Europe needs local news in the global language
As The Local throws open the doors to its new office in Paris, founder Paul Rapacioli argues - purely coincidentally - that a daily diet of local news could change Europe’s destiny.
An Italian programmer in Berlin, a German doctor in Barcelona, a Spanish architect in Brussels - they number in their millions, these healthy roots of a rapidly maturing European garden.
And yet, despite a flourishing generation of young adults who truly consider themselves to be Europeans, this grand union of nations is very frayed. You may have noticed. It has been mentioned in the press.
Indeed, a barrage of dismal European news - the teetering Euro, the north-south factions, the bailouts, a potential ‘Brixit’ - has left many of the union’s 500 million citizens wondering “what has the EU ever done for us?”.
Because the pro-Europeans have well and truly lost the PR initiative. That’s a tragedy, because there will be referendums and populations must be persuaded. And it’s a disgrace, because they have all the material they need to tell a winning story.
So what is that material?
Is it that the dream of freedom of movement has become reality? That there’s more trade between EU countries than ever before? That intra-European travel has become commonplace and remarkably unremarkable? Or what about the 2.5 million European students who have enriched their cultural awareness, language skills and contacts books by studying in another country?
We are all now exposed to internationalia to an extent that would have been unthinkable just three decades ago. And let’s not forget the very human product of all these mobile lives: more international romance – producing a new generation of binational, bilingual children.
This is all good news. But if the official from the EU serves it up, it won’t smell right. It will smell a bit too much like propaganda.
No, the narrative that will cement the European project is made up of the daily lives of Europe’s citizens.
Because unless we understand what makes our fellow Europeans tick we can never persuade our politicians to solve the problems that threaten our extraordinary European freedom.
Of course, the best way to understand any country is to visit it, talk to the people who live there or to live there yourself. The next best way is to read that country’s news.
But intra-European daily news reporting is practically extinct. As news organizations all over the world scrambled to update their models for the digital era, the first victims were foreign correspondents and their everyday stories giving a flavour of life elsewhere.
What we get plenty of, though, is a one-size-fits-all diet of “International News”, which tells us very little about the countries where it happens. In fact, being by definition an aberration, International News gives us an utterly narrow view of life in the country where it happens. It’s the news which could have happened anywhere.
There is of course a place for the broad-brush top-level analysis but you don’t expect to learn about life in the Czech Republic by reading an article in, say, the Economist, about the country’s first presidential debate.
Daily news is the glue of our society, defining the issues we care about and how we respond to them as a community. And since your community goes beyond your local neighbourhood, your city and even your country, daily news from around Europe should be a vital part of our lives.
But take away the Big Stuff Which Could Have Happened Anywhere and what you’re left with is the occasional rehashed quirky story, out of context and written by someone a long way from the action.
Knowledge and insight give way to hackneyed archetypes which reinforce people’s prejudices - lazy Greeks, thrifty Germans, rebellious French, responsible Scandinavians. As the economic crisis has bound the fates of reluctant Europeans together, media clichés have been driving the continent further apart.
If you are an expat, if you travel or do business internationally, if you study abroad or have friends and family in other countries, then you need to know what’s happening around Europe.
But then, you know that, because you are reading this article. There are millions more like you and at The Local we are doing our best to spread this news, these small snapshots of life that together form the essence of nations, to as many people as possible.
Local daily news from around the continent will break down barriers and bring us closer together. And if it helps voters to understand how much they have in common, then it might just change the destiny of Europe.
Paul Rapacioli, CEO, The Local