*Lise Witteman studied Law in Utrecht and Journalism in Amsterdam
Lise Witteman is a free-lance political journalist in Brussels. In this interview she will tell you more about her own career path and what it is like to work in this field.
Could you give us a short introduction about yourself? “In 2008 I graduated in Law from the University of Utrecht. I was always interested in political journalism but I heard from other journalists that it is useful to do a bachelor in another discipline and to do a master in journalism afterwards. In general, the master programmes are a bit more specialised, and if journalism would not have worked out, then at least I would have had another discipline to fall back on. Also, because of my interest in political journalism, I thought that it would be very useful to understand how the legal world is put together. During my bachelor I already took courses that focused on Europe. I did my master in Journalism and Media at the University of Amsterdam.”
What has your career path looked like so far? “My first job was at HetFinanciele Dagblad. I worked there for a few months, but I could not achieve the things that I wanted to achieve with journalism. I decided to start for myself and chose to free-lance. At Nu.nl I got a job as a free-lancing political journalist. This was a very interesting time for the media as politicians realised that the newspaper was not the only way to reach the public.
“Later I worked at Wij Nederland (WNL), because I wanted to take a look at the workings of television broadcasting. I also worked a while at Knevel & van den Brink. Here, I was the political editor and I took care of the political guests that came along the show. I prepared the interviews and did research beforehand. However, I missed the writing part and I wanted to start free-lancing again. But then the Telegraaf offered me a job as political news reporter. I took this job because the Telegraaf is on of the biggest Dutch newspapers with a wide range of access to inside information.
“In 2018 I wanted a new challenge. The European Parliament elections were coming up and I was in contact with the Groene Amsterdammer and Follow The Money. I spoke to them about my idea to become a correspondent in Brussels and they were interested in this. I went to Brussels as a free-lancer and realised that I wanted to do it differently then the other correspondents. Usually, you only have one correspondent per news outlet, this makes it really hard to focus on less mainstream political events. This caused many topics to be neglected and it was my goal to make these topics available for the general public. This led to my book Sluiproute Brussel, in which I show that the government is not always transparent about what the minister’s agenda is, and about what they decide on behalf of the people.
“We saw that there was a lack of journalism about certain topics in Brussels. Therefore, we took the initiative to boost research journalism by establishing a Brussels desk. Brussels is a very interesting policy area where journalism still has a lot of space to grow.”
What does the writing process look like? “Before becoming a free-lancing journalist in Brussels, it is really useful to already have experience in the journalistic working field. For me, it is important to pose critical questions about a specific topic. For example, what parties were involved? Are there any self-interests in a certain policy proposal? The trick is to realise that there will always be winners and losers, people who become richer and others who don’t benefit at all. These are the things that a journalist will try to find out. Once the bigger picture is clear, I pitch the research idea and then it is up to them to decide whether it is worth pursuing or not.”
What is the most interesting thing about this profession? “What I find interesting as a journalist, is the structure of power relations. Especially because there is a lot of power in Brussels, and there are many different narratives. Political journalism is a way to check these powers. It is some kind of a puzzle to find out what information is really applicable and worthy to pursue and what is not.”
What are the challenges of political journalism? “Sometimes we get asked if our critical work encourages Euroscepticism. This is not the case. Our work tries to make information accessible to the people and show the importance of being transparent. Also to show that it is not always in Brussels where things go wrong, but also at the member state level. One of the biggest challenges is to make the information understandable for everyone. It should be easy to read and it should not resemble a Wikipedia page that assumes that you already have prior knowledge.”
How does it work in Brussels itself? Do you often work together with European institutions? “As a research journalist we don’t have to fully rely on these institutions. We have the privilege to do our own research and get into contact with academics for example. We also work together with other journalist form other countries. This cooperation is really useful in understanding each other’s perspectives.”
Future prospect “For now, there is still a lot of work to do in Brussels. We are working on reaching an even bigger European audience. European journalism is still in its infancy, we are trying to get European news out of the Brussels bubble, and into other regions.”
Do you have any advice for students who are interested in political journalism? “Student can always send me an email at email@example.com with questions they might have. I think the most important thing is to gain experience, for example by doing an internship. This taught me so many things about journalism. Especially at smaller media platforms, you get a lot of room to choose your own topics and to develop your writing skills. Eventually this will lead to the things that you are most passionate about.”
Click here to find out more about Lise’s book Sluiproute Brussel