1st Jun 2023


Editor's weekly digest: What to do with tickers?

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Since the very early days of EUobserver, around the year 2000, we've had this type of article on the website called a 'ticker' — derived from the short news bulletins you see on the bottom of television news or scrolling on buildings.

It's short, a maximum of 70 words long, and contains the bare-bones information you need to know on something that happened.

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When EUobserver first started, there were hardly any online news sources dedicated to EU affairs, and the ticker format was useful to collect and present information published by other media, aside from our original coverage.

20 years later, the ticker still remains on the homepage of EUobserver, but as a kind of aggregator of news reported elsewhere, it's starting to feel somewhat obsolete.

First, EUobserver is no longer the only news source covering the goings-on in the European Parliament, Commission, Council and surrounding institutions.

Well-resourced news teams at other media such as Politico Europe — which together with its parent, Politico, was sold to Axel-Springer in a deal valued at $1bn — do a good job at covering the broad spectrum of news coming out of Brussels. Which begs the question, why read a blurb on EUobserver and click through to the Financial Times, Reuters or Politico? And in an era in which all of the news published by them is at your fingertips (or brought to you through newsletters), what is the use of aggregation?

Second, the ticker was used in the past to keep EUobserver's site feeling up to date while we worked on original reporting. The problem we face in our small newsroom is that many press briefings and events happen after lunch, which means that articles on them are filed in the late afternoon. So to not have a stagnant website, we'd publish these short news bursts on what policy makers said, or what other news outlets have been reporting.

Third, and finally, tickers provide a source of traffic, or number of unique users on our website. Traffic, unfortunately, has been one of the main signifiers of media relevancy for a long time. It's basically the first thing anyone asks to determine your value as a publication. And yes, readership numbers are important, but they don't capture audience quality — or even if your visitors are real people.

Lately, there has been a bit of a shift in this perception, with 'smaller' media brands gaining popularity, revenue and readership not because they attract the most amount of readers, but the right kind of audience. This ranges from decision makers in specific industries (like ours in EU policy-making) to a certain type of intent-driven consumer — groups of people that are more valuable for an advertiser.

With online media advertising being rife with fraud — it's estimated that 40% of online traffic comes from bots and that's on top of dubious ad performance reporting metrics — it is becoming clearer to advertisers that chasing traffic is not just shortsighted, but actually a waste of money.

Not only on the advertiser's side, by the way. Chasing traffic costs valuable productive hours that could be spent on uncovering facts that could make a significant difference on the lives of millions of people.

So what should we measure instead to determine our value? Honestly, I don't really know. I wish there was an easy variable to measure 'qualitative journalism for the public good' or 'information helping people make better decisions' or 'reporting that holds people in powerful positions to account'. But the feedback you, our readers, send us, comes pretty close.

This all goes to say that we're in the process of rethinking how we use the ticker format. Because I do see value in publishing short original news that doesn't merit the time to write a full article about. But I don't see value in republishing other reporting, theatre of productivity or chasing clicks.

Last week we used the ticker to publish leaked documents. Next week we're going to experiment with using the ticker to share remarkable statements from EU politicians that we report ourselves. And if you have ideas on how we could use the short news format, don't hesitate to reach out.

Onwards to the articles you should have read from us this week:

Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges

Everything you need to know before COP27 kicks off in Egypt next month. From carbon emissions to climate finance, Elena Sánchez Nicholás covered all the contentious top issues world leaders will be debating over from 6 to 18 November.

Read it here.

What actually happened at the 'most complicated election in the world'?

Elections in divided Bosnia and Herzegovina were already extremely complicated, but last-minute election law changes made last Sunday by High Representative Christian Schmidt made matters worse. James Jackson broke down the elections, the results, the changes and why they divided analysts, activists and the international community.

Read it here.

EU leaders discuss gas price cap — amid rationing fears

Friday (7 October), the European Commission presented its roadmap to reduce gas prices. One of the measures being discussed is the infamous gas price cap, which has become a dividing issue since spring when the idea was first floated by Spain and Portugal.

Read it here.

Spyware-hacked MEPs still seeking answers

MEPs whose phones had been hacked or wiretapped, possibly by state services, gathered in Strasbourg this week for a Pega Committee hearing, voicing their "mounting frustration" around the lack of accountability, reports Nikolaj Nielsen.

Read it here.

Europe lays aside quarrels to isolate Putin

"'This meeting is a way of looking for a new order without Russia. It doesn't mean we want to exclude Russia forever, but this Russia, Putin's Russia, does not have a seat', EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said," Andrew Rettmann reports on this week's meeting of the newly minted European Political Committee.

Read it here.

Thank you to all new subscribers to this newsletter, and as always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip.

See you next week,


More time needed to agree possible EU gas price cap

EU leaders are expected to come back to the issue of gas price caps at their usual summit in Brussels on 20 and 21 October — when an agreement could be reached by the 27 heads of state and government.

Weekly digest: The comfort of spreadsheets

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Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all

Large Language Models could give the powers trained data-journalists wield, to regular boring journalists like me — who don't know how to use Python. And that makes me tremendously excited, to be honest.

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