How Brussels-based journalists report ‘The Europe story’
Brussels is not just home to civil servants and members
of the European Parliament; the EU’s de facto capital also
houses one of the world’s largest press corps.
After the EU expanded to 27 countries in 2007, there
were said to be 1,300 accredited journalists working in the
city, more than in any other single location. Since then, cost
pressures have trimmed that number to just under 900,
slightly fewer than in Washington, DC.
But the real numbers are hard to track. Newspaper
correspondents, wire services, online-only media offices
and TV and radio journalists are being supplemented by
a growing number of freelancers, bloggers and other
commentators. “It’s clear that the traditional media have
been feeling the pinch and are having their thunder slightly
stolen by online media,” says Michael Mann, spokesman
for Maroš Šefcˇoviˇc, Commission Vice-President for Inter-
Institutional Affairs and Administration.
In spite of the size of the Brussels press corps, most
of its journalists are generalists and most media outlets
are represented by small offices or individuals.
Agence Europe’s Daily Bulletin and the weekly European
Voice, owned by The Economist, are the most significant
print publications devoted entirely to institutional and
They face competition from online media, including
EurActiv, which covers most policy areas, and specialist
outlets such as MLex, which began by concentrating on
competition issues but has expanded into financial services,
energy and environment. Despite cutting back in recent
years, the wire services have larger offices, with journalists
able to specialize and gain sector expertise.
The largest of the international dailies, The Financial
Times, has a staff of four. “It’s still an accepted fact that the
FT is the journal of record here,” says Mann. “It’s a vital
business newspaper on an international front and more
widely read, because it’s in English.”
But most journalists cover a wide range of sectors –
if not all of them – on their own, as well as EU institutional
issues, which leaves them thinly spread. The result is that
only the biggest stories get broad coverage in the national
newspapers of each member state. And when Brussels
correspondents for those titles get to write on a topic with
wider implications – the EU’s response to the banking crisis,
for example – they have to compete for space with
specialists back home. Brussels journalists, therefore, often
concentrate on “internal” issues – institutional and treaty
changes, European elections or activities at the Commission
– which may exacerbate the perception that the EU is inward
looking and fails to connect with its citizens.