Folia is paying a visit to Erasmus Magazine in Rotterdam. Hanging on the wall of editor-in-chief Wieneke Gunneweg’s workroom is a draft version of EM’s cover of the end-of-year issue, which will soon be published. As with Folia, EM’s end-of-year issue marks the final hard-copy issue. Like Folia, EM is now an on-line publication only, starting from 2018.

This article was originally published in Dutch by our colleagues at Folia in Amsterdam and was republished with their permission.

The cover shows a woman painted in a colourful pop-art style. She is crying. The working title below says, Last Christmas edition. “Maybe we will remove one of these tears,” says Gunneweg. “Because not everything is terrible, obviously. We are facing a new and exciting time, just like you guys in Amsterdam.”

We are at Erasmus University’s campus, talking to Gunneweg and Bardoel, the editor-in-chief of Univers (Tilburg University). Earlier this year, Bardoel succeeded Gunneweg as the Chair of the Association of Editors-in-Chief of Media in Higher Education.

What we will be discussing is four propositions. Let’s start with a topical subject…

Altan Erdogan: “Magazines printed on paper are obsolete…”

Francine Bardoel: “Geez, thanks. We’re still publishing them, you know!!”

AE: “Allow me to finish my proposition: … because for media in higher education, the future will be on-line. Erasmus Magazine, Folia and soon HvanA will all be on-line magazines soon. Is Univers not quite ready for that yet?”

FB: “Univers values the visibility of its product, hence the actual magazines. We only print three thousand of them – for an audience of about fourteen thousand – since we do not wish to waste any paper. Like our excellent website, it is a calling card. It is good for brand awareness. Especially for older students and our own employees.”

Wieneke Gunneweg: “Although Erasmus Magazine will no longer be printed, magazines are not obsolete. Printed magazines provide a completely different experience and are indeed important for the sake of visibility. In a magazine, you can combine text and images to great effect, or create themed issues. But it’s also nice to focus on a website with a relatively small number of editors. If you continue to do it all, it will take its toll. Quality will suffer, some way or another.”

Image credit: Sanne van der Most

AE: “I, too, continue to be a great proponent of printed magazines, and as a creator of magazines, I feel my heart bleed at the thought that this will be the final printed issue of Folia for the time being. It is mostly a financial issue. In addition, too many copies stay in their distribution boxes unread. That is not environmentally friendly, and in addition, we want the money to be spent efficiently. University of applied sciences students, in particular, don’t read much printed matter. They mainly read our on-line media and social media. That said, I do expect to receive a lot of reactions to our momentous decision to stop printing the magazine.”

FB: “I must admit: for financial reasons, we’ve had to let go of a lot of creative things that used to be printed in our magazines. We are using cheaper paper, and everything must be done according to established lines.”

WG: “I’m glad we don’t have to turn a profit, like commercial publishing houses. We can use our money to improve our media. But to say, ‘Let’s get rid of printed magazines because it will be much cheaper that way…’ That’s not entirely true. You will spend additional money on other things. Posting on social media, advertising on Facebook, creating more images and videos that cost a lot more money, you name it.”

Our editorial teams constitute a journalistic watchdog for universities and universities of applied sciences. Proposition no. 2: This position is being jeopardised.


FB: “Universities would like their magazines to be less of a watchdog and more of a PR or communications tool. They want fewer critical stories, and more nice and positive articles. By the way, the outside world is not aware of this threat.”

WG: “That’s no problem. We do not write our stories for the outside world. We primarily write them for our students and employees.”

FB: “A bit of attention for this issue wouldn’t hurt. For instance, media in higher education do not get a mention in the Cabinet’s policy. For this reason I wrote a letter to the Cabinet on behalf of the editors-in-chief, in order to clarify our position.”

“‘Aren’t you our magazine? Why do you always have to be so negative?’ is what the employees will tell me. That sort of attitude is not for me.”

Wieneke Gunneweg

WG: “Our readers often can’t tell the difference between a message by our Marketing department and our stories. That’s worrying. Maybe it’s our fault. It is causing me to take a critical look at our stories.”

AE: “Or to explain better what it is we are doing. These days, with all these discussions on fake news and all that, you can’t just assume that students will trust the information we provide.”

WG: “That is true for the university’s own employees, as well. ‘Aren’t you our magazine? Why do you always have to be so negative?’ is what the employees will tell me. That sort of attitude is not for me.”

FB: “We do both, don’t we? We also write about academics when they win fabulous awards. And positive news is highly appreciated.”

WG: “We conducted a survey among our readers, asking them whether Erasmus Magazine was successful at being independent. Seventy-five percent of respondents said ‘Yes’, and sixty percent said we were ‘sufficiently’ successful at being critical.”

AE: ‘In theory, that independence is guaranteed. But in practice, with every new topic you always have to defend that independence against the institution. You have to be strong as editors. That’s part of the job, and I don’t want to bother my readers with that. ”

FB: ‘Yes, but that sometimes means it takes so much time to finish an article. Look at television journalists, for example. When interviewees want to watch the montage, they tell them: are you crazy! If you compare that to how often they want to proofread our interviews… How is Folia doing, does the university recognize your role as a watchdog ?’

AE: ‘Yes. We hope that this will not change, because our universities and colleges are supposed to educate people with the idea that they can think independently, as critical students and citizens. For the institutions, it is therefore also very important that we are there. ‘

WG: “In fact, that is in our mission, for that we are on earth. If you want to train people to think critically, you should also facilitate that. ‘

Wieneke Gunneweg (EM), Altan Erdogan (Folia) and Francine Bardoel (Univers). Image credit: Sanne van der Most

Which brings us to money. Proposition no. 3 is as follows: There is less money available to all media in tertiary education. Will our type of journalism survive? 

WG: “Money is part of it, but I’m also seeing a different threat. More and more universities and universities of applied sciences are establishing their own newsrooms, where people with a marketing and communications background and editors tell the school’s story using journalistic tools. They write the same stories we do. They visit the campus to get some students to respond or to interview scientists.

They are operating from a very different premise, though. Their job is to advertise the university to prospective students or to companies that may help fund scientific research. They are entitled to do so, but they are impinging on our raison d’être. We are at cross purposes. Such newsrooms often have a larger budget, which gives them a distinct advantage.”

AE: “I’m not aware of this phenomenon occurring in Amsterdam. I do know that major corporations have been doing this for a while, by way of publicity strategy. Do you have anything like that in Tilburg?”

“We’ve had quite the discussion about safe spaces at our university. Is uni a safe environment if everyone is allowed to voice their opinions?”

Francien Bardoel

FB: “We had one such newsroom, and Univers outplayed it. With an absolutely tiny team.”

AE: “Really? How did they do it?”

FB: “By presenting one story after the other and by being quicker and having deeper content. Communication and journalism are different professions.”

WG: “It also strengthens our raison d’être. We must make more of the fact that we are independent. And we will discuss things with the newsroom to make sure we aren’t doing things they are doing, too.”

AE: “That is one of our objectives: to get better at drawing a line between communication and journalism, and to collaborate with the University of Amsterdam and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences where possible.”

WG: “Be careful with that. Before you know it, the powers that be will say, ‘If there is so much overlap between the two of you, you might as well be merged.’”

FB: “I hear that some editors are pulled into the communication side of things, which means increased budgets and facilities. But the editorial charter will disappear, and there will be all sorts of restrictions content-wise.”

AE: “So how to deal with this sort of thing when you budget is being cut all the time? It makes us vulnerable, doesn’t it?”

WG: “It does. Because you don’t want be forced into a position where you’re just an angry little magazine.”

AE: “No, because then the watchdog will turn into an annoying yappy dog that everyone simply ignores.”

We are all paid by the universities we write about. Proposition no. 4: Universities and universities of applied sciences are allowed to have a say in what we publish, particularly if it may harm the university.

FB: ”May I be the first to answer this one? I looked up the editorial charters of several magazines and I found that this is couched in vague phrasing. Such clauses, featuring exceptions, are often abused, although educational institutions will never do so overtly. And who is to decide what causes harm to a university? Did our university receive fewer enrolments because we wrote about Diederik Stapel [the full professor who committed fraud – ed.], or rather because Stapel used to work at our university? I think the latter was to blame. That case would have been publicised anyway, even if we hadn’t done so.”

AE: “How did that go back then?”

FB: “Initially, we were asked not to mention it for twenty-four hours. We acceded to that request, because we weren’t in possession of all the facts. So I told the Communications people, ‘All right, but after twenty-four hours we will go ahead and publish.’ They then again tried to stop us from publishing it, after which we were at loggerheads for a month. In the end, the rector said that it was our job to write about that sort of thing.”


“What we will often do is give people who are angry the opportunity to write an opinion piece on the subject. That’s fine with us.”

Francine Bardoel

AE: “What is that like at Erasmus University? Have you ever refrained from publishing something because it might harm the university?”

WG: “No. Although I do remember a few negotiations where I felt, ‘Well, I’d rather have something than nothing at all.’ So I published what we could.”

AE: “I recognise that. You don’t want to turn your back on the university when dealing with a sensitive matter.”

WG: “We had the Tariq Ramadan case here. We spent a lot of time on the phone discussing that. Ramadan was a visiting professor here, although he was in the municipal authorities’ employ. He was fired by the university rather suddenly, and it was quite the mess. And prior to that, there was a story about a professor who had felt up young boys. My predecessor was pressured into not doing anything with that story. It was then published by De Telegraaf. Sometimes it helps to have national media write about a case. We can then handle the case in our own way.”

AE: “Our editorial charter states that one of our goals is to keep the community of our university and university of applied sciences together. We play a different role than the national media. Sometimes it’s like hyper-regional journalism. You’ll write a piece on the bakery around the corner, and a little later, the baker will show up and tell you exactly how he feels about it. Our audience responds very emotionally to our columnists.”

FB: “Columnists’ freedom of speech, that’s something our target group has difficulty accepting. Many people have a very thin skin. They feel personally attacked or get angry when things are not described in Univers in a politically correct manner. For instance, we’ve had quite the discussion about safe spaces at our university. Is uni a safe environment when everyone is allowed to express their opinions, or is it safe when more people refrain from speaking their mind? I think the former, but people are quick to call things racist or sexist these days. You can’t even use the word ‘girls” anymore without being called a sexist.”

“When we write that chocolate packaging is being removed from cafeterias because it displays Black Pete, we open up a huge can of worms.”

Altan Erdogan

AE: “We get that sort of thing in Amsterdam when we discuss diversity: race, gender, gender equality. When we write that chocolate packaging is being removed from cafeterias because it displays Black Pete, and GeenStijl picks up on this story, we open up a huge can of worms. We’ll be spending the rest of the week moderating our media to remove all racist comments or ad hominems. At Folia and HvanA, we’re looking at how to change this.”

FB: “Or sex, as with #metoo. We only allow comments on Facebook, thus reducing the number of nasty altercations. And I see many comments in defence of us – comments defending freedom of the press, freedom of speech and our independence.”

AE: “You want as many students, employees, scientists and lecturers as possible to enter into a high-quality discussion.”

FB: “What we will often do is give people who are angry the opportunity to write an opinion piece on the subject. That’s fine with us. In fact, we really like it when they do. It enriches our medium.”

WG: “Because our community isn’t all that large, we hope that people will keep each other’s heads straight and make sure that no one flies off the handle.”