De Standaard’s move to Brussels puts the newsroom at the heart of its news

By Emmanuel Naert

Mediahuis

Brussels, Belgium

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On October 3, De Standaard is moving from it’s current location just outside of Brussels to the city centre, right next to the city’s Central Station. We will be housed on the top floor of the the Shell Building, a wonderful Art Deco building from the 1930s.

The previous working place was just 5 kilometers away, so there’s not much news in the fact we are moving. However, the decision to specifically move to this location is quite peculiar. It would have been more logical to move to the Mediahuis headquarters in Antwerp, merging so the sales department could collaborate closely with the tech guys just a few desks away. Our colleagues at DPG recently did exactly that by moving to Antwerp to a brand new building called News City.

The view from the new building is envy-inducing.
The view from the new building is envy-inducing.

Our editor-in-chief Karel Verhoeven explains: “In the decision process, we didn’t only look at the synergistic opportunities. We were also looking for a location that delivers journalistic quality and find a sustainable way of combining work and life. And, above all, we wanted to move to a place fit for our identity.”

Together with the company’s CFO Kristiaan De Beukelaer, Verhoeven involved all members of the newsroom to find an answer to the following questions: What is the best place to make De Standaard? What is the best place for the news staff? And what’s the best place for Mediahuis?

Best place to report news

“If you ask these questions to 100 people individually, you will get a 100 different answers,” De Beukelaer explains. “Instead of imposing a decision, we decided to set up a broad consulting tour with all the stakeholders and found that a large majority agreed that the newsroom was operating too far from its subject.”

The move puts staff within a close distance of where major news develops in Belgium.
The move puts staff within a close distance of where major news develops in Belgium.

The concensus was that Brussels — not Antwerp — was the sweet spot from which to produce excellent De Standaard coverage for the years to come: “The efficiencies will also be significant,” Verhoeven says. “Travel time will not be shorter, but we make it more productive. Our colleagues will come by train and be able to catch up on their reading while commuting. Instead of starting the news day at half past 10, it will start at 9:30. The production of the paper and news management of the Web site and app will have more overlapping working hours.

“More than before, a strong news Web site will make a strong paper, and vice versa. For a large number in the newsroom, the working day will finish one hour earlier than before.” One hour: That’s a considerable shift in the work-life balance.

In times of desktop journalism and distant sources, you wouldn’t think physical closeness would still play such an important role in the daily practice of a journalist. Verhoeven says, “We are now a stone’s throw from the major decision centers of the government (and we have plenty of those in Brussels!), Europe, business, and civil society. Having a quick coffee and a chat with the minister doesn’t take half a day anymore. This is now reduced to a stroll in the park. The newsroom of De Standaard is moving out of its bubble and will feel the vibe of the city.”

Best place for the newsroom staff

De Beukelaer was convinced accessability would play a key role in the quest for a new location. “With the current traffic gridlock, it’s no longer acceptable to have people sit in their cars for more than two hours just to reach their working place. The fact that so many of my colleagues do this every day is a great proof of their commitment.”

De Standaard also writes so much about this topic, and this urged the news staff to practice what they preach. “In the consulting tour, most people answered that they were willing to leave their car in the driveway and use different modes of transportation,” De Beukelaer says. “There are barely any parking spaces in the building, but this place has enormous accessability options: We have a train station and the subway just accross the street, and we offer a mobility budget to cover the expenses.”

This budget covers the cost of car parking at the entrance of the city, a ticket for the subway, and even a subscription to a network of electrical steps. It costs less to the company to lease an unused car for its employees and finance transport by train or metro to the working place, than to pay for parking lots and fuel.

What about the HQ?

What was best for Mediahuis? If you ask the CFO, of course the budget was a major consideration. Working in Brussels doesn’t exactly come cheap. By trimming the working surfaces and eleminating a number of desks, the equation turned in favour of Brussels.

“If De Standaard would have come to Antwerp, we would also have been forced to invest in a second location outside of the company headquarters,” De Beukelaer admits. In the end, there weren’t many benefits for Mediahuis to move De Standaard to Antwerp.

This week, Mediahuis acquired NDC, a local news group in the north of the Netherlands. CEO Gert Ysebaert compares the solution for De Standaard to that of the local media: “This decision just feels right; if you’re working in Groningen, you need a place in Groningen.”

Of course there will be some inefficiencies. Ysebaert says, “Some departments will operate more from a distance. But our group is established in a number of locations, and I don’t see it as a problem to add one. In fact, having a place in Brussels might be an advantage to the whole group.”

Work is underway for the early October move for the De Standaard team.
Work is underway for the early October move for the De Standaard team.

The walls are being painted, furniture is being delivered, and we’re finishing the last details to host 130 colleagues in the heart of Europe. On Monday, October 5, the first De Standaard will be published from Brussels — with the subject of our writing whithin reach.

About Emmanuel Naert

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