-public holiday where empty non-public buildings are opened to the familes of civil servants). https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23EuropeDay
    The EU has evolved to take politics out of the democratic (public) fray and to transform it into technical “policy” issues for caucuses experts/officials. How many times have I heard eurocrats lamenting that so much policy is affected by the “electoral cycle”?
    Most EU officials, even when they are smart and engaging individuals, are inculcated in statecraft and thinking that is pretty hostile to the public – the worst insult in the book is to be called a “populist”.
    I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for these types (average EC pension about £60k a year on retirement) to bring a renaissance in public life, they are, on the whole, pretty self-consciously a caste apart. It will be up to members of the public rather than the Brussels professionals.

  8. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Nosemonkey

    I’m not saying you can’t blog about EU affairs when you are not in Brussels or that you can’t blog about national politics when you are not in a national capital. You are right though to point that the argument very much seems to be about this.

    In fact there are a number of good examples for good EU blogging from abroad as there are good examples of bloggers not living in capitals. Yet, my point started from the argument that Stanley of the FT made, that he didn’t feel that, as a journalist of a major publication, he didn’t think that there were many blogs to follow.

    I’m still convinced that a good regional, national or European political blogosphere lives from the fact that at least a good number of the bloggers live close to where political decisions are taken, because it makes them feel the vibes and waves of the political centre in a way that makes her or him able to write stories that are relevant to those in the centre, that are able to amplify waves or break them.

    Now Brussels is definitely a less easy to grasp place and the consequences are less easy to predict than on the national scenes (are they really?), but all those who can feel what is going on over here are mostly so involved in what is going on that they can’t or don’t want to blog about it.

    Consequently, important signs for the rest of the blogosphere on what to write about are missing, making it harder for more peripheral bloggers to jump on the right trains and make an impact.

  9. avatar Anarchoyuppie says:

    Ronny, my man, one thing missing in your otherwise great work is the fact that [almost] no one gives a rats ass about the political dimension of the EU [relative to the national politics], so you cannot even find politically engaged blogging, like in States, UK and even in most of the EU MSs…

  10. avatar Joe says:

    There’s another thing to be aware of: on the scene reporting/ liveblogging/ etc. only matters if there are significant matters to report on, and the outcome of the events, decisions, etc. isn’t completely predictable.

    There is no scene, because there isn’t much big news to break, apart from a few things coming out of the ECB. The serious hint, if you can take it, is that fact that the reporters have to be subsidized to remain there to cover preoccedings, and chillingly propagandistic-sounding “fellowships in reporting” have had to be established to keep them on the job too.

    Personally, I think it’s insane. Let the events, should they be of interest, draw the attention – constructing it won’t do a bit of good. It aslo doesn’t help that Europeans are generally rather passive about who governs them and what they do than most of the world. It explains a lot of the disinterest given the reach that Brussels has to social and economic constituencies.

    Not much supply of information, not much demand. It’s not going to change by reading an edict declaring the proceedings relevant and noteworthy.

  11. avatar Andreas says:

    Sometimes I wonder, right now for example, whether this whole brussels-bubble-about-the-brussels-bubble talk claiming that EU politics and policies are irrelevant, unexciting, insignificant and just altogether dull, whether all that is not a whole pile of rubbish.

    Sometimes I am confident, right now for example, that if we, for just a moment, looked at citizen reporting not as individuals who are blogging because they feel the vibes and waves (as Ron put it), but let our imagination wonder — to groups of people, who share a collective interest in a theme, who meet and are initially supported, who haven’t been discouraged by Herr und Frau Jedermann claiming that all this EU stuff is boring — that if we did that, we would be surprised.

    Sometimes I am so frustated, right now for example, about our own self-absorbed lament (to which I have wholeheartedly contributed before, so don’t take it more personal than it is meant) that I would, if I received an email from a cool foundation saying “You know what hipster? Here is a budget for a test-run of a year, let’s try it!,” I would wrap up everything I am doing right now by September to then just try it.

    I have seen, and felt, and helped create, so much genuine fascination about Europe, including the EU, that I refuse to believe that European media, citizen-driven or not, cannot capture that just because we have, collectively, so far failed to get it, and failed to get it done.

  12. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Andreas

    Nowhere have I said that the EU is not interesting, that it is not worth covering it.

    The only thing I said is that there is no Brussels (!) blogging scene because all those who are here and could blog about stuff are kind of sucked in and lack the fresh look of the “outsider” citizen you get in national capitals. There’s loads to blog about and as Nosemonkey has said you can blog about all kinds of fascinating stuff without being here, but citizen blogging from Brussels could bring some spice needed for the soup but does not (yet) exist.

  13. avatar Andreas says:

    @Ronny

    I didn’t intend to comment on your initial blog post alone, but on the discussion that followed in the comments before I left mine. There seems a lot of talk about the uninterestingness of all things EU.

    Whether Brussels is understood in the geographic sense, the city and region, or the metaphorical sense, the political centre of Europe, makes no difference to me: I disagree with the claim that the people, or the interest (from writers or readers), is largely absent…

    And am optimistic that time will prove me right.

  14. avatar Laurence FH says:

    Wow! Glad to see the 1st episode of our podcast series sparked such a debate! Hope you like the next ones too :)

  15. avatar Andre says:

    Your assumption is that you have to live and work in Brussels to discuss the Brussels developments. So the real question is why the “internet” does not cast enough light on EU policies. I don’t think that is the case. Institutional communication is wasteful and does not have much mindshare. But hardly anyone reads it.

  16. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Andre

    Nope, my assumption is that you have to be in Brussels to know how to mess up Brussels through a blog.

  17. avatar @laurnicolas says:

    @Platz : you rely on “classical national blogging”… I do not know such a thing. Is there common traits to “national classical blogging” ? How do you define it ?

  18. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @laurnicolas

    Good point. When I referred a bit generalising to “classical national blogging” I was referring to blogospheres based on some characteristics that do not really exist on the EU level:
    - blogging based on a national media sphere that makes that there are certain general hot topics that are discussed on blogs, between them but also more broadly in society;
    - blogging that is based on direct contact to local events (local meaning related to direct presence of the blogger);
    - expert sub-networks discussing certain topics mostly among themselves (with different national spheres having different focal issues)

    When I read political or socio-political blogs in the national spheres I usually find at least one of these characteristics. Most EU blogs are fairly generalist, rarely with a specialisation and rarely with relation to on-the-ground events.

  19. avatar Kováts says:

    Ronny, great post, good thoughts even if I disagree :)
    1. EU officials could blog – this is what we are trying to prove with Kovács & Kováts. I am not saying that we are that interesting, but we have a lot to say.
    2. Agree with Nosemonkey: Citizens don’t need to be in Brussels to blog about EU. Think of Ralph Grahn or Migrants at Sea. Very good blogs from a distance.
    3. National blogosphere could engage with Brussels, just like Brussels bloggers could bring in more national content and references. EU blogging does not have to happen in a bubble.

  20. avatar Chiara says:

    You probably have to be in Brussels to wrap up Brussels with politics and EU debates and I totally agree that “there’s no Brussels blogging scene because all those who are here and could blog about stuff are kind of sucked in and lack the fresh look of the “outsider” citizen you get in national capitals”. We don’t necessarily need (only) spice stuff to tell people about Europe and to interest them in it, because generally spice stuff is merely bad interpretation of stupid and abstruse news such as the lenght of cocumbers allowed by the EC or the new Commission’s rule on mozzarella or parmigiano reggiano. We have surely less spicy things than in national / local politics, but broader policy vision – that is certainly interesting, in addition to one big fail (due to ourselves and our autoreferential insider vision). Indeed, lots of things are going on in Brussels, especially outside the institutions. The Brussels bubble is real, but there’s some life outside the bubble. Be clever: go and search for this information. I mean, let apart the pure juridical / formal / technical / lobbying oriented debate about regulations and directives and go for content-based analysis, proposals, reflexions: new services, innovation, open data, social innovation are just few quick examples. It’s up to us to valorise what we see as boring matters from inside but that have great inexplicated potential to affect people’s life.

  21. avatar mathew says:

    Really wanted to join this conversation earlier. It seems to have ceased, but my views in a nutshell:
    - Ronny’s right that there are no citizens in the Bubble – I suspect all of us self-censor. If social media can help build bridges between the Bubble and national conversations, we’d have the citizen bloggers discussing the EU in the way he wants;
    - Nosemonkey’s right that you don’t need to be in Brussels!
    - Andreas is right that EU affairs can be interesting “to groups of people, who share a collective interest in a theme“, which relates to Ron’s concept of classical national blogging involving “expert sub-networks discussing certain topics mostly among themselves“. If we could link those Communities of Practice across national borders, we’d probably have an EU online public space, as well as better EU policy making and EU programmes
    - Chiara is right that we don’t need only the spicy stuff! If people are interested in a subject, the they don’t need spice, they need demonstrable relevance

    Put some of this together and maybe you get “Specialists required to build bridges” and ““When EU blogging matters: The community gets a long tail“.

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