Those who follow NYU-professor of journalism Jay Rosen found a surprising letter addressed to them on his blog last week: “I have never asked you for anything. (…) I don’t push products, or join campaigns. But today, after 32 years as an observer and critic of the press, I am (…) asking you to do what I have done: Join The Correspondent.’’ What, if anything, makes The Correspondent worthy of such endorsement?
The Correspondent is a digital-native journalism platform that launched in the Netherlands in 2013 after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Last week, it started its US campaign with the goal of raising $2,5 million by December 14. If it succeeds, it’ll start publishing in English. The English-language homepage gives some clues as to why Rosen is excited: ‘’News as we know it leaves us cynical, divided, and less informed. We’re building a movement for radically different news.’’
Their business model is to create a ‘movement’ rather than a commercial business. Practically, this means the platform is ad-free and aspires to building a community of readers (‘members’) and reporters (‘correspondents’). That’s why The Correspondent is funded by membership instead of subscription. As Rosen puts it, you join The Correspondent because you believe in its cause, not because you want to buy a product. Clearly, this means the membership community is formed by those sharing a belief. And as for any belief-based community, what this means for diversity of views is up for debate.
In an as yet unequaled example of transparency and community-building, the platform recently started registering their members’ areas of expertise to foster information exchange between members and reporters. Members are regularly invited to contribute in various ways.
What’s more, The Correspondent ignores the daily news cycle that it claims is divisive, instead focusing on in-depth, constructive coverage. The editors argue journalism is more valuable if it not only uncovers problems, but also offers solutions. They call this ‘unbreaking news’.
Unlike other leading US media in the Trump-era, The Correspondent doesn’t respond to allegations of fake news by an outspoken commitment to ‘The Truth’. Rather, it abandons ‘the view from nowhere’ and embraces subjectivity. Reporters are transparent about their normative beliefs and about what they don’t know (yet). They claim that this openness to being subjective allows for constructive reporting.
Despite this innovative approach, not all have welcomed The Correspondent as warmly as Rosen. Upon its launch in The Netherlands, the platform was accused of over-representing elite voices. Among its first writers was an acclaimed columnist and former The Guardian reporter Joris Luyendijk. It responded by actively looking to diversify its editorial staff.
More fundamentally, the platform’s model attracts criticism from media professionals who think constructive journalism limits reporters’ curiosity and impedes a fair hearing of facts. They claim ideologizing reporting in any way leads to partial blindness.
While the dispute could be settled by letting constructive and investigative journalism coexist peacefully, The Correspondent’s own Luyendijk appears to reject such compromise: he claims investigative journalism may contribute to undermining democracy. By uncovering political scandals without offering a remedy, investigative journalism might be unwittingly co-opted by anti-democratic forces. An example is the uncovering of the UK expenses scandal by investigative journalists. Luyendijk claims these revelations damaged trust in public office, contributing to the credibility of the ‘clowns, liars, and demagogues of Vote Leave’.
Ideological disputes about journalism aside, a more imminent worry for the platform is the question of how to adapt to English-language publishing. It seems daring to claim that a non-objective approach is what is most dearly missed in the US’ polarized media landscape.
Well aware of the fact that they’re not alone in publishing constructive coverage with an ideological touch, The Correspondent’s US campaign emphasizes its community-building efforts. That’s what should set them apart, and what Rosen believes gives them a better chance of winning the audience’s trust. Whether desire to belong to that community is strong enough for it to take off, we will know by mid-December.
By Fleur Damen (@FM_DAM)