by Frank Schnittger
Tue Nov 28th, 2017 at 12:42:33 PM EST
It is now ten years to the day that I published my first diary here, entitled "OOPS what am I doing here?". In it I asked:
Are we all frustrated journalists here, failed academics, or seers whose genius the world just plain refuses to recognize?
Or is this just that wonderful human institution, an Irish pub without any beer, but where everybody gabs just for the sheer fun of it?
Every newcomer wonders how and where they will "fit in", and whether they would be better off going elsewhere. Just what is your unique selling point?
The "about us" tab gives very little of the history of this blog - who are the distinguished contributors, who are the editors, what have you all achieved in the past other than allowing people to let off some steam?
I don't expect you all to rush off to justify yourselves, particularly to the new kid on the block, but what exactly are your brand values and why should I spend time here rather than elsewhere?
Is it a mutual admiration society, a community learning experience, an opportunity to brag about how much I know on certain topics, a forum to exercise my debating skills or just a nice friendly place to be?
This site seemed to be a lot livelier then, with a lot more contributors, controversy, and even a few on-line spats which went seriously off the rails. But compared to the abuse I got if I wrote on Timesonline on the Palestinian issue, which included physical threats from people who claimed to know where I lived and worked, it was all relatively tame.
Nevertheless I regretted the many contributors who seem to have left because of the abuse they felt they had received. We particularly seem to have lost many of our female contributors and I missed the diversity of thought and belief that many of them had brought to the site. It always seemed to me that we had to choose between being a small cosy club between like-minded people and a much larger, more diverse site with a much larger readership and influence on the real world around us.
My ambition was always to try and create a sort of European DKos, Booman or Huffington Post which could have a real influence on events and represent part of an embryonic European Demos holding EU policy makers to account. Writing for me was always about trying to reach out to a wider audience and engage with them in current events. There are many reasons why these early ambitions failed to materialise:
Firstly, Europe lacks a common language like the USA which means there are always a limited number of people who feel confident enough in their command of English to engage on complex subjects in a nuanced way. Attempts to create a multi-lingual version of the European Tribune foundered on a lack of technical resources and the antiquated nature of the Scoop software which powers this site.
Secondly, some of the founders and major contributors like Jerome a Paris, afew, DoDo, Migeru, Fran, and In Wales moved on in their lives and were never adequately replaced. Iconic subjects which had given the European Tribune a unique selling point - such as Jerome's Windpower and Anglo Disease series, Countdown to $100 oil, Dodo's Train blogging series, 'Bubbles' Greenspan (debt, money & growth), remember him? and various other topics gradually died a death. Many stories attracted over 300 comments. The passion, hope and despair which had driven their creation seemed to die with them.
Thirdly, the 1,000 word blog seems to have been replaced by the 140 character tweet, Instagram photo, or short, snappy Facebook post. In depth discussion of complex or topical issues seems increasing confined to specialist or academic online forums with minimal participation. Popular disillusion with "politics" seems to be rife. Younger contributors who might have succeeded our founders are more concerned with getting and keeping a job than with debating the finer points of public policy. Work has gotten a lot harder and more time consuming. Leisure time is now required for switching off.
Fourthly, and more particularly, enthusiasm for the European project has waned. The financial crisis only confirmed our analysis and predictions, but the political response was the opposite to what we proposed: austerity rather than Keynesian reflation; narrow beggar-your-neighbour nationalism rather than a concerted European wide solidarity and co-ordinated response. The treatment of Greece seemed the last straw for many. Trump has extinguished all hope of more positive leadership coming from the USA.
Brexit has given the European project a belated second wind, if only through highlighting what the European project has, collectively achieved over the years. But most people have tired of UK exceptionalism and can barely wait to wave goodbye. Actual evidence of the EU learning some lessons and implementing more enlightened policies going forward is scant. The EU has become a technical exercise in banking regulation, minor monetary policy adjustments, and keeping refugees at bay. Hardly the stuff to inspire a new generation of bloggers.
I have limited my ambitions to trying to keep the front page ticking over in the hope of retaining a core readership and, hopefully, attracting a few new contributors. Nothing looks worse than a front page filled with last weeks news. Bjinse (whom I have never met), keeps the newsroom in flow and a couple of other active front pagers contribute what they can given other commitments. My attempts to recruit new front pagers haven't succeeded and participation levels seem to be declining although I have never succeeded in obtaining usage statistics.
Having published 425 stories over 10 years I feel the European Tribune has almost exhausted what I can contribute and I need to move on. However I feel it would be a pity to let the European Tribune die. If any of you have any ideas of how to revitalise and renew the site please add them in the comments.