Hi Reddit! I’m the founding editor of https://thecorrespondent.com/, an ad-free, member-funded journalism platform that wants to change what news is about, how it’s made, and how it’s funded. I loved talking to you all today. Thank you for the great questions, I'm signing off now!

If you enjoyed our conversation, I hope you'll consider becoming a founding member: https://thecorrespondent.com/join

The Correspondent is an ad-free, member-funded journalism platform for unbreaking news that tries to help you understand the underlying forces that shape our world.

In my AMA, I’m excited to talk about why real news is a bigger problem than fake news; why The Correspondent will reject the notion of journalistic objectivity; why we’re letting people Choose What The Pay for The Correspondent; why journalism should be guided by the idea of progress; why all my journalistic heroes are comedians rather than reporters; and anything else you want to ask me!

News as we know it leaves us cynical, divided, and less informed; a reliance on advertising revenue means news organizations prioritize the needs of advertisers over the needs of readers; and all-too-often the news talks to you, rather than with you.

The Correspondent will flip that script. We’re trying to raise $2.5m from as many founding members as possible to launch a new platform that won’t cover the news as we know it, but instead provide smart coverage of structural, long-term developments that shape the world around us, and we’ll collaborate with our members at every step of a story’s production (we’ve been doing this successfully, with 60,000 members, in The Netherlands for the last 5 years).

We’re in the middle of a 30-day campaign to find founding members from around the world who can help us get this off the ground. More than 33,000 founding members have joined our cause in the last three weeks — raising more than $1,9 million. And we also have more than 100 ambassadors who back our mission such as Nate Silver, Jimmy Wales, Rosanne Cash, Jay Rosen, Esther Dyson, Judd Apatow, Baratunde Thurston, Cameron Russell, Beau Willimon, and DeRay Mckesson.


Comments: 80 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

Cookinho23 karma

What do you regard as the biggest challenges of implementing a Dutch-proven system in the U.S.? What are the biggest differences?

RobWijnberg30 karma

Thank you for your question, Cookinho.

First: it's good to know that we see ourselves as expanding to the English-language rather than duplicating our publication in the US. We're expanding into a different language, not just a new country.

Second: to your question on biggest differences. Obviously, the scale of everything is greater. That brings challenges to safe guarding company culture. Working remotely and in different time-zones with future correspondents will be more challenging than working from a country where you can travel to all corners within three hours.

Third: there are more high-quality competitors. That means we have to work even harder to differentiate ourselves.

Fourth: The English-language public sphere is even more polarized than it's Dutch counterpart. So, there will be more cultural and ideological differences to bridge.

Cygnus--X120 karma

What do you say to journalists and others in media who are accusing you of having a a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude towards 'regular' news publications?

RobWijnberg33 karma

I understand that journalists defend their work when I criticize it, and I respect them for it.

I direct my criticism at news-as-a-phenomenon or the news industry as a sector; I avoid criticizing specific media or journalists.

At The Correspondent, we try to let constructive criticism work to our advantage and embrace it. We think that if you criticize, you should be able to receive criticism as well. And I think that's the best attitude other publications can have too.

rogue_leader0516 karma

Hi Rob, thanks for doing this! I’ve been thinking about joining you guys (a mate of mine is Dutch and won’t stop raving about you), but don't know where my money would actually go, and last time I gave to a Kickstarter thing nothing ever happened. Sooo… what’s the deal with that?

RobWijnberg29 karma

Sorry to hear about the last Kickstarter you backed.

I can promise you this: If you decide to join us, and we don’t hit our $2.5 million funding goal by midnight on Friday, we’ll give you your money back in full.

And if we do hit our goal (we’re on track, as we speak!), you’ll get a year’s worth of in-depth journalism in return. With your money, we are going to hire talented, knowledgeable correspondents whose goal it is to help you understand the underlying forces that shape our world, and collaborate with you on telling stories about our most pressing problems and what we can do about them. Your membership will start when we launch (before mid 2019).

stfwn12 karma

Rob, Jay Rosen said about you on Trevor Noah's show:

They have a rule: no reporting about problems unless you also report about what you can do about it. What you can do about it, what we as a society can do about it.

Problems in society can be complex and may require many people, on many different levels of society, to agree on one of out of many solutions, and coordinate over many years to solve them - if it is possible to solve them.

Why does the Correspondent choose to connect reporting problems with solving them so strongly?

RobWijnberg19 karma

I agree that solutions are complex in the sense you say they are. We advocate so-called constructive journalism because we don't want our journalism to make you cynical about the possibility of change. Also, we believe that progress is possible and that by shining a light on possible ways to solve our problems, we can help bring about that positive change.

The reason for this mainly is, if you don't think a better world is possible, why would you want to inform yourself about it in the first place? To me, being interested in the world is directly linked to believing in the possibility of making it better.

Tobeert12 karma

Hey Rob! Thanks for doing this AMA. I've been reading a lot of The Correspondent lately, and also listening to the podcasts (both of The Correspondent and the Rudi and Freddie show!). I love the different look on news and can often agree with the articles. However, that is perhaps because I have a lot of 'progressive' opinions. Thats why my question is...

What do you think about the polarization of news and the fact that people often stay inside their own news bubble? And any idea how we can counteract this?

RobWijnberg11 karma

This is a hugely complex question that I would need a library to answer!

But, the short answer is this: people retreating into their own bubbles is a bad thing. One way to counteract this is to make journalism about topics that people across the political spectrum have in common. For example, a beat about what it means to get older as a human being and as a society is not something that automatically polarizes, and there are more of those kinds of topics that cross political lines.

Second: journalists should see their job as a non-stop dialogue with readers, not merely as "reporting the facts" and then leaving the discussion that follows. There are many other ways you can counteract polarization but these are two important ones.

Nijntjes912 karma

What happens when you don’t reach the 2.5 million goal? What’s the reason that you went for an all-or-nothing tactic? I’m keeping my thumbs crossed for you guys as a Dutch fan of De Correspondent :)

RobWijnberg14 karma

If we don't reach the $2.5M goal, it's very easy: you'll get your money back.

In every crowdfunding, there needs to be one clear do-or-die goal, so people will know what success means or when they will get there money back.

sonofarliden11 karma

Hey Rob. Why aren't you taking ad dollars? Do you hate money?

RobWijnberg25 karma

Being ad free is not just a nice way to get rid of annoying banners. It’s crucial to rebuilding a relationship of trust with with readers, viewers, and listeners. At De Correspondent in The Netherlands, we’ve been ad free for five years now. This means we don’t take ad dollars of any kind. No banner ads, no sponsored content, no native ads. And we’ll adopt this same approach at The Correspondent.

The most important reason why we’re ad free stems from how we see you: our audience (although we never use that word, for reasons I'll explain). When news is (mostly) funded by advertisers, your attention is the product being sold. In the ad model, the news itself is mainly a means to capture your attention. That’s why you see a lot of sensationalism in the news.

Being ad free means: less incentives to grab attention for attention’s sake — and more incentives to inform you in the best possible way. Put differently: because we’re paid by you, we can focus completely on helping you understand the world around you.

This, in turn, also means: we don’t see you as a “target audience”. Because of the ad model, news media executives came to see “the audience” not so much as citizens to be informed, but as demographics to be reached. Because advertisers want to know if they’re reaching “the right audience”.

At The Correspondent, we see our members as engaged, curious citizens, not as “consumers” to be put into brackets like ‘postmodern hedonist millennial’ or ‘affluent conservative retiree’. We don’t care about your “demographics”.

And, because we don’t see you as a “target audience”, we don’t need to collect much data about you either. Being ad free enables us to be mindful of your privacy. We don’t need to know what paycheck you bring home or what breakfast cereal you like.

Cygnus--X14 karma

What do you think of the BuzzFeed model (getting high views with clickbait that fund the lesser read but more in-depth articles)? They seem to have struck a pretty good balance there.

RobWijnberg13 karma

It is one of the models for journalism, but it's not ours. We are member-funded, and don't have traffic goals for some articles to fund the less popular ones.

liquid_fritz10 karma

Hey Rob, this is really interesting! Thanks for answering some questions.

I have two:

Who are some of these comedians you consider "journalistic heroes"?

What's a story or a particular piece that you all did that you're particularly proud of?

RobWijnberg14 karma

Well, thank you liquid_fritz! I enjoy doing this.

About your questions:

  1. I extensively answered this very question in this piece: https://medium.com/de-correspondent/what-journalists-can-learn-from-truth-telling-comedians-630900f4c04a. I particularly love Jon Stewart-- I learned a lot about the way media works from his media criticisms in The Daily Show.
  2. There are many, but I'll mention two. One is our investigation on Shell. More about that here: https://medium.com/de-correspondent/reader-engagement-shell-4bb6d0b8fb84. The other is our group interview with refugees in the Netherlands. More about that one here: https://thecorrespondent.com/6405/hundreds-of-correspondent-members-asked-refugees-about-life-in-a-new-country-heres-how-this-unique-initiative-got-started/426816390-27dc3abb

RichardMau510 karma

Some people claim we live in a post-truth society. Do you aim to use more facts or more opinions in your stories? And how do you convince people into trusting your facts?

RobWijnberg19 karma

It's a great question! Here's what I said about this in our FAQ:

We’re not post-truth — and we wouldn’t recommend being that either. Try jumping out of a 20 story building and see if gravity cares whether you’re a liberal or a conservative. We believe there’s such a thing as reality and we believe in telling the truth about it. That doesn’t mean we think we know the Truth-with-a-capital-T. We believe that truth-telling is a deeply human endeavor, prone to all kinds of mistakes and guaranteed to cause disagreement. That’s why we think truth-telling, above all, requires being open and honest about your assumptions, beliefs, doubts, and mistakes. There’s no such thing as “just giving you the facts” — facts need interpretation to have meaning. And we all interpret things differently. That, in turn, does not mean all things have “two sides.” They don’t. The earth is not flat, it’s round. Well, actually, it’s not round either — it’s an oblate spheroid. But you get the idea.

natemaggio9 karma

Hey Rob! I signed up a few weeks ago. Really hope you hit your goal!

If you could change just one thing about the way we do news, as a society, what would it be?

RobWijnberg13 karma

If I could only change one thing.... I'd change three things, because they're highly interconnected.

I'd change what news is about and focus more on what happens ever day instead of what happened today.

I'd change how news is made to collaborate with readers instead of seeing them as mere consumers of journalism.

I'd change how news is funded by shifting to a reader-funded model rather than an advertisement-funded one.

pimmeke8 karma

Rob, wanneer mag ik nou eens over games komen schrijven?

RobWijnberg5 karma

Good ideas are always welcome, pimmeke!

Cygnus--X18 karma

After you did a survey you found that a majority of your subscribers did not actually read many articles and that they supported The Correspondent mostly to support journalism in general, and that a majority of your views came from (free to read) Facebook/Twitter links. Is that something that you (could) see happen in the American market as well? And does that concern you?

RobWijnberg11 karma

We did not find that a majority of subscribers did not read that many articles. We found that people like to be informed in many different ways, not just in articles. That's why we are improving on our newsletters, making audible versions of our articles, we've invested in podcasts and we are also investing in video. We will definitely keep doing that for our English-language platform.

mbutler768 karma

Hey Rob, thanks for doing this! I was hoping to understand more about how The Correspondent is different from the rest of the news today. If you have all of this member participation, how will you keep your site from being overrun by trolls and evil commenters?

RobWijnberg11 karma

Great question! There are lots of little things we’ll do differently, but here are three big ones: 1) We’ll have a different idea of what news is; 2) We’ll have a different way of making news; and 3) We’ll have a different business model to pay for it. Let me explain in that order. First, we won’t breathlessly follow the news cycle, but cover the underlying forces that shape our world. Reading us will help you understand how the world works and will help you grasp what we can do about our societal problems. Second, we’ll do this by collaborating with you, our members. You can talk and work together with our journalists, asking them questions, and sharing your knowledge and experience. They will listen, respond and make use of your expertise, because they realize that you—our readers— collectively know more than we do. And last but not least: we’ll do this on a site that is completely ad-free. No annoying banners, no sponsored content either. We only represent your civic interests, not those of powerful businesses.

On the question of trolls: 1) People can only comment with their real name on our site. 2) Our journalists are always participating in the conversation. 3) We communicate clear expectations of what we hope to get out of the comment contributions. 4) We really use the member contributions in our journalism.

All of this limits the number of evil commenters, and if there are people who try to disturb the conversation, we kindly ask them not to. If they keep doing it, we moderate. But, because of the steps mentioned before, we rarely have to. We also have a conversations editor who's job it is to keep the comments section as interesting and useful as possible.

fenderblenders7 karma

Hi Rob! I'm a recently graduated journalism student and we studied De Correspondent in class last semester (and we all loved you guys). What advice would you give to a new journalist just starting out and wanting to make their mark? Also thanks for doing this!

RobWijnberg9 karma

Thank you so much for your compliments, fenderblenders!

My best advice is: don't wait for someone to give you a job before you start writing. Start writing about the things you care about and are interested in right away. Build an expertise that makes you unique and don't think you need an established brand or platform to start building a reputation-- you can do that yourself too!

Lastly: never just pitch an idea, always send an example of the work you've already done as well.

dude-next-door6 karma

Hi Rob thanks for doing this AMA!

I'm Dutch and have read many articles you guys have published over the years, many of which I found incridbly insightful and interesting. However while you claim you want to stop the polarisation the news is causing, a lot of your articles have a very clear message and opinion shining through, which is mostly quite Liberal.

So my question, in what way do you feel like you're different in this respect compared to other news agencies?

Edit: spelling

RobWijnberg12 karma

We are different in two ways:

  1. Instead of pretending to be "objective" or "neutral," we try to be as open and transparent about our worldviews as possible. We're not more opinionated than other news sites, we're just more honest about it.
  2. We strive to diversify our perspectives, also by giving as much voice as possible to our members. We take our comments section more seriously than any other traditional news site. We learn a lot from our readers' knowledge and experience. When we change our minds about things, we will openly communicate that as well (whereas traditional journalists rarely do).
  3. I'm sure a lot of our journalism can be labeled "progressive" or "liberal," but it's also a simplification. We have a lot of stories like the work of our Forgotten Wars correspondent and our Aging correspondent that I wouldn't label as such.

Cygnus--X12 karma

This is an interesting take on it. So where would you place the 'opinion of the angry citizen' in your platform? It's a point many (left leaning) publications have been struggling with.

RobWijnberg3 karma

People are free to voice their concerns in the way they want to on our platform. However, we always strive to keep the conversation on The Correspondent constructive, meaning, as long as people leave room for others to express their views as well, we welcome their comments. If there is vitriol or racism or similar aggression, we will not tolerate it.

buckyisnumberone6 karma

most internet comment sections are horrible. are yours any different?

RobWijnberg15 karma

The comments section on our Dutch platform De Correspondent is *very* different from most comment sections on news sites. People share knowledge and experience instead of outrage and conspiracies. They do this because all of our journalists interact with our readers in the comment section, and we ask our readers very specific questions that they can answer. Readers also have to use their real name, which makes a difference.

youguanbumen4 karma

Hi Rob! It’s my impression that the Correspondent’s values mostly apply to domestic reporting — how an American outlet can better report on American events to better serve an American public. How does the Correspondent plan to unbreak reporting on other countries? What are the issues there, and what are the solutions?

RobWijnberg8 karma

Thanks for that question. We're hoping to develop beats that correspondents can cover that are may be local in their effects, but global in their scope. Climate change is a good example of this-- it's a global phenomenon with real, local consequences. With beats like this, we hope to transcend the purely domestic view most news still has.

If happen to be able to read Dutch (or can GoogleTranslate it), I wrote a long article about this here: https://decorrespondent.nl/8849/sluit-je-vandaag-aan-bij-the-correspondent-en-maak-wereldwijde-journalistiek-mogelijk-over-de-grote-vragen-van-onze-tijd/226799870-c67f30bc

Madhol4 karma

Hey Rob, Why start a English platform USA based? Why not for instance in Germany. I am really getting tired of al the USA news. Will it be focused on the world?

RobWijnberg8 karma

We want to build an English-language platform for all over the world. We chose English because it is the language with the largest reach that we also speak. And we hope to be very international in our outlook.

CptChikadee3 karma

Hi Rob, I’m really interested in contributing to The Correspondent, I like a lot of your stated values but I’ve read quite a few criticisms about the way De Correspondent has been run, — including some seriously questionable editorial choices and actual diversity vs performative declarations of diversity.

After Sarah Kendzior alleged you deleted her articles, I believed it was a misunderstanding over a URL change. But what about her allegation that your editor wouldn’t accept things like climate change and voter suppression were happening in the US under Trump? Is that whatthe vague reference to having a deep disagreement over the level of sourcing in her final unpublished article was about in The Correspondent’s response? If so, what kind of sourcing did your editor require -- those seem like pretty well accepted fact, afaik.

This article lays out a lot of accusations against The Correspondent on the diversity issue. Some of it is hearsay and anonymous complaints but some of it is substantive. For example, how do you respond to the allegation that your diversity hires in the Netherlands have been heavily subsidized by the Dutch Government and foundations, something that was not disclose despite your touted transparency principles?

Also, why would a publication serious about upholding diversity publish an article (in April of 2018), titled, “Why it’s unhelpful to label people as racists, fascists or terrorists”? Is that a concept you stand by as an organization, or does De Correspondent regularly publish articles with viewpoints that are contradictory to its principles? Because how can you uphold diversity if you believe you can't call people out for racism?

As a POC these issues are very important to me and I want to have clear answers before I commit to supporting your organization and recommending others do the same. Thanks for your time.

RobWijnberg11 karma

Hi CptChikadee, thank you for sharing your concerns! The urls were indeed unintentionally redirected, not deleted. Also, there is nobody within our organization that denies the reality of both climate change and voter suppression; we have covered both extensively; we even have had a Climate Change correspondent since our very beginning in 2013. On diversity, we agree that there is a lot of room for improvement, and we are dedicated to achieving that; however, the accusations in the fore-mentioned article are either unfounded or based on one anonymously quoted former (and disgruntled) employee. The author did not check any claims with us before publishing. We have never been granted subsidies "for diversity hires"; nor did we ever withhold truthful disclosure of the purpose of any subsidy. On our diversity efforts I published this post most recently: https://medium.com/@robwijnberg/diversity-at-de-correspondent-b1f1cadc4d4f Lastly, yes, we regularly publish views that contradict other views expressed on our platform. The views we hold as an organisation are articulated in our founding principles, which you can find here: thecorrrespondent.com/principles. All other views expressed are the views of the individual authors themselves, of which we have many (and a lot of them change their views over time).

moleman30003 karma

If you make it, when will you launch? (Love the site design, btw.)

RobWijnberg3 karma

Thank you! We will pass on the compliment to the great designers at our founding partner (and creative agency) Momkai.

If we make it, we'll launch The Correspondent around mid-2019.

twardy3 karma

What has been your biggest professional failure (in journalism or publishing) and how have you learned from it?

RobWijnberg10 karma

My biggest professional failure is to assume that everybody functions best in the same way I do, and therefore underestimating the need for structure and for clear rules and expectations. As a consequence, we've had a lot of stress in our newsroom that I could've seen coming by better taking into account other perspectives. I've learned to make sure fundamental decisions are always made in collaboration with people who think differently than I do.

Ecaelo3 karma

I really like your focus on more in-depth reporting but I imagine such investigative journalism is quite time intensive. Considering you're just starting, if this takes off, how many Correspondents can we expect initially? Will there be daily articles, or should I see it as a slightly more frequent Economist?

RobWijnberg5 karma

Indeed our kind of journalism is very time-intensive. If we reach our $2.5M goal, we expect to be able to hire at least 5-6 full-time correspondents (and maybe a few part-time correspondents as well). Our aim is to publish articles daily, at least one, and we hope to build up from there.

riekusvm3 karma

Will the eventual english-language launch of The Correspondent also launch an english-language version of De Korte Spondent ("The short correspondent", a one-sentence summary of otherwise quite lengthy articles) ?

RobWijnberg5 karma

Haha, well, you should ask the person who runs that FB account (for people who don't know: De Korte Spondent is a satirical FB page that makes "one sentence" summaries of the articles that it dubs "too long" :)

wacktionary3 karma

I am concerned that adherence to the mission statement will flag when financial or other pressures mount. There have been next-generation news platforms with similar stated goals which have, in my view, failed to live up to their own values. Will The Correspondent have an external ethics review panel to hold itself accountable?

RobWijnberg7 karma

Thank you very much for this question. We do actually! There is a Dutch foundation called SDM that is a priority share holder and has veto power to protect our founding principles. Also, we will set up a board structure with similar responsibilities.

You can read more about how are principles are safe guarded in this piece by Jay Rosen: https://medium.com/de-correspondent/how-the-correspondent-protects-itself-from-profit-maximization-df7b316e8ab7

jobsak2 karma

How come the Correspondent isn't as involved with many larger research cooperations such as Football Leaks and Cimex (unlike FTM for example)? Would you like you to be?

RobWijnberg3 karma

We are absolutely open to fruitful collaboration with other journalistic organisations. As for these two: I could not give you a specific reason, other than different priorities.

JebbieSans1871 karma

Do you have a mobile app for android?

RobWijnberg4 karma

We do not currently have an app. But, if you bookmark our page on your mobile screen, it pretty much functions like an app. We might consider building apps someday!