News website partly funded by EU launches in UK ahead of possible in-out referendum

European Union news and policy website EurActiv has today launched a new website specifically for the UK.

The site, which is part-funded by the EU and also relies on company sponsorship, currently claims around 90,000 unique browsers a month from the UK, making up 13.4 per cent of its total 667,000 audience. Its aim is to double the proportion of its traffic that comes from this country.

The website, which was founded in 1999, has a presence in 12 EU capitals, operaring in 12 languages. It currently has a '.com' address, but today launches as a '.co.uk'.

The move has been prompted by the UK's current "political situation", where the Conservative Party has pledged an in-out EU referendum by 2017 if it returns to power in next month's general election.

It comes in the same month US-founded politics title Politico is to come to Europe with 40 journalists and launch a website and print edition.

EurActiv currently employs 50 journalists, out of a total team of 104, including one based in London. A number of native English speakers are based in Brussels for the site.

The site's founder Christophe Leclercq told Press Gazette: “EurActiv has a slightly different role from some mass media. The mass media tend to concentrate on a few hot topics, for example the big referendum question and the like. Obviously we cover this, but we also cover the bread and butter of EU activity in which UK organisations are fully engaged. 

"UK business organisations, UK NGOs and obviously the UK government and regions do participate in policy-making and bringing this to the fore and explaining the ins and outs of the EU system is our job and then it can be taken again and quoted or reused by other media which in turn have a mass audience.”

EurActiv is part-funded (less than 10 per cent, according to the founder) by the European Commission – the EU's executive body – and allows companies to sponsor different policy sections of its website. 

But Leclercq said that these bodies "have no influence on the editorial coverage". He added: "But the fact that they support the section obviously helps us to have a lot more coverage.”

EurActiv's website says: "The Commission and the corporate sponsors can give feedback on the policy areas we cover as one of the criteria for opening new sections. But they do not determine the coverage. In fact, sponsors are generally eager to see balanced coverage, including NGOs and links to the press.

"We also have clear guidelines in the editorial team concerning our principles: transparency, efficiency and neutrality."

According to Leclercq, EurActiv also makes its money through  online advertising, though this is the "least important" source of revenue. He said: “Too many media, in my view, have relied too exclusively on online advertising”. The website also makes money through a membership scheme, which runs networking events.

When Politico comes to Europe later this month, it is to launch a print edition as well as its website. Asked whether EurActiv has ever considered a print product, or whether it could launch one in the future, Leclercq said: “We often think about it and we always decide not to do it.

"It’s very costly, we have the advantages of being a pure player, with no legacy issues, no print pint presses, et cetera. If we had a print product we would probably sustain it, but we don’t prefer. We prefer to invent future online products.”

Ian Hall, a former editor of Public Affairs News and news editor of PR Week, has worked for EurActiv in a non-editorial role in the UK since November 2011.

Asked about the motivation for launching EurActiv.co.uk, he said: “First and foremost, it is the political situation. So clearly you’ll know that there is a commitment from the Conservatives to hold an in-out referendum should they win the next election, by 2017, and therefore interest within the UK on EU policy has been growing.“

Hall said he “absolutely” believes there is a gap in the UK market for EurActiv’s coverage.

He said: “If you take a look at the breadth and depth of the content that’s currently available in English language on EurActiv.com, it’s very interesting stuff that I feel could and should increasingly be picked up by the UK media.

“Clearly in the run-up to the UK election, things like the NHS will be the main subject, topic points, but, depending on the outcome of the next election, interest in Europe will potentially grow further.”

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