“Nothing happens over the weekend in Belgium”

9 12 2009

Derek Blyth interview @ Corelio, 3 Dec. 2009

Background: Derek Blyth (DB) is the editor-in-chief of news weeklies The Bulletin and Flanders Today. Both titles are targeted at the international community in Flanders. The Bulletin and Flanders Today are published by Ackroyd, a Corelio subsidiary since 2007.

Flanders Today was authorized by then Flemish minister for Foreign Affairs and Media Geert Bourgeois. Its aim is to inform international diplomats, EU officials, foreign journalists, tourists and foreign students about Flanders.

The Bulletin was launched by Monique Ackroyd in 1962. It has since become Belgium’s oldest news magazine and one of the most successful English language magazines in continental Europe. It has an estimated readership of 52,000 readers weekly in and around Brussels.

Boilerplates & slogans:

  • “The Bulletin is Brussels’ essential English-language weekly magazine. Published in the capital of Europe since 1962, it is continental Europe’s most successful English-language publication.”
  • “Flanders Today is an independent weekly newsmagazine about Flanders”
  • “Uncover Brussels with The Bulletin”
  • Ackroyd Publications is a well-known publisher of English language periodicals for the international community in Belgium, and serves just about every segment of this niche market. Ackroyd Publications also owns 50% of the capital behind www.Xpats.com, a joint venture with ING.”

I meet DB in the Corelio lobby at 10:30 and we take the elevator to the third floor. I meet Nina Lamparski (The Bulletin lifestyle editor) who had suggested that I talk to DB. She hands me a copy of the latest issue of The Bulletin and tweets my arrival as DB and I go into his office. I take a seat and ask if I can record the interview. DB agrees. Total interview time is one hour and five minutes.

Précis

(0:34-2:00) The rationale for Flanders Today =  a Flemish answer to the dominating Francophone press
“so it’s a very one-sided view of Flanders”
“no politics behind it”

We talk about how Corelio won the tender for the Flanders Today project and where the funding comes from (Flemish government – Dept. Vlaanderen Internationaal & some advertising). DB tells me

  • that Flanders Today is a two man operation (Lisa Bradshaw is the Deputy Editor);
  • that the Flanders Today website “doesn’t have a life of its own”; and
  • that “we have a big team of freelancers”

(08:05-9:50) DB on the Flanders Today editorial policy:
“we’re encouraged to have stories on science”
“Brussels of course is part of the idea of Flanders”
“encourage people to learn the language”

10′ mark: Flanders Today has 13,000 subscribers and 23,000 copies are printed every week

(14:10-14:56) Having done a google search for ‘Flanders’, DB comments:
“There is no easy way of finding out about Flanders”

On the media representation of Flanders and lack of policy (in relation to critical discourse moments à la Van Rompuy’s election)

(16:43-18:05) DB: “Perhaps there should be in the background a policy of creating an image that’s independent of these unique events”
TVH: “And there’s no such policy at the moment?”
DB: “I don’t see any policy at the moment…The Flanders Houses seem to be promoting tourism and business, not image”

On news selection, generation  & content:

  • part of the coverage of the Flanders Today website is syndicated content (Flanders news) generated by VRT journalists
  • news in the ‘press room’ section is translated from Flemish media by Mediargus (“a service that is mainly targeting journalists)
  • (22′ mark) “we’re looking for stories about what Flemish government is deciding” > DS & DM coverage sets the Flanders Today agenda (30′ mark)
  • Anje Otte (DS) is Flanders Today’s independent political commentator
  • on standards of journalism and production pressures
  • “generally speaking nothing happens over the weekend in Belgium…it’s a disaster”
  • “our mission is to report on Flanders in a neutral way” (50′ mark)
  • on selecting news: “we have to simplify…we have to think about our readers”

(52:12-52:22) “I like to think we’re the only truly independent media in Belgium”

(53′ mark) On the relationship with Wallonia

  • The Bulletin used to be a Francophone publication;
  • majority of foreign journalists speak French,
  • impression of Brussels is that of a French speaking city;
  • European institutions still have a Francophone culture
  • Walloon government publishes a 3-monthly newszine (in English) on Wallonia (content is largely decided by the Walloon agency for foreign relations)

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