by Frank Schnittger
Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 05:14:57 AM EST
I'm just back from a two day conference in Brussels organised by the European Journalism Centre in support of their Th!nkaboutit campaign funded by the European Commission. As one would expect from an event organised by a journalism centre, the blogging competition is aimed mostly at journalists and journalism students, but a few "non-professionals" like myself slipped in!
The editors for the programme include our own Nanne, Andreas Mullerleile of kosmopolito.org, Jon Worth of jonworth.eu and Daniel Antal of blogactiv.eu who is an economist.
Speakers included Tony Barber of the Financial Times who had this to say of the event:
FT.com | Brussels Blog
This morning I found myself on a public platform in a Brussels hotel for my first ever European bloggers’ conference. As a representative of an “establishment” news organisation, I was half-expecting to be roasted alive. But in the end both Mark Mardell of the BBC, my friend and fellow-guest, and I got through it safely enough.
Mark Mardell of the BBC had this to say of his experience:
BBC NEWS | The Reporters | Mark Mardell
The EJC is organising a European blogging competition in the run up to the elections. Unfortunately only three entrants are being allowed from each country, and the contestants have already been chosen. As part of the event there is a new fantastic resource: a blogging portal listing the main EU blogs.
One of the participants suggested that people increasingly felt disconnected from the political process and distrust the mainstream media. So he argued it was the job of bloggers like himself to put the view of the people, not the elites.
While I would defend mainstream media bloggers like myself and the other guy on the platform, Tony Barber of the FT (you can read what he has to say about the event), and I think we get it right more often than not, I am all for more spiky opinion and controversial debate from the EU member countries. I'll be reading with interest.
(h/t to Nanne
diary rescue by afew
The "spiky" opinion was mine, but truth be told, they need not have worried. The European Journalism Centre and the European Commission are not about to organise a counter-cultural revolution in which the mainstream media get overthrown by a nerd (what is the collective term for bloggers?) of mostly inexperienced bloggers and commentators!
Much of the conference was devoted to making bloggers more aware of the wealth of sources, mostly official and semi-official, which are now available to would be Eurobloggers. I got the slightly sinking feeling that the role envisaged for us by the conference organisers revolved around translating "the facts" as contained in the official sources into our local idioms and generally proselytising the European ideal.
One panellist, Michael Opgenhaffen, even suggested that the only difference between a blogger and a journalist was the lack of an editor telling him what to do and the lack of accreditation which restricts most blogger's access to official functions and sources. This led to an animated debate where many bloggers posited that the lack of quality control over most blogging output made it entirely incomparable to mainstream journalistic output. Hardly a surprising view for aspiring journalists!
I tend to take a middle of the road position on this. Some bloggers can be at least as informed in their specialist areas as professional journalists; their lack of editors and commercial constraints enables them to be more independent that journalists writing for a particular mainstream publication with particular commercial interests and editorial line; and bloggers who publish a lot of inaccurate or unsubstantiated content quickly become discredited in the blogosphere. However there is also a lot of unadulterated dross out there, and you need to be a very patient, well informed and discriminating reader to sort out the rubbish from some of the more sophisticated or ideological misinformation.
I would liken blogging more to an on-line pub or street discussion. It is a lot more informal, doesn't have much in the way of formal rules of evidence, but those who are rude or ill-informed are very quickly given a wide berth by those in search of information or education. Julian Popov, Chairman of the Bulgarian School of Politics, described blogging as a political intervention and credited Adam Brickley of draftsarahpalinforVP with the Republican's decision to consider her for the VP nomination. Hhhhmmmmmmm. Mark Mardell described blogging about the European Parliament as "the indefinable in pursuit of the inexplicable" which is probably as good a definition as any.
To be sure the contributions were non-partisan, but hardly apolitical. There was little debate around my suggestion that European electorates were generally very poorly informed about European Parliamentary affairs and this had as much to do with the poor quality of the product as it had to do with the poor PR of the EP communications team. How many people - even here on ET - can list a significant number of policy areas where the European Parliament (as opposed to the Commission or Council) made a decisive contribution? Claiming credit for reducing mobile phone roaming rates within the EU hardly justifies the expense of 750 Parliamentarians over a 5 year period.
To be fair, the Parliament has done a lot more, but hardly in the more critical areas of Financial regulation, Taxation, Jobs, Foreign Affairs and Security which get people excited and have a major impact on our daily lives. The problem is that the European Parliament doesn't have much competency or powers in these very important areas, much of the work where they do have competency is boringly technocratic (e.g. food labeling regulations), is subject to complex co-decision procedures and back room wheeler dealing, and can take many years to come to fruition.
I approach this competition with very mixed feelings. Having sworn never to write about Lisbon again (at least here on ET) I find that the topic will unavoidably dominate much debate in the European Parliament elections in Ireland and beyond. The platform for the competition is Wordpress which doesn't facilitate threaded conversations which I find essential for nuanced debate and following up on specific conversations. Having just mastered the art of embedding links, pictures, videos and tables on ET, I don't relish going back to a more basic platform. Perhaps dear old Scoop isn't so bad after all!
But most crucially, blogging for me has always been about the conversation, not the lead diary, and this is where I feel the European Tribune really scores. I really have no idea what sort of readership and participation the Thinkaboutit platform (now live) will ultimately enable, so perhaps I will give it a go and see how things work out. If nothing else, the 85 participants seem a very enthusiastic and convivial bunch and I'm sure we'll have lots of fun, even if the sum total of human knowledge is not advanced all that far. We badly need to engage with the Irish Electorate a lot more to increase the turnout in the elections, and if the Thinkaboutit campaign makes even a minor contribution to this, it will not have been in vain.