News - “News distorts our view of the world”
Organised in the margin of Journalismfund.eu’s Data Harvest Conference, Europe’s biggest investigative and data journalism conference, the event gathered some 70 journalists from all over Europe in Rits Café. The evening was kicked off by the PEN Vlaanderen president, Belgian author David Van Reybrouck. On the programme: a presentation by investigative journalist Marleen Teugels, board member of PEN Vlaanderen, and an interview by Margo Smit with Nils Mulvad and Rob Wijnberg.
Teugels’ presentation was based on an exploratory study that PEN Vlaanderen did on the state of press freedom in Belgium. The presentation zoomed in on some big cases of political and other forms of pressure put on Belgian journalists in the last year. Additionally, it documented forms of mild censorship in the Belgian media (mainly on topics concerning ethnicity (the use of the word ‘allochtoon’), religion and nudity) and forms of external pressure – political or through the readers – and internal pressure – because of the market-driven approach to news.
The presentation was followed by a panel interview with Journalismfund.eu ex-jury member Nils Mulvad and Dutch philosopher and journalist Rob Wijnberg, moderated by VVOJ president Margo Smit. The first few questions were for Mulvad, asking about Farmsubsidy.org, which he co-founded. He talked about how the project grew to become one of the, if not the, most important continuous data journalism projects in Europe.
Smit then introduced Rob Wijnberg to the international crowd as the founder of the brand new promising Dutch online slow journalism platform De Correspondent, for which he and his team crowdfunded a million euros through 15,000 subscribers in a few days time. According to Wijnberg, traditional newspapers are too thick. They try to report about everything, which is not only unnecessary, but also unfavourable. “De Correspondent will try to do less, but do it well. We will focus on longer background pieces rather than news. News distorts our view of the world. Because of its very nature, it always shows us the exceptions to the rule. In a way that makes sense, because nobody wants to know about 10,000 commuters returning home from work safely. But that means that in the end what you will know is how the world doesn’t work.”
The new platform’s name De Correspondent derives from the fact that its content will be brought to the readers by devoted and relevant journalists, the correspondents. They will use their qualities to present stories from a unique, insightful perspective. Wijnberg: “There’s a huge difference between opinion and perspective. You can’t bring a story or news item without a perspective. What we want to do is offer the readers the perspective of journalists that are experienced and have insight in the topics in question.”
Bringing longer pieces is also what Journalismfund.eu furthers, through its working grants project. Nils Mulvad was in the organisation’s jury from 2009 until 2013. When Smit asked him if there were many applications that did not get funding, his answer was fast and clear: “Yes. Let’s say that per 40 applications, there are about 4 on average that receive a working grant.” The reason for this, in Mulvad’s view, is that a lot of applications do not deal with cross-border journalism, even though the regulations clearly state that to be the most important criterion. “Cross-border means that the story has to concern two or more countries and requires a cooperation between two or more journalists from those countries.” These kinds of cooperations will only increase in the future because boundaries are dissolving everywhere – on a political, judicial and economic level.
What else will change? Is going digital the future? Mulvad: “Definitely. A lot of newspapers and magazines will simply not survive and the nature of TV has changed and will continue to do so. You have to think digital, think mobile. Rob, may I urge you to take De Correspondent to smartphones and tablets?” Wijnberg: “That is exactly what we are planning to do. We appointed a young publisher for De Correspondent. The first thing he said? We’re developing this platform for smartphones first and only afterwards we’ll adapt it for use on PCs.’”
De Correspondent will launch in September. It sounds like a perfect publishing platform for Dutch journalists cooperating with international colleagues on a quality, cross-border investigative piece…
By Rafael Njotea