Beyond shiny objects: Can a successful Dutch site ‘un-break’ the news in English?

November 13, 2018

The Correspondent launches drive for English-language site; CNN lawsuit; paper confuses Spike Lee with Stan Lee

As an editor, Rob Wijnberg tired of the Bright Shiny Object, the meaningless debate, the if-it-bleeds-it-leads philosophy, the world-weary hopelessness he saw in so much journalism.

He sought the “foundational story” — how something could be fixed or followed up, what’s working elsewhere, what’s behind that story. He also thought people would value those qualities, and those people would join and engage with a journalism organization that would do that.

That’s been the solid bet he placed on De Correspondent in the Netherlands, building trust and readers. That drive for the foundational story is behind a bid he’s making, starting this morning, to launch an English-language version.

Unlike New York Magazine, Quartz and Yahoo Finance, which this week became the latest paywall adoptees, The Correspondent doesn’t plan strict restrictions to force hungry newshounds to cavil to subscriptions; it’s promoting membership, a contribution of whatever you can pay or provide to help create meaningful stories. Readers will be able to click Correspondent links from newsletters or from people who share its stories on social media. The site will be ad-free, and not single-mindedly strive to maximize the time of each set of eyeballs on its site.

Wijnberg says The Correspondent will be “an antidote to breaking news,” but it will only happen if his effort to raise funds from readers yields $2.5 million in the next 30 days. The site already has 20,000 members signed up for a newsletter and brought aboard "ambassadors" such as Roseanne Cash, Baratunde Thurston, Nate Silver and Jimmy Wales. Three nonprofit foundations, including those of consistent journalism funders Craig Newmark and Pierre Omidyar, have helped bankroll the launch campaign, but Wijnberg wants operating expenses to be determined by member funding.

Five years ago, a similar campaign brought in $1.7 million to launch the Dutch site. It has grown an average of 25 percent in membership each year, with 60,000 members now.

"The growth strategy is not about amassing market share," he said. "The growth is that members can freely share with non-members," and introduce them to a less event-driven type of news consumption. (Here's an encapsulation of Wijnberg and co-founder Ernst-Jan Pfauth's membership philosophy.)

If English-speaking readers don't support The Correspondent over the next month, Wijnberg said he'll get the message — and refund all commitments.

“My conviction is that we are mis-informing people by the breaking news culture we are giving them,” Wijnberg said. 

These days, Wijnberg suspects readers in the United States and Britain have a greater realization of the stakes of an ill-informed public. With more sites rushing into some form of a pay model, the question remains: How many sites will people pay for? Winberg's task: To show that The Correspondent is part of something bigger, a singular drive for understanding, for lasting meaning, in which members must play a part as well.

Quick hits

CNN FILES SUIT: “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.” President Donald Trump, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House communications director Bill Shine are among six defendants in the lawsuit filed to restore CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta to his post. Related: A CNN counsel explains the suit. Read the suit yourself.

SPEAKING OF MISINFORMING PEOPLE: Why did Russia work so hard to distract and divide the West through disinformation and emotion-stirring content amplified on social media? And how exactly did Moscow hit such success? Those are the questions throughout "Operation Infektion: From The Cold War to Kanye," a three-part NYT video series.

IT TOOK A WHILE: Kristine E. Guillaume has become the first black woman chosen to serve as president of Harvard’s student newspaper in its 145-year history. Guillaume, concentrating in literature and African American studies, covered the search for a new Harvard president after Drew Faust announced her retirement. Guillaume’s term begins in January. (h/t Ann Marie Lipinski)

MOVES: Michael Friedenberg will become president of Reuters news and media operations, effective Dec. 3. Editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler, who will report to Friedenberg, will still lead editorial content, the company announced. Friedenberg previously served as global CEO of IDG Communications, a media, data and services firm.

WRONG LEE: A New Zealand paper confused Stan Lee with Spike Lee, prematurely declaring the film director dead. The Gisborne Herald, wrote HuffPost’s Jenna Amatulli, “did not do the right thing.”

SECOND THOUGHTS: A book reviewer has taken back her praise of Jeff Flake’s latest book. Jennifer Senior said she’d often wished she’d tweaked a review or two but never wanted to take back the whole thing, at least not until Flake’s “Conscience of a Conservative.” Senior has concluded that, 15 months ago, she was “snowed by Flake’s candor.” The book was not a cri de coeur against Trump, she writes. “It was a bit of quixotica. It was a tragedy.”

THE READ: Vanderbilt professor Justin Quarry writes that coming out as working class was harder than coming out as gay. At a meeting of faculty and administrators who were first-generation college grads, “nearly everyone present reported that their working-class status had had a greater impact on their experience as undergraduates — for some of them, on their entire lives — than did any other aspect of their identity, including race, gender and sexual orientation. … We should stand before low-income students as concrete examples of where they might go and whom they might become and what they might be. We should come out to them as working class.”

On Poynter.org

  • A precedent for CNN’s Acosta lawsuit? Three, in fact. By Al Tompkins.

  • Looking for a brighter bottom line in the newspaper business. By Rick Edmonds.

  • "A lot of people (are) claiming George Soros is behind whatever." The power of the repeat hoax in this election cycle. By Daniel Funke.

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Have a good Wednesday. See you tomorrow.