After being confined to the screen during the pandemic, #BrusselsCalling finally came off-line on 28 March. It returned in-person with panache, featuring EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Dipping into her past as a journalist for one morning, she took control of the microphone to lead a lively exchange on the challenges of covering financial regulation, quizzing Andy Bounds (Financial Times), Kathryn Carlson (MLex), Huw Jones (Reuters) and Suzanne Lynch (POLITICO Europe) on everything from everyday pressures faced by reporters to the future of financial regulation. Here are four key takeaways:
01 Fast-paced journalism: variations on a theme.
The modern expectation for instantaneous reporting defines contemporary journalism but is sometimes at the expense of having enough time to think, says Huw Jones. Newswires like Reuters cater to a readership which requires to-the-minute reporting, while Kathryn Carlson and her colleagues at a specialist outlet like MLex enjoy more breathing space and ample time to let a story take shape. Andy Bounds muses over the developments that have accompanied the accelerated pace of the news; we digest news differently now, and online live columns and podcasts are necessary for an outlet to remain relevant. Amid these transformations, Suzanne Lynch believes that continuing to engage in dialogue with your audience is key, no matter the medium.
02 Good journalism demands good judgement.
A journalist’s job is to act as a bridge between decision makers and the public – sound judgement is therefore essential. Beyond the political process, beyond the struggle for power and influence, what is the impactful story, Kathryn Carlson asks? Andy Bounds believes journalism levels the playing field of information, citing an FT reader’s decision to take money out of Silicon Valley Bank based on FT reporting ahead of its collapse. What, where, when, how, why … good journalism comes down to these simple questions, asked at the right time and to the right people.
In this context, Suzanne Lynch warns against the phenomenon of groupthink, something she insists was central to American journalists’ coverage of the invasion of Iraq 20 years ago. She says journalists reporting on financial services have a responsibility to write critically and astutely about the current state of the markets to avoid being instrumental in another crash. Huw Jones echoes these sentiments, noting that journalists are by no means infallible and have missed some of the biggest stories to date, the results of the Brexit referendum and the advent of Donald Trump to name but a few.
03 Financial Services: a case study in difficult communications.
Complex jargon and excessive acronyms are the unfortunate mainstays of EU communications. Kathryn Carlson defines the journalist’s task as skimming the cream off the milk and pinning down the significance of often convoluted information. Andy Bounds observes that messaging is more centralised and technocratic than ever, while Huw Jones says European Council communications are a ‘’black box’’, even for the most basic draft laws. Covering financial regulation arguably goes one step further given the technical subject matter. The panel’s discussion about the digital euro attests to the difficulty of providing explanations to the public that are both informative and accessible. When pressed by the Commissioner to explain the digital euro in just two sentences, each of our journalists struggled to do so.
The EU’s problem with communication is nothing new, Suzanne Lynch says. Innovative communication has always been in the hands of journalists, who have a much better track record of explaining the EU to the public than official actors do.
04 Crisis catalyses cooperation.
The looming threat of financial crisis has encouraged increased cooperation among EU countries. Despite previous reticence to the Capital Markets Union (CMU), the idea is enjoying a new lease of life in light of the recent collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse, according to Andy Bounds. Huw Jones notes the EU’s fundamental role in straightening out Europe’s weaker banks during the last financial crisis, and all four journalists agree that the CMU has greater prospects for success now in a crisis context than ever before. Kathryn Carlson criticises leaders’ unwavering narrative of strength and stability at the most recent EU Summit, an attitude which prevented them from revisiting talks on the CMU. Both she and Suzanne Lynch worry that this approach amounts to sticking your head in the sand rather than responsible silence in a bid to withstand the storm. This, of course, is where the journalist comes in. Critical reporting must challenge decision makers and hold them accountable to the public, especially in times of crisis.