Happy Birthday, bloggingportal!
Ok, I am back. Not sure for how long, let’s see… expect some short stuff – maybe I should get into mobile blogging (to use the daily commute in London a bit more efficiently).
Just to reiterate my general problem with EU blogging this year: I work for a think tank in London on European affairs so I get a fair share of geeky EU stuff on a daily basis. And writing blog posts on EU affairs is somehow not my preferred evening activity. So what has changed? Nothing really. Just thought I should give it another try.
Anyway, I am in Zagreb this week at the EFB community conference – if anyone wants to go for a drink – drop me an email.
Three years of bloggingportal. And what a journey it has been. I remember sitting around a huge table in a flat in Brussels – with a certain Jon Worth and the (back then) mysterious Brusselsblogger – dreaming up something that is now known as bloggingportal. Well, resources were scarce and it took us only another year to launch the actual website in January 2009. As I said at a conference a few years ago: “Three people, one idea, no money” (hey – I always wanted to quote myself in a blog post!)
Ironically I am blogging this while sitting at exactly the same (and now truly) legendary table in a flat in London… Well, in many ways I would not be here without bloggingportal and all the people I met through the project. So thanks a lot for all your help and support!
We have learnt a lot over the last three years – especially how not to do things. But I guess this is how it has to be. The problem is still the same: We are a bunch of enthusiastic people without a real structure, without money and without much time on our hands. It is a bit like herding anarchist and hungry cats…
So what does the future hold for bloggingportal? I blogged about our problems in the past and called for a bigger EU blogosphere. As you can imagine not much has been solved – although EU blogging has arguably grown somehwat. To get an idea about the debate on the future of bloggingportal head over to Brusselsblogger, Ronny Patz and Mathew Lowry’s Tagsmanian Devil who all have written more substantial blog posts on the issue.
If you are reading this and you are thinking “well this blogginportal stuff may be a fun thing to do…” – why not get in touch ? I think we do need people with fresh ideas who are motivated to invest some time in developing the website as well as the bloggingportal concept (whatever that is…). Because it is simple: The media landscape has changed, blogging has changed – even the EU has changed (well, ok this is debatable!). So maybe bloggingportal needs to change too!
PS. I am not dead – honest. Pseudo-regular blogging resumes as soon as possible… (Reason: new job in London & flat-hunting)
Public Service Announcement:
Kosmopolito.org is a political blog which opposes all forms of online censorship. Until today kosmopolito.org’s domain name registrar has been godaddy.com. However, this company seems to be in favour of SOPA (and consequently internet censorship). We therefore changed our registrar in order to support #boycottgodaddy and #stopsopa. If you use godaddy.com services please join the boycott campaign!
However, in order to provide some context it is useful to have a look at Sopa (Stop Online Piracy Act) which is a proposed US law and is widely interpreted as the new attempt by the media industry to secure its outdated business model. The problem of the proposed act is that it allows U.S. law enforcement agencies and private copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringements. If the bill succeeds it would open up unlimited liabilities for businesses and it might introduce a large-scale internet censorship infrastructure. This may sound very legalistic and technical but it could mean the end of the internet as we know it.
If you are not sure what is at stake we highly recommend to watch the Fight for The Future video:
… let me begin like this. I generally appreciate your work on the Digital Agenda. (although there are still a lot of obstacles in Europe that need to be tackled!) Your team is doing a great job in developing this important policy. You seem to take interactions with citizens seriously and you have shown that Commissioners can indeed be innovative. The Digital Agenda is one of these rare EU policies that could really make a difference across Europe – and even worldwide.
So why ruin everything by appointing Karl Theodor Maria Georg Achaz Eberhardt Josef Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg as your special/personal advisor?
Technology can support human rights, but we must also ensure it is not used against those struggling for freedom. I want Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to champion this cause with governments and NGOs and ensure it gets the attention, focus and support it deserves. - Neelie Kroes
During your press conference you said you wanted “talent and not saints”. Fair enough, but are you sure that he has the necessary talent? His political achievements in Germany are mediocre at best. His rethoric has always trumped his policies. He is a master of blaming others for his failures. He is unable to admit mistakes. Very frankly, he is an aristocratic snob who could not care less about the problems of online activists and the rights of bloggers. I have never heard of any achievement that would qualify him to work on these issues. Mr zu Guttenberg has never been an advocate for the freedom of the internet. In fact he has been in favour of net censorhip and supported the German government in introducing a more restrictive net surveillance policy. He has no track record whatsover.
The question is why did you not appoint someone with a more substantive track record in online human rights policy? And more importantely, since this advisory role is about the international impact of the digital agenda, why did you not involve the EEAS in your decision? (Update: The EEAS was involved. – see comments)
Moreover, online activists were responsible for his resignation when they revealed hat Mr zu Guttenberg plagiarised his PhD thesis. He is not a credible choice for the job in question. You say that ‘if anyone understands the power of the internet, and its power to hold authorities to account, it is Karl-Theodor.‘ This may be true. However, the problem is that Mr zu Guttenberg never gave the impression that he shares this assessment. He never said anything positive about the ‘power of the internet’. Until this day he argues that this whole PhD affair has been some sort of misunderstanding and can be explained by some bad referencing. If you look at the GuttePlag wiki you will be surprised to learn how much of his thesis was plagiarised! He claims that he lost the overview and could not distinguish between his own ideas and the ideas of others. Is that the sort of intellectual property or ‘open data’ policy you want to advocate with the Digital Agenda?
You have created a very interesting online community which is generally supportive of the Digital Agenda. You have an excellent social media strategy and there have been great debates online – and offline. Why did you not ask people for their opinion or listen what they have to say about Mr zu Guttenberg? Who advised you to give Mr zu Guttenberg the opportunity for another political comeback?
Well, you see, Mr zu Guttenberg is a rather controversial politican as you may have noticed if you followed the recent debates in Germany. Unfortunately, these controversies will overshadow your policy. Not all publicity is also good publicity! I am wondering whether you considered that this decision might have an affect on your own reputation – especially among your key online stakeholders?
And this brings me to my last point. His appointment is exactly the sort of EU behaviour that people hate. The EU as the exile for failed politicians that are not wanted on the national level anymore – but are desperate for some sort of important sounding job. Jobs for the boys. It is indeed sad that the Digital Agenda has become the latest example in this category.
Update 14/12/12: A response by Neelie Kroes can be found here.
Who would have thought that if you want to learn some useful tips about website (re)design you have to search no further than the new European Parliament website? And who would have thought that, in the age where, thankfully, the various EU websites are becoming more user friendly, there is one website that, well, has a slightly “out of the box” design? But the EU (and its web universe) is full of surprises, so here we are, being offered a brand new European Parliament website. And since it seems to be quite different (in look and logic) than the new websites of the other EU institutions (European Commission, Council of the EU and European Council), maybe we can learn a few lessons in website design:
1. Place a large banner on the homepage; the bigger the better. You have to make sure that people who have netbooks *only* see the banner when they land there and those with a normal/big laptop screen have at least half of the screen covered by your banner. They are on your website –> they are interested –> they are eager to scroll down to actually see content. Bullet-proof logic, can’t fault it really.
2. You have a website with a lot of information. You also have a mandate to ensure “transparency”. Now, what is your main concern when designing the website? Form or function? For those of you who answer function, I suggest you think again. Or try to learn something from this guide. Form is, of course, the key. The page has to look cool. Full stop. So try to make it as similar to the magazines and social network pages people are used to. If that means making some compromises on its actual use, be bald and go for it.
3. You’ve decided to go for the *cool look*. Good. This makes things easier. You don’t actually need to care about navigation. Why try to design menus that actually help people go through your page? Menus are there to look cool, who said they actually need to also have a function? Gather some random words (thinking of categories is really a waste of precious effort and time), add sleek icons to them and there you go: you have your main menu. Does it capture the essence of your activity? This should really be the least of your concerns. It is the main (and sometimes the only) thing people see when coming to your page and you made it look cool. Ah, and if you feel it’s not sleek enough, add a slow-moving (but cool looking) arrow that is, by chance, the only means of navigation through the menu. Now you’re all set.
4. You have one main menu, on top. Really, no matter how cool that looks, you simply cannot rely on only one menu. This would be really careless of you. The more menus, the better. It shows the complexity of your activities. You think that’s difficult to achieve? Think twice. Who said the menus should look the same or be linked in any way? In fact, it’s just the opposite: the more diverse, the better. It won’t confuse people, it will simply make them stay longer on your site, searching for the information they need. After all, isn’t that what you actually want?
5. When designing your various menus, be creative and come up with new ideas. Drop-down menus are out of fashion. So is the left side menu. Place all your menus and sub-menus on top. The viewers will be confronted with a sea of words and ever-foldable menus that will push the actual information even lower on the page. Same as in lesson 1: if they are really interested, they’ll find their way. And don’t give them any help, by streamlining the categories or putting them in an order that makes sense. This would make it far too easy and not challenging.
6. Since we’ve established already in lesson 2 that navigation and usability are rather low on your agenda, you only have to make sure of one basic thing: the viewers should *never* be able to come back to the exact point of their search where they were before. This is, after all, a journey of discovery and you wouldn’t want to spoil the fun, would you?
7. Let’s go now a step further, to the actual content. I know, this is drifting a bit away from the coolness factor, but believe me, there are a few things you can do with the content to keep the viewers’ excitement alive. Firstly, you can put the same information in various places, therefore allowing for various paths of discovery (don’t worry, you don’t have to think of any logic behind it). Alternatively, you can split the information on one topic in different parts of the website (obviously each one with a different look). It would be too boring if everything was grouped and the readers could actually find what they need immediately. A good example here is the information on EP committees. You can find the list of committees here, under the item “Policies” on the main menu; general information about committees can be found here, under “Organisation”, some 3 clicks later, through the labyrinth of menus; and the latest news about Committee activities are here, on the top right menu of the main page, under “Committees”. There you go. This type of structure (!) opens many opportunities: you can, for instance, create quizzes asking people to find all the information on a certain topic. And no worries, this is just for fun. No one will actually find every single item, you can always hide something so well that it might even take you a couple of hours to locate it. The fun of searching! Ah, I almost forgot, it might seem like a detail but it’s quite important: if you link on your page to a very specific item (like a treaty article, for example), do not create a new page dealing specifically with that, but have the readers download hundreds of pages of PDF documents. It will certainly enrich their knowledge of the topic and give them the context to understand the specific item. Remember, it’s all about the readers and offering them the best online learning experience.
8. What is a website nowadays without a matching social media presence? In fact, sometimes, social media presence is even more important. Therefore, why not pay more attention to the Facebook page than to website itself? After all, that’s where your fans are. Compared to that, coolness-wise, your website will anyway be just a boring repository where die heart geeks go to find more information. Or try. Oops…that’s a small lapse of logic there, but never mind….
9.Designing a new website, or redesigning the old one, can be a daunting task. That’s why the best thing is to try to involve all departments; share the fun, give them ownership of their section. Why not even create a competition and thus encourage them to keep their work secret from the others. Coherence is overrated. Who (apart from few geeks) will have an overview of the entire website anyway? If in the end some pieces really don’t fit together, blame complexity. It always works.
10. Your page is almost ready. You’ve worked so hard on it and are eager to show it to the world. Just go ahead! Really, don’t bother with testing its usability (or if you’ve done that already, don’t bother with incorporating the changes suggested). This will only delay your launch and you really don’t want that. And if, on the very first day, your page crashes and it’s not accessible for most of the day, well, bad luck for whoever needed it then, for you it’s simply a sign of popularity. Be happy that so many people (much more than you could ever anticipate!) are checking the new look.
The unofficial rulebook for lazy EU journalism. 20 invaluable tips for your career in EU journalism.
1. Not sure how the EU works or what institutions are involved? –> Just write “Brussels”.
2. Germany is generally seen as important in EU politics and journalists know how to frame it: If Germany is active in a certain policy domain just write something about “German dominance” and if you work for British newspaper add some subtle references to the war. If Germany is passive in a given policy area just write that Germany abandons the EU and it clearly adopted a unilateral strategy, if you work for a British newspaper you could add something about the war.
3. Found a short reference in a paper which talks about your country? –> Is is an evil plan to undermine democracy
4. General rule: No need to distinguish between different European institutions and organisations. Who cares whether it is the Council of Europe, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights . –> Just write something about eurocrats and unelected foreign European judges interfering with your beloved country. [thanks Andrew!]
5. You are in Brussels and there are several events happening at the same time? –> Well, this is a clear sign that the EU does not address the important issues! (Important issue = event you attend)
6. Unsure what is happening in the EU? –> Don’t bother ringing someone in Brussels. Just make something up about bananas or recycle a story you read half a year ago. If you are ambitious call the press department of one of the parties in your capital or use a recent party pamphlet.
7. Did you come across a controversial statement or an opinion of an MEP or any national MP? –> Start your article with “EU plans to…” or “Country X wants to…” Any MEP or committee must be prefaced by “senior,” “influential” or “key” as long as he/she/it says something confrontational. [thanks Tim Jones]
8. Facts are overrated. Don’t bother checking the original EU policy documents. There is no need to understand differences between white or green papers, a report or a regulation or a directive. It is much easier to write about ‘crazy ideas of EU bureaucrats’. If you have an idea for a good EU story don’t let facts ruin it. Plus, nobody will check if a EU story is true. Everyone knows that the EU is boring and evil. Moreover, the single aim of the EU is to produce unnessary regulation (generally known as ‘red tape”).
9. Use “EU bureaucrats” or “Brussels bureaucrats” as often as possible. A more experienced lazy journalist would simply refer to ‘Eurocrats‘. (Thanks Gawain) Useful adjectives in this context include “unelected”, “unaccountable”, “corrupt”, “highly-paid”, “highly-pensioned”, “lazy”. This list is not exhaustive and can be adapted to your journalistic needs. You may also use “EU official” or “EU representative” especially if you follow rule 4.
10. Don’t mention that ministers might have a veto over EU policy –> Just write about how the EU destroys national sovereignty.
11. You think that the EU is a bit too complex and everything takes a bit too long? –> Well just focus on zero sum games especially during summits. One country wins, one country looses. That is life. That’s the EU. Simples.
12. A good headline is key. So always go for the pun or the the odd ‘eurocrats’, ‘empire’ reference. And the fight is always between europhiles and eurosceptics. Keep that in mind.
13. Symbols are more important than substance. Stories about what people had for breakfast or dinner, something about flags or anthems are great examples. Always mix personal stories about EU leaders with national stereotypes and prejudices. You will be surprised: it always works.
14. EU funding is always a great story. There is corruption, waste and funny projects. However, do not mention that projects need co-financing. Also do not try to look at the positive examples, it would just spoil the story. Anyway, EU money is by definition a bad thing. So, don’t try to explain why EU funding exists in the first place.
15. The EU budget as well as the budget negotiations provide many interesting options for lazy journalists. You could write that the EU books have not been signed off for years – without mentioning the auditing rules. Or you could write something about how much money your country pays to be in the EU - without mentioning that it may get something back. Don’t make the mistake to link to any official cost-benefit calculation. Because if they exist they are must be wrong, if they don’t exist it is generally a conspiracy. Rather use a statement from another newspaper or dodgy think tank. Just don’t ask any questions. Never think about what the EU could do with the money, just assume that “Brussels wastes all the money it gets”. Budget negotiations are zero sum games, so rule 11 applies. There is no such thing as the “European interest”.
16. The single market means competition which might include foreign companies winning tenders in your country. If that happens just focus on the foreign element of that company. Make some claims about corruption. Write about how many jobs will be lost. No need to mention that new jobs will be created. If you are an ambitious lazy journalist write about how EU competition laws are made to destroy your local economy.
17. Don’t bother learning a foreign language. It is not useful in EU journalism. You can always rely on international news agencies.
18. Subscribe to all ‘think tanks’ and ‘business associations’ which are highly regarded among your collegues. From time to time, just ‘write’ (copy/paste) short articles. Don’t include links to your sources.
19. Context is overrated. Headlines are more important. Just go for the best quotes – no context needed. If you have a great quote from last week, you can still use it. No need to check whether current events have moved on.
20. A beginners mistake is to engage with the opposite side or with critics of your work. So, just don’t do it.
The second part of the ‘short guide to lazy EU journalism’ will be published in the coming weeks on this blog and might focus on the recent “Eurocrisis”. Use the comments below to share your tips how to become a lazy EU journalist or how to cover the eurocrisis as lazy journalist. This would give me the opportunity to plagiarise your ideas in the next blog post.
Update 20/11/2011 – 25/11/2011: Well, it seems that ‘#lazyEUjournalism’ is indeed a pan-European issue. Consequently the ‘short guide’ was translated into several European languages! Thanks to all bloggers and translators!
DE: Ein kurzer Leitfaden zu faulem EU-Journalismus – Vielen Dank, opalkatze!
FR: Comment faire du journalisme européen paresseux, en 20 points – Merci beaucoup, Fabrize!
IT: Short guide to lazy EU journalism ovvero come fare del giornalismo europeo di pessima qualita – Grazie, Francesca!
HR: Kratki vodič za komotno novinarstvo o EU - Hvala, Srdjan!
IS: Stutti leiðarvísirinn fyrir lata Evrópublaðamanninn – Takk, Hilmar!
Inspired by this post there are several adaptations which discuss in how far the guide applies to different national public spheres:
A very simplistic theory*:
1. Most people do not understand economics, monetary politics or EU politics – including journalists.
2. A lot of investors and market participants don’t understand politics – let alone EU decision-making. (hint: it is a long process…)
3. The media system has a tendency to simplify and sensationalize – both: economics and EU politics. Plus there is a 24h news cycle which increases the need for new and exclusive stories. And social media does also not contribute to a more thoughtful debate. In fact the more sensationalist a story is the more relevant it becomes for twitter etc. And nobody seems to care whether it is an outdated story or not!
4. Journalists read English-speaking newspapers because it is the language of the ‘markets’.
5. Many UK journalists have a problem understanding the EU. Some of them do not want to understand it. But most of them work in ‘market -relevant’ media outlets.
6. Markets operate in English: Investors tend to read English papers and analysis. They don’t understand EU politics and read stuff from people who don’t understand it either.
7. The evil cycle begins: Something happens – uninformed journalist report about it, be it EU or Euro or both – the media system sensationalizes it – analysts and ‘markets’ read it and act upon it – crisis deepens – politicians have no chance to influence the cycle because whatever they say – they tend to meet uninformed and ignorant journalists who willfully sensationalize the story in order to please the 24h news cycle…
* Please note: Text includes sarcasm, exaggerations, untrue statements and general insults. However, over consumption can cause severe depression and the desire to emigrate. Just to clarify: there are many good journalists out there.
Askthepresident.eu is the latest attempt of the EU institutions to somehow reach out to the citizens using some fancy online tools. First impression is ok – nothing revolutionary, a normal PR instrument if you ask me. It looks pretty basic – probably they are not sure whether it will actually work. The idea is the you can submit questions that will be answered by Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council. And let’s hope they learned something from the Van Rompuy facebook PR disaster a few weeks ago…
Ok, but let’s think about the content. I don’t know why I should ask the President of the European Council anything. Well, apart from the question whether we actually need a permanent president at all, as I have the impression that it only created another layer of bureaucracy and increased inter-institutional rivalry. But ok, maybe other people may find it useful. And who knows, maybe Van Rompuy himself (or his team) can learn something from the exercise…
After watching this video, I have some basic communication advice:
- So, Herman Van Rompuy, or as I like to call him now “the communicator”, prefers video. But why? Is text not good enough? Why does he mention it in the video? Just because video is the latest online and PR trend? The point I am trying to make is the following: If you ask people to contact you, give as many options as possible and don’t talk down on people! Make it sound positive. Instead of saying “video – that’s what I would prefer” just say “you can also submit a video” or “I will reply by video”.
- In a 28 second video do you really need to emphasize that “maybe not all questions ” will be answered? This is not very encouraging and it sounds quite negative. At least say “I will do my best to answer all questions” or “My team and I will work hard to answer all relevant questions that you may have”.
- And what about languages? The website is currently only in English, probably a sign that it is an experiment (but don’t tell it to the French!). But more seriously, it is the EU and languages are important. I understand that it is a lot of work to provide translations but if you launch a page such as askthepresident.eu make sure that people can at least submit questions in all EU languages.
- Voting without a google account. I understand it is easier to use google or facebook plugins to achieve a meaningful social media integration but at the same time these tools excluding many European citizens. Not everyone has a google account and I certainly would not like to open a google account just to be able to play around with voting on a EU website. Moreover, I don’t want to be forced to use a certain company to get in touch with politicians. I am also suspicious about revealing my political interests to any company…