Meet the makers
Kustaw Bessems (39) — Head of the Vonk Saturday Edition and Crossmedia Editor of De Volkskrant
Kustaw Bessems’ journey is similar to that of an explorer always bound for uncharted territory. First he explored new journalistic forms for the Saturday supplement of Vonk. Since late last year, he is also the head of a brand-new editorial office at Crossmedia, where the editors experiment with all kinds of digital narrative forms.
Being ahead of everyone else seems to be Bessems’ motto. For about five years, he developed his pioneering character as a political editor at De Pers, a free newspaper published in the Netherlands. “Everything was possible there. We were anarchic”, Bessems says. The newspaper constantly searched for new ways to captivate people. That was also his mission when he started at Vonk.
Bessems: “People could be doing anything on a Saturday morning. So how do you make them read that difficult piece about the EU first? That is what we wanted to achieve. A creative combination of format, urgency and content is important. It is also our mission online. You have to present your online copy with just as much love and attention and you need to remain at the forefront of new developments.”
“There are no taboos in terms of form”, he says. “We may be discussing terrorism figures on one page, but we equally offer our readers a cat GIF concentration game elsewhere. Of course my aim is that people also read the article explaining why we think cats are so cute. This brings a whole new audience to De Volkskrant in an accessible way. I hope to continue to create things that are innovative in content and form.”
Famke Robberechts (39) — Editor-in-Chief of Goed Gevoel
Growth in the desert. That is what Famke Robberechts is achieving with Goed Gevoel. The magazines market is declining, but Robberechts and her magazine completely buck this trend.
What is the secret? “Essentially, there are two things”, she says. “Unlike other magazines, our magazine has remained faithful to its basic promise: to make your life healthier and happier. We have never resorted to beauty, fashion or anything else.”
“We are on top of all the trends. We go to conferences, including those offering content that mostly eludes us. However, we do get in touch with the people that matter and we see what is going on in the world. And we go to the pub a lot, strange as this may seem for a health magazine. We talk to people, so that we can write about what will be relevant in two months.”
Goed Gevoel has the same no-nonsense mentality as its editor. “I work hard, I have two children, an aging mother and a husband who occasionally wants some attention, so I live happily and healthily, but in a normal way. That is also the message we want to convey to our readers.”
We must not give up on the power of print just yet. “I see and use the strengths of the online media, and yet, high-quality paper and a beautiful cover are somehow magical. We give our readers a gift every month. Print is alive.”
Jacek Utko (48) — Designer
Jacek Utko changes newspapers all over the world and wins award after award with his pioneering designs. Thanks to Utko’s revamp, Belgian newspaper De Morgen won the prestigious World’s Best Designed Newspaper Award last year and the European Newspaper of the Year Award this year. Although he never expected it, Utko ended up in the same trade as his father.
“I wanted to be an architect”, Utko says. “But then, after my studies, walking across a building site holding a tape measure, I suddenly realised that I would rather do something that would allow me to create exciting things much more quickly.”
“That is why I chose design, first in the advertising world and not much later rather accidentally at a newspaper. I soon wanted my old job back. The advertising industry was bustling with energy, had beautiful women and involved a lot of travelling. At the newspaper I just saw lots of old men sitting at computers.”
“Then I was suddenly inspired by a Cirque du Soleil show in London. I saw how it brought new life to an old phenomenon like the circus. I realised that good design could do that for newspapers.” Utko started his mission in Poland, where he resuscitated one newspaper after another, and from there he conquered Europe.
According to Utko, a good story is a combination of content and presentation. “You have to see it as a piece of music. All too often, I see editorial staff all doing their own thing. I try to change that. Everyone should want to tell the same story: the journalist, the designer and the editor. The last twenty years have taught and shown me that if that happens, beautiful things will simply emerge.”
Davy Parmentier (32) — Head of Development at VTM
How do you attract viewers with a programme about kids’ music on a Friday night, when all television channels have their very best on display like vendors on a market? That was the challenge Davy Parmentier was facing with K3 zoekt K3, a programme looking for new members for a popular local girl band.
The programme had to be set up in a matter of months. There was less than six months between the announcement that the old members were leaving and the start of the programme. It was just the right job for Parmentier. He knows all about how to make a successful television programme.
At VTM he is the guy who helps decide whether a programme makes it to television or not. In his job, he says ‘no’ to the creators of programmes a lot more than he says ‘yes’. Does he find this difficult? No, he says. “I used to create television programmes myself, so I know what it is like sitting on the other side of the desk. You talk to a bunch of poker faces and you get your response two weeks later. That is not how we do things. We give instant feedback, so we often get excited about an idea together. We want to be approachable and clear, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.”
And that is exactly what Parmentier did for K3 zoekt K3. He sparred with the team a lot for as long as it took to find the right concept. He looks back on the programme with great satisfaction. “We broadened the kids concept to include audience voting with parents and grandparents. The final was watched by as many as 3.6 million Flemish and Dutch viewers. It proves that watching a television show together as a family on the couch is not dead, as long as you make the programmes fresh, relevant and broad. Entertainment should never be optional.”
Jan ’t Hart (48) — Deputy Editor of AD/Regiogroep
Jan ‘t Hart wanted an adventure when he left de Volkskrant in 2014 after nineteen years of loyal service, and an adventure is what he got. First his predecessor at Wegener refused to leave, then there was the acquisition by De Persgroep, and finally his editorial office was split up with half of it – including himself – moving from Nijmegen to Rotterdam.
At the end of 2014 he moved to a new position for the third time that year: Deputy Editor of AD/Regiogroep. ‘t Hart describes this period as “hectic, but successful”. He travelled everywhere in the Netherlands to get to know all the newspapers. ‘t Hart mainly found them to be very keen. “Everyone wanted to change.” Newspapers were restyled and became thicker. Now he is responsible for AD Uitkrant and the regional newspapers.
’t Hart: “I am from Amsterdam myself and worked at De Volkskrant, but I realised that the world is so much bigger. The region offers a wealth of journalistic and commercial opportunities, particularly online. The bond with the reader is much closer here than what I was used to. It is nonsense that nothing happens in the region, and there is so much more to uncover.”
Roel Buyzen (31) — chief Information Officer
“At the age of 31, I manage about 400 people at the heart of the digital developments of the biggest media company in the Benelux. I get… Dare I say it? Oh, well why not: I get a kick out of that. There. It was never my goal to manage so many people. Things just turned out that way. De Persgroep does give me many opportunities. This year we will be working especially hard.”
“2016 is all about three big things. We will complete and roll out our own, newly invented, home-built editorial system called Digital Newsroom. A big job. Never before has De Persgroep IT rolled out such a big, all-embracing project, but we are very confident. Digital Newsroom will be great and will help our editors to conquer the digital world, just like we once conquered the print media world. We want to offer the editors seamless collaboration between all possible teams and specialisations, speed and the eradication of any unnecessary work.”
“But large projects are not all we are working on for our editorial teams in 2016. We are also developing a new subscription system and a new advertising system. Both will be implemented throughout De Persgroep to prepare for the future.”
“Personally I believe in a very close collaboration between ICT and all other important departments in the company. Soon you will find IT professionals in newsrooms and at other crucial departments as well. By brainstorming and working together, we will achieve far more and create far better things than by tucking us away in our basement.”
Anne Knudsen (67) — Editor-in-Chief of Weekendavisen
Anne Knudsen defies all media laws. She has consciously ignored all media innovations. Without exception, she goes for long stories in a traditional format, which have been tremendously successful. Her highly educated subscribers are extremely loyal to her.
Quality. According to Knudsen, that is the secret to Weekendavisen. “Only the very best will be published. We only make what we want to buy ourselves.”
This makes the newspaper recognisable, but Knudsen is certainly not conservative. She introduced a children’s section and a scientific section with articles written in an accessible way by scientists themselves. The reason she offers for this is: “I get bored quickly. If I have an idea, I use it.”
This characterises the entrepreneurial spirit of the 67-year-old anthropologist. She is not afraid of losing readers. Her readers are loyal and the word fear is not in Knudsen’s dictionary anyway. It is a mind-set that she was given growing up in Greenland. “There is danger everywhere. If it is not the cold or the water, it is the polar bears. The lesson I learnt there is: if it can’t kill you, it’s not dangerous.”
Kristof Terreur (35) — Football Correspondent in London for Het Laatste Nieuws
Kristof Terreur attends English Premier League football games two to three times a week. The fast train between London and Manchester is like a second home to him and he is now known as the Belgian expert in the pressroom. Terreur’s life has been anything but boring in the four years he has spent in London following the Belgian footballers in the English football league.
Terreur’s British colleagues regularly get jealous of the man who has a direct line to Belgian football heroes such as Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, a true privilege in a world where journalists have to beg for a minute of players’ attention.
Sometimes it is not easy to write an original story about the seventeen Belgians he follows in the biggest football competition in the world. He challenges himself by disregarding as many meaningless football quotes as possible.
“I prefer writing about the person behind the player. What a player says about his life is so much more interesting than talk about football.” Life in a metropolis like London has also enriched him as a person. That is why he is looking forward to staying in London a good while longer. “My world view has expanded here. Everything is here.”
Sander van den Hout (43) — General Manager Online services
“I created my biggest competitor myself. In one of my previous positions, I built the Auto Online website, which was sold to Autoscout24 in 2000. It is currently the number one on the market, and we are the number two with AutoTrack.”
“The digital world is constantly turned on its head. You constantly have to ask yourself how to respond to these changes. Websites that are nothing more than a bulletin board are always short-lived. You have to make sure that you stay relevant and unique. Your users have to get the feeling they are missing out on something if they do not visit AutoTrack. You have to play with the FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. We constantly ask ourselves what really drives our users and what problems they are experiencing in this.”
“That is why Carsom – the website where you can find the cheapest garage – is being converted to a website that tells you exactly when your car should go to the garage, Nationale Vacaturebank will be offering a lot more services to jobseekers, Intermediair will be looking for your dream job and Tweakers will make technology accessible to everyone. We offer our users a carefree existence in many areas.”
“In the coming years I would like to utilise the power of De Persgroep even more: the qualitative range of our titles, the knowledge of our readers, the knowledge of the Benelux, but also the company’s mentality, the passion with which we do things.”
Mattie valk (31) and Wietze de jager (27) — DJs at Qmusic in the Netherlands
Mattie: “When you are making a radio programme, you are putting together a jigsaw. You have to be careful not to concentrate on the pieces themselves, you have to take the time to see the big picture. We are constantly switching between the long term – the conversation in about twenty minutes – and the short term – what we are going to talk about after this song.”
Wietze: “Mattie is our Steve Jobs. He has the same type of perfectionism. If we are brainstorming and a great idea emerges, I say: great idea! After talking for an hour, I am generally satisfied, but Mattie usually wants to continue talking about it for at least an hour to make it even better.”
Mattie: “I am never really satisfied. Things have been going well in recent years, but that is no reason not to change anything. The show’s tone and roles remain the same, but you need to review the fixed elements every now and then. You can never get complacent. That’s the biggest pitfall.”
Wietze: “Our personal lives are an essential part of the show. We have swapped lives, we have raised two children together. Now that Mattie is having a child, that is also part of our programme. No, there are no boundaries. Boundaries are there to be challenged or crossed. Sometimes other people set boundaries. When we suggested having our partners present the programme instead of us on Women’s Day, Mattie’s girlfriend said: I don’t think so, I don’t need all the attention.”
Mattie: “If our actions do little more than attract attention, they will not work. Attention grabbing is very easy, but what is important is whether you really want to learn something and gain experience. Only then you will convince the listener.”
Martha Riemsma (39) — Editor-in-Chief of Tubantia
There are not many editors who did not start out as a journalist, but to Martha Riemsma it felt completely logical. “Tubantia knew me as a Circulation Manager. My appointment eighteen months ago was revolutionary, but I immediately felt that this was where I had always wanted to be. It is such a joy to come home every night completely happy. I can talk about the things I want to talk about. I can think about different angles and release my inner journalist.”
“I had wanted to be a journalist all my life. After secondary school, I got my communication degree. That did not include any journalism, contrary to what the programme had promised. I then held positions in the media and I was a self-employed entrepreneur for seven years.”
“At De Persgroep, the editors are closer to the journalistic process than at Wegener. I love that. Unfortunately, I also see the falling subscriber figures. Some people had to leave and we are now making a better newspaper with thirty people less. We choose our subjects, we outsource where we can and we continue to innovate. That is why I immediately appointed a head of online services to give our online content its own identity.”
“Our newspaper is very important here in the region. When we write something, it becomes the topic of the day. That forces you to bring out the best in Twente and the editorial office.”
Roel Verrycken (33) — US Correspondent for De Tijd
Roel Verrycken walks around the journalistic gold mine that is Silicon Valley every day with wide-eyed enthusiasm and his pen as a pickaxe. “People here really believe that great things are happening”, he says. This is also reflected in the entrepreneurial spirit of the ten Belgians in Silicon Valley he interviewed for a special in De Tijd.
In the spring of 2015, Verrycken quickly received the green light from his editors to leave Wall Street and head for Silicon Valley. About a week before he moved, he still had his doubts. Was it really wise to leave the East Coast, the centre of financial power that had been his home for the past four years?
After a week of acclimatising to the epicentre of high-tech innovation, all his doubts had evaporated. He had made the right decision. Consider the rise of Silicon Valley start-up Uber as an example. In six years, Uber turned the whole taxi industry upside down. “It is incredibly exciting to see up close how these companies will evolve in the future”, Verrycken says.
He does believe that Wall Street will always remain important. “It is just more difficult to grasp. So much of what happens there goes right over our heads. The developments I now write about, have a direct impact on the readers of my articles.”
All staff that contribute to our media are supported by Campus De Persgroep, the permanent training initiative of De Persgroep.