Large companies are not a threat but in fact a guarantee of quality
A large company such as DPG Media, with many media titles, is not a threat to journalism, but will instead safeguard it – under certain conditions. Journalism Director Philippe Remarque on the course ahead for journalism in these turbulent times.
As a young man, I learned the craft of journalism in the field. I walked among the Russian protesters resisting the tanks of the Soviet old guard in Moscow. The Soviet Union collapsed. Thirty years later, Vladimir Putin’s actions have made this region headline news again.
Back then, armed with a notebook and youthful Sturm und Drang, I couldn’t have foreseen that one day I’d be discussing the future of journalism with Dutch members of parliament. But that’s what happened last year. Because some MPs are worried about the fate of Dutch newspapers, now that they belong for the most part to DPG Media and Mediahuis.
I hope I was able to reassure them: journalism in the Netherlands is in good shape. And those big companies are a guarantee for the future, rather than a threat. Of course, companies always say such things. Should you believe them? I’ll explain my reasoning, then you can judge for yourselves.
Everyone who reads this will have seen their own media behaviour change drastically over recent years. And it’s all due to the little screen in everyone’s pocket and the overabundance of information, services and entertainment on it. It’s a blessing, but also a revolution. The creative destruction of Austrian economist Schumpeter is part of this – particularly in the media. The new opportunities mean that a lot of money is now flowing to big tech companies, which don’t pay for any editorial staff.
This could have negative consequences for journalism – and this has happened in a few places in the world. But if you look at the Dutch and Flemish journalistic landscape, you can’t help but be astounded at how well things are actually going.
Philippe Remarque (56)
Director since 2019. Previously
editor-in-chief of de Volkskrant
for 9 years.
there’s a great need for quality journalism, produced by professional journalists who have the time and the skills to dig deeper. In recent years, when current affairs have had a major impact on people’s lives, they’ve reached out in large numbers for that kind of journalism. They’ve also been prepared to pay for it. All our news titles are growing.
And they’re not the only ones. Investigative journalism in the Netherlands has never been as varied as it is now: existing media – ours or those of the competition – new online titles such as De Correspondent, and numerous initiatives and funds are committed to it. Journalism proves itself time and again to be a check on power and a pillar of our democracy. Examples are the childcare benefits scandal in the Netherlands and PostNL in Belgium.
“A check on power and a pillar of our democracy”
But this precious commodity cannot survive by itself. It’s a lot of work – and difficult. Especially in this era of digital transition. Journalism has to reinvent itself and invest heavily in digitisation in order to be visible on that little screen in everyone’s pocket. We’re in direct competition with the apps of Big Tech. To be able to fund this, newspaper and magazine titles that used to exist independently need to work together in larger associations.
That’s the story behind these two media companies. The best illustration is NDC, publisher of regional papers Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, Leeuwarder Courant and Friesch Dagblad. It didn’t face competition in its area, but it still recognised the need to be affiliated with a large media company to secure the future of its regional journalism. NDC turned to DPG Media and Mediahuis, the latter of which it is now a part.
Smaller titles survive by being incorporated into a large group. Looked at in this way, these large companies are good for diversity. The bulk of original regional reporting – vital to our society and a source of concern for politicians – comes from our company, with national newspaper AD and seven regional titles working together in ADR Nieuwsmedia. They’re growing again thanks to this cooperation.
“Editorial teams need two things to guarantee diversity: independence and sufficient resources”
Is that the whole story? No. Because those concerned voices are quite right: with such concentrated ownership, the diverse range of newspaper titles must be safeguarded. Large groups bear great responsibility for this cornerstone of our democracy. However, as I was able to explain to the MPs, we also see that responsibility as a moral duty. Journalism, in whatever form, is the core of our business.
Editorial teams need two things to guarantee diversity: independence and sufficient resources. The publisher must be committed to providing these. Whatever else you might think about DPG Media, that independence is solid. In the nine years that I was editor-in-chief of national daily newspaper Volkskrant, nobody ever said anything to me about what we had to write. And that’s how it should be.
Now that I am myself a publisher and journalism director, and responsible for appointing new editors-in-chief together with the editorial team and sometimes foundations, I sense once again how beautiful and precarious that balance is. A newspaper is an enterprise, but also a cultural asset and the intellectual property of an editorial team.
Editorial statutes, which are also included in our company’s articles of association, are the firm guarantee that editorial staff will remain independent. And the resources? They’ll always be a subject of discussion, but the key thing is that editorial teams have to be able to grow. And the company must invest substantially in digital transformation.
I asked an MP who proposes breaking up large media companies how those independent titles are supposed to survive in this digital landscape after his intervention. With subsidies, he said.
Dutch newspapers as museums of some kind, while we already have public broadcasting, is not my idea of diversity, I said. A free press requires entrepreneurial freedom. And most important of all: we’re alive and kicking, and growing, without subsidies, and far removed from any museum. Journalism is flourishing.