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April 21, 2015, 2:21 p.m.
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LINK: en.ejo.ch  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   April 21, 2015

The Guardian’s Wolfgang Blau has an interesting piece up at the European Journalism Observatory asking a question about the new Politico Europe, the D.C.-based site’s expansion into Brussels and the broader continent:

Politico Europe — the new Brussels-based site covering European politics — is doing important pioneer work in establishing the notion of there even being such a thing as a ‘European public sphere’.

For European publishers, this is not necessarily a space where you have to or want to be the first mover. It seems advantageous to first let Politico — backed by the politically very conservative, but entrepreneurially very aggressive German publishing giant Axel Springer — do some of the hard work of not only having to introduce its own brand, but with it — and more importantly — to establish the very idea of there being a European mid-layer between domestic and international journalism.

In the old world, you mostly had the choice between regional and nationwide publishers addressing domestic audiences and the few globalists who ‘cover the world for those who run it’, as my friend Dan Gillmor once put it, describing The Economist, the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal.

[…]

It is quite likely that domestic newspapers, especially the ‘papers of record’, are culturally over-invested into the idea of the nation state as it only underlines their own importance and the value of the political access they enjoy in their respective capitals.

[…]

The usual — and very plausible — argument against launching pan-European publications thus far has been that there is no pan-European ad market yet and that paywalls are a terrible model to build an audience from scratch, especially outside of your domestic markets.

Politico, with its mix of ad revenue, paid industry newsletters, print ads and paid events might help break the old chicken-or-egg dilemma which has held back domestic publishers from venturing into this promising space for many years.

Blau is both well positioned to comment on this (as a German journalist helping run one of the U.K.’s top news brands) and a walking conflict of interest (since Politico Europe will be a competitor for The Guardian). And he’s right that political conglomerations line up with audience interests in inconsistent ways. (While the EU and NAFTA hardly make for a fair comparison — nowhere near same level of economic or political integration — one imagines a “North American” media outlet dedicated to covering the U.S., Canada, and Mexico probably wouldn’t go very far.)

There’s a long line of academic interest in the core of what Blau is talking about — to what degree do news outlets arise to cover communities of interest, and to what degree do news outlets create communities of interest? I’m reminded of a 2011 study by Krissy Clark and Geoff McGhee that asked a similar question: “Did the West Make Newspapers, or Did Newspapers Make the West?”

Finally — and because we haven’t hit our 2015 quota of Jürgen Habermas mentions on Nieman Lab yet — his thinking about the public sphere is an obvious point of reference:

More on the Habermasian carrier class here.

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