“The best stories are found on the streets”

Written by Esmee Bakker

Nick Davies, a British investigative journalist, says nowadays reporters produce more stories than in the 1980’s. He also states they have less time for outside reporting and are under economic pressure. Connie Vertegaal (52) has been a reporter for the Noordhollands Dagblad for almost thirty years now. How did she experience these changes?


Q: “How did you see journalism change over the years?”

A: “Back in the day, almost every household had a subscription to a newspaper. But with the rise of the internet, came a shift in the need for print media. People were able to find their news online quicker, easier and mostly for free. Older generations still like to read an actual paper and are willing to pay for it. Younger people, on the other hand, mostly prefer news updates through their smartphones.”

Q: “What do you think the future of journalism will look like?”

A: “My biggest fear is that digitalization will only continue and print media will slowly vanish. We have all sorts of costs, such as printing and distribution costs, that online media don’t have. On top of that, they can increasingly depend on advertising revenue. I hope young people will quickly start to realize that high quality journalism doesn’t always come for free.”

Q: “How does this affect regional papers, such as the Noordhollands Dagblad?”

A: “I think the regional news outlets had their peak days in the eighties and nineties. After that came a period of decreasing circulation and advertising revenue. At that time there was the threat of a huge reorganisation, which made me doubt whether I was able to keep my job. Luckily, it was solved by cuts and by focusing extra on regional news, because that’s what makes us unique. I’m glad to say that since last year, our circulation has actually started increasing again! We now have 160.000 subscribers, which is one thousand more than last year.”


Q: “How did those cuts influence your daily workload as a reporter?”

A: “A big consequence of the cuts was the disappearance of the news editor. From then on, all the journalists had to check each other’s work, which took up a lot of time. Also, we had to start making videos and publish our stories online to keep up with the competition. I think it’s nice we’re doing this, but it does take me some time because I’m inexperienced. Still, my daily routine is quite the same if you compare it to 1990. I start at 9 AM to meet with the reporters and straight after I start gathering information and making calls. In the afternoon I’ll produce my story, which I’ll put online at the end of the day.”

Q: “Does the paper make money with the online stories?”

A: “On the website we recently integrated a paywall, where people can subscribe for € 8,50 per month. I don’t know whether we’re making a lot of money with this, but at least we’re reaching a new target audience, since young people mostly read their news online. It’s all still a learning process for us, though.”

Q: “How does all of this impact the amount of stories you write and the amount of outside reporting?”

A: “Despite the increasing pressures of news editing and online stories, I don’t think I write more stories. The outside reporting, though, really depends on the topics I choose and how I handle them. My office is located in Hoorn, but when I choose a topic in Enkhuizen it’s tempting to stay in and just make a call. But when I choose a topic in Hoorn, I immediately grab my bike and go there. I’m still a firm believer that the best stories are found on the streets. A colleague of mine goes out every day and lets a random person tell their story, as a voxpop. I have to say, those stories are always the most remarkable.”