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Adequate information management in Europe

Final Report Summary - AIM (Adequate information management in Europe)

The main goal of the AIM project was to better understand the daily news machinery of reporting Europe through the most decisive journalistic media in Europe, i.e. newspapers and television. The project aimed to establish what are the general routines, the decision-making grounds, and the basic frameworks within professional journalism as well as in the communication institutions of the European Union (EU) to produce routine material for the European public.

A central goal of this research was to assess the media's impact on the development of (a) European public sphere(s). Hence, the focus was on actors (EU institutions and media organisations as well as journalists, correspondents and editors on European, national, regional levels), on mechanisms (structures and processes of news management), and on ways of theoretical understanding (issues of the European public sphere and the meta-level of journalism practice).

In the centre of attention of the researchers from the eleven participating countries was how the mass media produce EU coverage in the context of the diverse journalistic cultures and professional standards. The project was based on two levels. First, it analysed the practical conditions that determine whether an EU issue is set on the news agenda or not (news agenda analysis). Secondly, it dealt with the intrinsically stated norm of European political life that access to EU information and journalistic observation and critique - within a context of pluralism - constitutes an essential part of a vital democracy. The latter notion spurns the theoretical and practical debate concerning (a) European public sphere(s). Thus, there is a direct link of the project to current discussions concerning the aim to enhance the openness, transparency, accountability, and legitimacy of the political system of the EU. And there are repercussions concerning questions whether this might not only concern an elite group of intellectuals, but the European citizens as such.

The achievements, the effectiveness, and the shortcomings of mass media and their structures in Europe, thus, are of crucial importance to the state of the European polity at large. The AIM project has arrived at an interim assessment concerning this state within the eleven countries focusing on the sector of professional journalism and its role.

The results of the AIM project permit a direct insight into the daily news production in European countries. Several problems which get in the way of an extensive EU coverage in the newsrooms were localised. Also, the structural problems within EU institutions - as sources of daily information - were analysed.

On the part of the media the following problem areas were pointed out:
- Mainly national newspapers cover the EU. In regional newspapers and private television channels the EU plays only a minor part. The editorial offices lack manpower and knowledge for EU coverage. Newspapers and private television almost exclusively fall back on stringers, pool-correspondents, and newswire-services. Therefore, consideration of individual readerships or a regionalisation of EU news is largely impaired.
- Meanwhile, the EU has a great impact on national politics, but EU coverage still mostly belongs to departments and desk of foreign politics. Thus, news from Brussels have to compete with news from Washington, Baghdad or Moscow.

On the part of the political institutions, the following issues hinder fluent communication:
- As a public administration the European Commission (EC) has to rationalise its communication procedures. Mostly, spokespersons of the EC are allowed to communicate officially (on-the-record) with the media. The respective experts from the administration must not comment on issues and topical discussions in their role as functionaries. As a result, internal controversies and conflicts hardly reach the public, but mainly clean and softened media information which the journalists, as the project shows, abhor.
- A considerable number of the interviewed correspondents disagreed with the profile of the spokespersons of the EU institutions. Only in some areas there are experienced spokesperson and media experts who live up to the requirements of the media.
- EU institutions tend to bombard journalists with random information - without much insight into the priorities of journalistic work. AIM project research sees an option for a different information policy that is more oriented towards target audiences. The links with the people's daily life in Europe are missed out in journalism as well as on the communication part of the EU institutions.
- National politicians communicate EU matters from their national perspective or tend to use 'Brussels' as scapegoat. This is contrary to the established supra- and multi-national structure and status of the EU. And it leaves out the wide spectrum of existing interests within the EU that have to be met on a daily basis.

Studies concerning the meta -level of practice in the area of journalism training have shown that a focused and in depth type of journalism training regarding the reporting of Europe is widely missing. Furthermore, these studies gave evidence to a widespread level of lack of competence even within the sector of quality journalism with regard to the proper coverage of reporting Europe. Innovative new methodologies for new types of journalism training have been tested with remarkably good results.

During the duration of the project, the total AIM consortium met in person for four workshops (closed to the AIM participants) and two conferences (partly open to the public). Also, several sub-working groups were formed that also met in person on several occasions. Decisions within the consortium were taken with majority vote. In the case of any difficulties, an ombuds-commission consisting of three senior project partners was supposed to meet; this, however, has turned out to have never been necessary. The work of the consortium was steered by the coordinating team of the Erich Brost Institute in Dortmund and guided along eleven deliverable material steps and 25 work packages (with different lead institutes). The project, in the long end showed that transnational research in Europe within the social sciences constitutes a great challenge. There are not many places in the world were this type of scientific work in a trans-cultural and international environment is carried within a routine type of research environment. The gains for all participating researchers and institutes are formidable: perspectives, methodologies and theories are put to a new and rigorous test. Established working traditions and university practices have to be debated in full. This project also showed that coordination of this new type of research in Europe requires strong managerial and disciplined remits.

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