Politico Europe, with €10m invested, is one of most ambitious media launches in Brussels
Brussels - AFP
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker reeling in pain from a sudden bout of kidney stones or a shortage of hotel rooms in Brussels forcing critical Greek debt talks to Paris?
Normally, the world would have been spared these scoops but on Tuesday the US website Politico opened for business in Brussels with the stated ambition to go behind the scenes in the EU's corridors of power.
Politico Europe, with 10 million euros ($10.8 million) invested, is one of the most ambitious media launches in Brussels, or the continent, in years and comes as most stories about the news media are about collapsing readership or job cuts.
But Politico is hiring with 36 journalists already on board, including 29 in Brussels, setting the EU news bubble abuzz in anticipation over what the new venture, backed 50-50 by German media giant Axel Springer, will bring to the old continent.
"The excitement in this town about Politico comes from that we can offer, something different which is lively journalism about Europe not about Brussels or the institutions," said an exhausted editor-in-chief Matthew Kaminski, just a few hours after the website's overnight launch.
-'Fascinating story' -
Most of the staff of the start-up are from a selection of the 28 countries that make up the European Union and will work to provide the website and a weekly publication with insider articles on the "game of power" in Brussels.
"Politico is a publication about power. Who has it, who is manoeuvering to get it, who are using it. That's a fascinating story," said John Harris, a co-founder of Politico and the editorial supremo in Washington.
Harris and colleague Jim VandeHei walked out of plum Washington Post jobs to launch Politico in 2007, which came to prominence on the back of the dramatic fight between then-Senator Barack Obama and former first lady Hillary Clinton for the US presidency.
The Politico bosses insist they can bring that same hard charging excitement to Brussels, despite a deep feeling by Europeans themselves the EU is simply boring.
"I just don't accept that," said Harris, citing as an example last week's announcement that the EU will fight Internet giant Google in a highly fraught anti-trust battle.
"Here we have this clash right here in Brussels between one of the most emblematic companies of the last generation and regulators and here you have faces attached, not just faceless regulators," he said.
- Ruffled feathers -
The EU's new competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, is that new face and will attend Politico's launch gala Thursday along with a handful of other commissioners.
But the Politico-style has already ruffled feathers, especially among journalists who take it as an insult that Politico believes their news coverage here is begging for a shake-up.
It also bothered the Commission, the EU's powerful executive arm and the core institution Politico will cover.
"President Juncker decided for a gift to (speak to) Politico for the day of launch and they gave him the big news that kidney stones is actually a painful thing," an unamused Juncker spokesman Margaritis Schinas said at a briefing.
Politico Europe has said its biggest competitors are major media like the London-based Financial Times, currently the Brussels bubble must-read.
But the site's Managing Director Sheherazade Semsar-de-Boisson acknowledged that high-priced newsletters that delve deep into the details of European policy and are read closely by lobbyists and policy makers are also in its sights.
Editor Kaminski added: "We're always happy to get a larger audience but to make this business work you have to get at that niche audience of the most powerful or important people.
"The guiding idea of Politico is that if we can capture those insiders ... a larger audience follows."