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Mark Koster wanted to write a critical biography of DPG CEO Van Thilo, but was tempted by the buzz

Mark Koster wanted to write a critical biography of DPG CEO Van Thilo, but was tempted by the buzz

Mark Koster is right: a successful and powerful media boss like Christian Van Thilo deserves a critical biography. Too bad he couldn't resist the temptation to turn it into a one-sided sensationalist book.

Bart Eeckhout

It is no coincidence that Dutch journalist Mark Coster wrote his autobiography Belgian About Christian Van Thilo begins and ends with the question of subsidies for the distribution of newspapers and magazines. Leveraging this postal support, according to the widely publicized proposal, laid the foundation for the fortune of Van Tillo's media group, which enabled him to make a series of acquisitions in the Netherlands, including the Amsterdam City newspaper. Hit Parole Until recently TV channels from RTL Netherlands.

Although criticism of subsidies is justified, this hypothesis is just economic nonsense. In the bottom line of a company like DPG Media, support is a pittance. A welcome piece of cake, but still: a piece of cake.

However, the story works like magic. This is certainly the case in the Netherlands because it provides a convenient answer to the painful question of many northern neighbours: how can a “Belgian” of all people be able to do his job in “our” media? The answer too Belgian What he proposes is: by cheating, with subsidies and political shortcuts.

Empty feeling

In his book, Mark Koster also mentions the role of the sleepy and arrogant Dutch newspapers, which were no match for Hurricane Van Thilo and his cronies. But ultimately he cannot escape the simple colonialist attitude of many Dutch people who cannot accept the fact that a Belgian, of all people, is in charge of their media. “This is clearly the way things are with our friends across borders. ‘You say A, do B, and get on with the day's work,'” the book concludes, in a way that is as stereotyped as it is condescending.

Christian Van Thilo is CEO of the Belgian-Dutch-Danish media group DBG Media, which publishes this newspaper, among others. I am one of many people interviewed in the book. This is a big disclaimer. A review, especially a critical review, will always give the impression of bias. I can't escape it, I realize.

The book contains distinctive, sometimes painful insights, such as the harsh restructuring of editorial offices or the tightly knit macho culture at the top of the company. However, as a reader you feel empty, because the author is too keen to indulge in conspiracies, fueled by former employees who still have scores to settle.

Cast live heureux, live your life. The Van Thilo family has long honored this old aristocratic principle of not being in the spotlight. The least you can say is that Christian Van Thilo also applies to this motto. Despite his company presence, his public appearances are sparse. Always be weird: Van Thilo does not want to be a political player. Its vigor thrives best in informal shade.

This raises curiosity. It's crazy that it took until now for Van Thilo's resume to come out. What Mark Koster captures well is the dual aspect of the media chief. On the one hand, the bold, persuasive, and convinced journalist “with printer's ink running through his veins,” and on the other, the cold negotiator who is unsympathetic when the numbers go down. It's for the journalist the morningthe survivor of several rounds of cuts, this is not an entirely new vision.

He locked himself up

Mark Koster himself appears Belgian More of a documentary journalist than an investigative journalist. He has read or watched everything published about Van Thilo over the past 35 years, and he extracts the most beautiful tales from every stage. This, at the heart of the book, provides a nice historical overview of the many struggles with editors and competitors to transform the sleepy Flemish publishing house into a dominant international media player.

In his description of modern history, Koster goes out of his way. Here he has to base himself on what the sources tell him, and instead of rejecting unproven accusations, he allows himself to be drawn into highlighting the juicy parts every time. The fact that Van Thilo, at the request of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, instructed his editors to remain silent about a story from the politician's private life, contradicts the book itself. However, Koster accepts this as fact in a later chapter and even suggests that De Croo in return arranged financial subsidies for the newspaper. It's just one example.

The book's language is sometimes flat and trite, and the tone is pamphleteous. Koster himself seems not to know whether he wants to write a serious or an interesting biography Succession-Fictional scenario. An exaggerated desire to create atmosphere is not conducive to credibility. Obviously there was no strict editor available at the publishing house to keep the author on track. Delete half the text and you're left with a sharp book.

In doing so, Koster himself falls into the trap of what he accuses media giant DPG Media of: scandalous journalism. Koster's thesis is that comprehensive data analyzes push editors toward exciting “clickbait.” In fact, the opposite is true, because the old “clickbait” method does not convince readers and is therefore economically worthless. Few things drive readers away from a disappointed newspaper like an article that doesn't live up to its headline promise. Of course there are missteps, and perhaps some as well the morningBut the general trend is towards added value, not towards fragmented journalism.

in Belgian Mark Koster opts for the sensation tactic, hoping the noise will generate additional readers. Criticism of the media in itself becomes clickbait. Koster can certainly deliver sharp criticisms of ethics at DPG Media, but his outrageous, over-the-top style would never get past a newspaper's editorial board.

Since “De Belg” contained blatant lies about “De Morgen”, the editor of this newspaper decided to refuse advertisements for the book.

Mark Koster, De Belge, Prometheus, 448 pp., 24.99.

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