Saturday, May 02, 2015

BPN 1706: Will Politico make it in Europe

On April 24, 2015 the US news site Politico started a European edition from Brussels. And according to the founder  John Harris it will be the dominating news organisation in Europe. But will Politico make impact in Europe. When told about the European move, president Obama said: “I think what Belgium needs is some, uh, version of Politico." Did Obama purposely reduce the importance of Politico to nation Belgium and not enlarge it to Europe or the European Union?

At least three serious attempts to provide a European news service have been undertaken in the past. As early as 1982 The Dutch publisher Elsevier undertook the venture Europe Data. This short-lived project was followed by the newspaper The European in 1991. By 2006 the third project EUX.TV was set up. Now in 2005 Politico steps in. It looks like companies in every decade take a shot at it.

Europe Data
Europe Data was founded in 1982 as a joint venture between publisher Elsevier and the regional investment bank LIOF of the Dutch province of Limburg and based in the city of Maastricht. Europe Data was set up as the European counterpart of the American database publisher Congressional Information Services (CIS), which was bought by Elsevier in 1980 for a rumoured 43 million US dollars.  The European database publisher would follow the same CIS business model: making government information available  by multimedia and at a price. For the European publishing house there would be a handicap: the information had to be multi-lingual. By 1987, however, it became clear that the database project EC-Index would never be profitable s Europeans were not used to pay for government information. So the publishing house with 25 people personnel was closed. The multimedia, multilingual and multi-bucks projects had come to an end.

The newspaper The European
The nineties of last century formed an iconic decennium. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 with a reunion of the two German countries as a result. This created an EU-phoria, which led many to believe in the United States of Europe. On these waves, the multimedia magnate Robert Maxwell finally saw a chance to execute an plan he had been working on since 1988: a transnational, pan-European daily newspaper. printed in colour with articles in English, French, and German. In May 1990 he proudly  presented The European, but the circulation on the continent of Europe made hardly any impression on advertisers. By November 1991 Maxwell left ship and was found floating near the Canary Islands. Yet, the project was not over and stayed alive with press barons pumping money in the newspaper hoping that Time Warner or Bloomberg would pass by and pick it up. But by December 14, 1998 the dream of a European news service was over.

In the first decade of the new century a new fresh attempt was undertaken to set up a European news service. With less money than Elsevier and the media mongul Maxwell  business journalist Raymond Frenken, former EU Correspondent for CNBC Europe and former Amsterdam bureau chief for Bloomberg News started in 2006 EUX.TV, an independent digital multilingual television station that covered European Union (EU) policy news from Brussels. The station broadcasted its news videos, interviews and documentaries through its website and through the recently started video service YouTube. The service was acquired by EurActiv, a Belgian video news production company. EUX.TV was most likely too early with video on internet as video was not accepted yet in IT circles. As a service EUX.TV has disappeared between the commercial video production and EU projects of EurActiv.

How about Politico
The new kid on the block is Politico. And they have settled into Brussel with a 40 people editorial staff and deep pockets. But money is no guarantee the operation will succeed. As seen from earlier attempts, there are questions to be solved. From Europe Data it is clear that a business model can’t just be transposed from the US to Europe. The European showed that the United States of Europe does not exist. EUX.TV showed that a European video news service was too early and probably too narrow for a profitable business model.

So far Politico is a multimedia publishing product. Politico is not multi-lingual, serving German, French and Spanish audiences, not to mention another 20 languages, being spoken in the EU. But will the editorial staff of Politico be able to crack at last the dilemma at the heart of the Europe: multi European countries or a European Union?  Of course with Ryan Heath,a sidekick of former commissioner Neelie Kroes, at the helm in Brussels, a European editorial policy looks guaranteed. But was Politico’s report on the taxi service Uber with a Belgium scope and not a Europe one just a slip?

Politico shows a lot of energy.  And their online news service attracts many an eyeball. Besides the company has big pockets and a proven business model. But their Achilles tendon will be in the editorial policy: will the reporting be multi country or pan European? The first litmus test will be the elections in Britain.

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