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The Netherlands – (C4) Journalism professionalism

Score in short:

The Dutch newsrooms engage in various forms of self-reflection on and appraisal of the work they do and the way in which they do it. However, most self-reflection occurs on an ad hoc basis and usually after the fact.

Score in detail:

The newsrooms of the Dutch media engage in various forms of self-reflection on and appraisal of the work they do and the way in which they do it. The journalists and editors of the news bulletins on NOS and RTL hold a daily meeting in which the editor-in-chief and his staff members cast a critical look at the previous day’s main newscast. However, as far as self-reflection as such is concerned, the majority of journalists interviewed say that this is done on an ad hoc basis and usually after the fact, whenever current events may make it useful or necessary. At the other end of the spectrum, we find the newsroom of De Telegraaf, where no extensive or formal sessions of self-reflection are organized. Instead the paper tries to discover through research what its readers feel is important; on regular occasions, the readers can phone in to the newsroom and ask questions about content and journalistic choices.

At De Gelderlander, the editor-in-chief has a monthly talk with the editorial staff about, among other things, ethical issues, and at a annual plenary meeting with readers, the editorial staff explain their methods and the course steered by the paper. At various other media, the editors-in-chief write a blog for their readership and at times engage in self-reflection. NRC, for its part, organizes a self-reflection session once a week, at fixed times, and invites outsiders to discuss the previous week’s papers with staff. In the weekend edition, the editor-in-chief lets readers have a glimpse behind the scenes of the paper in his column Lezer schrijft/krant antwoordt (‘the reader writes/the paper answers’). Several media have a special editor for their readers, the most radical form of self-reflection being found at de Volkskrant and NOS, viz. an ombudsman who comments on the methods used by the newsroom, doing so independently of the editorial staff as a whole. The publisher of de Volkskrant (since 2009 De Persgroep) regards the ombudsman (who has fulfilled this role for eight years) as an unequivocal sign that the paper takes its readers seriously. Huub Wijfjes believes that the news ombudsman and the blogs written by editors-in-chief are a buffer against the clamor on the part of readers for more accountability. The journalist from NRC whom we interviewed observes that a truly independent news ombudsman should, of course, not be on the paper’s wage-list. As of 2010, the Press Promotion Fund finances a Stichting Media Ombudsman, a foundation set up based on dissatisfaction with the way in which the Press Council has functioned thus far; the aim is to create a platform for studying the use of, for example, a news ombudsman and to create a separate ethical code for Internet journalism.