24 hours to create a newspaper for Brussels


what you said


"Get in touch with me if you want to be part of a story that began in a Brussels garage in 1962," I wrote on this website exactly one week ago.


The post was written in response to the news that The Bulletin magazine had closed down after being part of the life of this city for almost 50 years.


I had expected just a few replies. A rude comment or two (it comes with the job). No more than that. But you responded loudly and clearly. There were messages of support from as far off as Australia, New Zealand, India and the United States.


The one clear message was that you weren't prepared to let this happen without making some noise.


Thank you for that.


Your comments covered many aspects of the old Bulletin - its strengths, its weaknesses, its slow, painful decline into obscurity. But you also indicated what any substitute would have to do if it had any hope of regaining your loyalty and affection.


Here are some of the main points that emerged in correspondence over the past seven days -


Not just a newspaper for the European Quarter


In my original post, I had proposed "a free weekly newspaper for the European Quarter". I did so mainly for practical reasons. It would simply be easier for distribution if it was handed out to people who worked in the European Quarter. 


But this idea met with some strong criticism. "Why for 'the European Quarter of Brussels?' asked one post on Brussels Expats' Facebook page. "When I used to buy The Bulletin, it was for the au pair, the young mum, etc. Are you only aiming at wealthy people in full time employment now?"


Good point. No, I don't think it would be right to aim for wealthy people. This was unfortunately increasingly the policy at The Bulletin, especially as the economic downturn began to bite. The tough reality is that au pairs don't have money to buy magazines.


The new publication will have to reach a very wide readership if it is to satisfy all the people who wrote to me last week. Among the many messages, several came from Moroccan Belgians who supported the concept. That made me realise that an English language newspaper should appeal to a wide readership that went far beyond the traditional idea of the rich Western expat.


It would be writing for the Chinese, the Indians, the Thais - all the different communities whose needs and interests are not represented in the existing Belgian newspapers. 


Written by English speakers 


Some of you called for a magazine that was written by English speakers, not Belgians who happened to have a gift for English. I agree that this is important. No matter how well a Belgian speaks English, they write as a Belgian, think as a Belgian. Our readers, I imagine, are looking for a different perspective, one that sees things from the outside, as a foreigner. You can only really write that way if you are one.


Yet it is sometimes tempting to use a Belgian writer, simply because they often know a lot more about this country than an English speaker. You would have a hard time finding an English speaking writer who could match the wit and wisdom of Anja Otte, the Belgian political columnist who writes every week in Flanders Today.     


All Belgium


You want a newspaper for all Belgium, not just the Dutch-speaking part covered by Flanders Today. Point taken. We won't forget Arlon.


Adopt new technology


One comment suggested that the newsppaer should introduce an iBook version, in imitation of some large US newspapers. This is, I think, the way to remain relevant in the 21st century. The new digital technologies offer a wide range of exciting new ways to link with readers. We will definitely be looking at ways of getting our words and images onto people's smartphones using apps and so on. But we won't lose sight of the readers who wants a physical newspaper to read in Pain Quotidien with their coffee and croissant. 


Balanced coverage


Some of you said you were happy with Flanders Today, the free weekly newspaper published by the Flemish government. But others expressed reservations because of its political bias. I was involved in the launch of this newspaper, and I made the point at the time that it must not become a Pravda for Flanders, or it would lose the respect of the readers. But of course it is paid for by the government so it will almost inevitable reflect the government's point of view.


Many of you don't want that. You want a newspaper where you can say what you think about the rubbish in the streets, or the potholes that haven't been repaired since last winter. So there is no point in launching a new paper unless it is fully independent.


Which brings me to my final point -


It will be funded by the readers


You made it clear that you did not like The Bulletin in its final phase because it was filled with lifestyle articles placed there to please advertisers. I would agree with that. But a newspaper or magazine has to make money somehow. The advertisers knew that The Bulletin was struggling, so they were able to make outrageous demands that destroyed the magazine's editorial independence.


I would have little appetite for going down that road again. But if you don't want advertisers holding a gun to your head, and you don't want government interference, how are you going to pay for a newspaper?


I have talked to various people about the different options and it now seems clear that the only answer is for readers to fund the publication.


Now this is going to hurt, I know. But it is the truth. If you want a voice in the city, you're going to have to pay for it.


It could be done. The Facebook group Brussels Expats has almost 6,000 members. If every member took out a subscription to the new newspaper or magazine, it would break even. And if every Brussels Expat member persuaded one friend to take out a subscription as well, the writers could afford to take the occasional holiday.


That's how it stands. It's up to you where it goes from here. The story of The Bulletin started in a garage in 1962. But it's not over until the fat lady sings.


Derek Blyth

former Editor-in-Chief of The Bulletin 

comment posted 09 July 2012









The concept:


a local newspaper for the international community of Brussels and Belgium


The format:

16 pages Berliner


The price:

annual subscription rate 


Where can I get it?

in your letterbox; in your local cafe if you're lucky


When will it start?

April 2013



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