Illustration of colorful books on a shelf against a dark background.
A photo of Pascal Messer
Photo courtesy of Pascal Messer.
Photo courtesy of Pascal Messer.

Table of Contents

The basics

What made you become a content creator?

Pascal Messer of the Asser Institute: As an eleven-year-old, I decided to follow my passion for writing immediately after my parents prevented me from training as a professional ballerina. Somewhat disappointed, I thought to myself: what in life do I like as much as dancing? The answer was reading and writing stories. When I was seventeen, I first trained as a journalist in the Netherlands, and then I went on to study journalism in Ireland as I wanted to write in English as well as Dutch. After this, I pursued a master’s degree in international relations, focusing on international law. I have since worked as a journalist, writer, researcher, and senior editor for all types of media outlets--newspapers, magazines, television, film and blogs. I even had a short stint as dialogue writer for a soap series. In the past 18 years, though, I have mainly worked for academic and governmental think tanks, both as an editor-in-chief and a speech writer. Now, I am head of communications of the Hague-based Asser Institute, a research center for international and European law.

What are some of the challenges you face as a content creator?

Pascal Messer: As a content creator, I get to work with legal academics, international lawyers, high-level judges, policy makers and politicians. They are usually extremely bright, very wordy, critical, sometimes conservative, and often opinionated--in short: not the easiest people on earth! But I am lucky not to suffer from an inflated ego, I tend to understand their worries, and yes, I do realize that moving a comma can sometimes be disastrous… 

A challenge is that it is notoriously difficult to plan our content, as much of the academic book publishing timelines depend on factors outside our control. Nobody ever knows when their book, article or research paper will be out, so at the communications department we are often forced to work in a pressure cooker. There is little we can do about this, apart from preparing our news items and researcher interviews well in advance, but deadline stress is simply part of the job.

What are some digital publications that you follow?

Pascal Messer: I am trying to minimize my online reading, as I tend to read four newspapers a day, of which the UK Guardian is my favorite. I follow some legal blog posts like OpinioJuris and the constitutional law blog Verfassungsblog. Apart from this, I am subscribed to some legal and communications-focused newsletters. Because of my work, I also find myself on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, although social media is not my favorite hangout, to put it mildly. I think social media is highly overrated and a waste of time.   

Choosing syndication

Why did you decide to syndicate your content with Newstex?

Pascal Messer: I often use LexisNexis to look up our academic publications and media statistics, and one day I found that someone else was syndicating the Asser Institute’s content, content that I had written myself. Intrigued, I followed the trail, and soon realized that through working with Newstex, we could reach exactly those people that we are already working for: academics, researchers, legal professionals, decision makers and journalists from around the globe. All these people need reliable and independent information to inform their work, and for this they use outlets like LexisNexis or Thomson Reuters Westlaw. Reaching those people is instrumental to the Asser Institute’s mission: sharing our (legal) knowledge to further the advancement of international law.

What do you think are the benefits of syndicating your content through Newstex?

Pascal Messer: The most important benefits are that syndicating your content through Newstex can expand your readership and increase your visibility. Through Newstex you can actually reach global readers that you would normally miss.

Pros and cons

What do you like most about creating digital content?

Pascal Messer: I simply love the craft of writing, as words do matter. Although I miss the joy of creating something physical, something one can touch and feel-- newspapers, booklets, or magazines that smell of ink--I still love crafting a newsworthy piece of text, finding a photograph that says it all, or creating a handsome visual aid.  

I also like translating complex legal topics so that they become interesting to lay readers. Law is often very abstract, but in the end, it is about people. So, making (academic) content more accessible--without necessarily dumbing it down--helps to open up new worlds of knowledge.

What do you dislike most about creating digital content?

Pascal Messer: I sometimes regret the ephemeral nature of digital content, which might be an odd thing to say to a digital content publisher! Although I greatly enjoy producing digital content, I am a tactile person: I adore the smell of paper and ink, and well-made books, newspapers, and magazines. I recently took a crash course in desktop publishing, and I soon found myself designing stuff that I could use to paint on a canvas…

Sometimes, writing can be lonesome, or even a life and death struggle. I once suffered writer’s block on a background story about privacy in genomics. An incredibly technical and sensitive topic, which merged the worlds of technology, genetics, ethics, and governance. After spending a full week writing and editing one single paragraph, I was about ready to toss my laptop forever.

When I reflect on my job, I always cheer up at the thought that it all boils down to getting paid for the stuff I like most in life: reading, writing, and creating beautiful things.  

What inspires you to keep writing?

Pascal Messer: It is my luck that writing is a craft, and that writing happens to be my job. This helps to keep on writing. Plus: the simple act of writing puts me into a flow, and that is the headspace I like best.

Creative writing, which I think is far more daunting than news writing, inspires me most. I can be touched by a well-written article, novel, or film, by hearing a good speech, or even by overhearing some well-chosen words.  

Final thoughts

What are the top 3 tips you can give to others wanting to develop successful digital publications?

Pascal Messer:

Passion: try to get to work in a field that you find really interesting, so that your work remains your hobby.

Relevance: decide which target groups you want to reach, get to know them very well and cater to their-- substantive-- needs.

Craftsmanship: make sure to treat yourself to a news writing or copywriting course. Your copy should be easy to read, compelling and informative. I also believe that we should not fear long copy, as long as it is interesting and well-written. Consider asking experts to write a short blog for your publication and your readership will grow.  

What has been your proudest achievement as a content creator?

Pascal Messer: It was an amusing experience witnessing the Dutch Minister for Health publicly addressing questions in parliament regarding a publication I had authored. Additionally, I had the opportunity to receive responses to inquiries I had contributed to for the European Parliament. At that moment, someone humorously remarked that, in terms of holding institutions accountable, the only remaining figures I had yet to engage with were the US president and Kim Jong Un.

Pascal Messer is head of communications at the Asser Institute, an independent research center for international and European law based in The Hague, the Netherlands. She learned to write at the School of Journalism in the Netherlands and at Dublin City University. She completed a master’s in international relations, specializing in international law at the University of Amsterdam. Pascal has extensive experience as a journalist, researcher, editor in chief and communications manager in the public sector.