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EU news coverage: Can an Erasmus for journalists improve reporting on Europe?

by editor

One of the EU’s most successful initiatives, the Erasmus student exchange programme can be replicated for young and talented journalists and communications experts. It would foster innovation sharing and, ultimately, a better coverage of European affairs, says its initiator, Euractiv’s founder Christophe Leclercq.

The Erasmus programme has celebrated these days its thirtieth anniversary. Launched in 1987, it has allowed over five million students from EU countries and beyond to spend a few months in an university in another European country (Spain tops the ranking) thanks to an EU grant and through agreements between institutions.

Today, Erasmus is considered as one of the EU’s most successful initiatives — probably its most popular — and it contributed more than any other policy to forge the first generation of truly European citizens, the living ambassadors of the European integration and the pioneering heralds of a borderless and mobile Europe and of a European identity.

Learning or perfecting another language, getting in touch with other realities and ways of living and studying, and meeting fellow students from other countries (and sometimes setting up a family together afterwards) has led the so-called “Erasmus generation” be part of a vast network of alumni who now came of age and are building up their career in many top jobs around the continent — in addition to being at the centre of French comedy by Cédric Klapisch L’Auberge espagnole and the starting point and main target of the participatory news platform Cafébabel.

So if Erasmus offered unprecedented opportunities to European students, why not replicate it for professionals, and specifically for journalists? They might also benefit from spending some time in a newsroom in another country. Journalists sometimes collaborate with fellow reporters from other media either on specific projects, like cross-border investigations, or for short visiting periods. But there is no real reporters’ exchange programme.

A new project, nicknamed “Erasmus for Media” aims to meet this need, while also tackling the 20-year long crisis hitting the European media sector, by providing newsrooms with a framework (and a budget) for journalist’s exchange, as its initiator, Euractiv news website’s founder Christophe Leclercq — a strong supporter of the Erasmus exchange programme himself in his University days — explains:

“The media sector is in crisis, even more than I thought before I interviewed 30 Editors, Publishers and experts across Europe in the last year and a half as part of the #Media4EU research project. There are many IT-centered projects and new journalistic networks trying to help. But most are not sustainable. And many media are really fragile SMEs, led by people who learned their trade 30 years ago… Hence we wish to boost innovation, by speeding up careers of young ‘rising journalism stars’, and organising cross-media exchanges around actual projects.”

The Yes! to Erasmus4Media – Support media innovation! project, aims at promoting exchanges among young and talented journalists, who would spend some time in newsrooms in other EU countries, sharing their experience and skills with local reporters, thus contributing to “change” the latter’s mindset to “a more Europe-open one”. The project also targets “marketing and communications professionals, social media managers and IT”. It “has gained moral support from media organisations” — among which VoxEurop — “and professionals, and from some MEPs”, adds Leclercq. The EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and First vice-president Frans Timmermans also recently expressed some interest in it.

As for funding, according to Leclercq, “to be both effective and in line with independence, this project should be supervised by media practitioners, and co-funded by the EU. Some MEPs, from several groups, help us to prepare a pilot project proposal. If assessed positively, it could be voted as part of the EU budget. By the way, this is the general ERASMUS programme started.”

In his White Paper on the future of Europe, Juncker states that “We want to live in a democracy with a diversity of views and a critical, independent and free press”, recognising that a bigger coverage of EU affairs is essential for the European Union to work as an effective democratic organisation. However, notes Leclercq, “those statements of principle sound good, but they are not matched with actions yet. And there’s a real challenge ahead on having a true debate in the media on this issue. A debate that could build on the review of the Digital Single Market, provided it is not dominated by GAFA [Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple] lobbying, and if press associations get their acts together.”

Leclercq will present the “Erasmus for Media” initiative, at the Global Editors Network annual summit in Vienna this week.

Photo: Italian daily La Stampa‘s newsroom, in Turin.

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