Q: After your record-setting Kickstarter campaign, media critic Jay Rosen tweeted: “That’s it. I’m declaring De Correspondent the most interesting journalism start-up I have read about in 2013.” Why is De Correspondent so interesting?
That’s a question for Jay Rosen!
There are few things that are fundamental to what makes us different. Most importantly, we try to redefine the idea of newsworthiness.
Most news outlets have the same idea of what is considered news. News is always about exceptions, it’s always about what happens today. We try to make news about the things that happen every day that are more structural to society.
This gives people a better sense of the fundamental changes in society, and not just the things that surprise us today and are forgotten tomorrow.
Second, we try to change the relationship journalists have with their audience, turning journalists from messengers into conversation leaders.
Half the job of a correspondent at our publication is to interact and talk with our readers. The other half is to write.
Q: You have a designer and a web developer from the design firm Momkai on your board to help inform the craft of storytelling on the web. Can you tell us about what that process looks like?
The team at Momkai thought of a lot of technical features that help journalists tell stories in ways that journalists wouldn’t have considered because they’re not designers or developers.
For example, the development team took out all the links from stories because the underlining of words was very distracting. One of our core values is giving context, and these links didn’t give any. So instead we put side notes next to the text where journalists could put their links and add descriptions.
They also created info cards. If a journalist wants to explain a word but doesn’t want to make her story unnecessarily long, then she can put it in an info card and people who don’t know the word can click on it to find out what it means.
We have designers working with journalists about how to illustrate or craft a story to make it the best possible read.
Also, we have new builds on the website every week and we track requests. So journalists can say, “I really want to have a feature that let’s me do x,” and that request will be put on the priority list and developed further.
Q: Co-founder Ernst-Jan Pfauth recently wrote, “In 2015, De Correspondent will become more than just a journalistic publication. We will become a social network for sharing knowledge.” Can you unpack that vision?
We see our readers or members as individuals with at least one area of expertise. It might be an expertise in physics. It might be, “I was homeless for many years.”
We want people to fill in their expert title and share their knowledge and experience on the topics we cover. This is what we do now. For example, the place where people can react to our stories doesn’t say “Comment,” it says, “Share your knowledge.” People’s responses are called “contributions,” not “comments.”
What we want is this ability to share knowledge and to add other sources to our journalism.
We have Facebook for our social profiles and Linkedin for our professional profiles. What we think is missing – and this is the kind of platform that we’d like to become – is the place where you can show or share what you know on a specific area.
The basic idea is that if you have some kind of expertise, you can build your own small journalistic space on the platform that our journalists and other members eventually use.
Q: We look at distribution today and an important piece of that puzzle is social, Facebook especially. If De Correspondent is its own social network, is there a risk of audience cannibalization?
If we grow as much as we would like to, then perhaps we’ll be an addition to Facebook.
Facebook is one of the greatest sources of visitors for us, but finding ways to get users on your platform for other reasons than clicking over from Facebook, is a good idea.
And that’s why thinking of De Correspondent as a platform rather than a publication is crucial.
On a platform, people may spend time for other reasons than reading an article. And if they have other reasons to go to your platform and spend time there, then it makes you a little less dependent on Google News or Facebook.
Q: De Correspondent bills itself as an author-centred rather than beat-centered publication. This is reflective of a wider trend in publishing. Do you take this approach to build loyalty?
We chose this author-centric approach because it’s more personal. It lets people get to know the storyteller.
One of things we don’t agree with is the idea and the ideal of objectivity in journalism.
Every decision that goes into reporting – choosing a topic, choosing the way to write about the topic, choosing who to interview – is subjective.
Trying to attain objectivity disconnects the journalist from the world and it disconnects people from the world.
There’s no topic out there that’s important in and of itself, and there’s no topic that, if approached with an interesting viewpoint, can’t be made important. But you have to have a storyteller, a journalist who explicitly does this.
We fear that a non-personalized approach would disengage people and eventually make readers disappear or go somewhere else.
Q: How important are celebrity or star journalists these days, in your mind?
Whether it is in politics or media, institutions are being replaced more and more by well-known people. It’s reflective of the fact that people don’t put their trust in these institutions but in the people who work there.
Q: We’re an English publication, so I wanted to ask you about your new newsletter that features English versions of curated De Correspondent articles. What’s the end game?
That’s hard to know! We are not even at five percent of what we want to achieve.
A few steps we want to take now are to broaden our readership to an English speaking audience.
If that succeeds, then we might eventually try to build a network of correspondents all over the world.
Eventually, I can imagine starting with the De Correspondent concept in different countries and then bringing all these platforms together. We built our own content management system and it’s specifically designed to be a publication system for subscription model platforms.
We would really like to eventually license these platforms all over the world so that you would not only get correspondents all over the world, but also completely different types of platforms for journalistic ventures wherever they spring up.