How Brussels Journalists View Their Sources

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Journalists love Twitter, favour personal contacts over press releases, rate NGOs highly and companies poorly, and think that PR people don’t understand their needs. These are some of the key takeaways from a major survey of Brussels-based correspondents written and published by Dober Partners today.

The poll of 80 correspondents, almost 10% of the total number in Brussels, offers a unique insight into what journalists are looking for from the army of communicators that tries to influence them.

Notably, the study finds that:

  • Almost three-quarters of the journalists surveyed said PR people do not understand their needs. “Often industry PR people present company trumpet-blowing as wider news,” complained one.
  • Personal contacts are the most important source of story ideas, far outranking social media or press releases.


  • Twitter is by far the most important digital media for journalists, followed by blogs and Facebook. The main reason journalists use Twitter is to “see what peers are writing about,” closely followed by keeping on top of breaking news.
  • NGOs are journalists’ favourite sources for news, with industry associations and companies providing the worst quality information. The European Parliament was judged the best institutional source of news.


  • Journalists are under enormous time pressure, with over a quarter having less than two hours to research a story and almost 60% less than four hours.
  • The top complaints about spokespeople are they are too evasive, contact journalists too late and are unable to craft a usable quote.

In terms of which media sources they consider the most important, the Financial Times topped the list, closely followed by EUObserver. Euractiv and Politico rounded out the top five along with Twitter.


The European Commission’s new-look Spokesman’s Service, with less spokespeople giving more political responses to journalists, got an overwhelming thumbs-down from Brussels-based correspondents. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said the quality of information provided by the Juncker Commission was worse. “Too much spin,” said one reporter. “Introverted and journalist unfriendly,” said another.

A free digital copy of the 44-page report is available here.

About Gareth Harding

Gareth is the Managing Director of Clear Europe and head of the Missouri School of Journalism's Brussels Programme. He is a former journalist, speechwriter and political advisor.

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