29 Mar 2019

Can there be global journalism? Some seem to think so -- but only if it’s American

Journalism startup The Correspondent received $2.6 million in donations from its recent crowdfunding campaign -- but controversy exploded when its 40% of US backers realized that it was not going to be based out of the US.

Alexandra Borchardt
Alexandra Borchardt Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Can there be global journalism?  Some seem to think so -- but only if it’s American - NewsMavens
Globes, PixaBay

After raising  $2.6 million dollars in donations over just 30 days last year, crowdfunded start-up The Correspondent announced this week that it would run its new English-speaking operations out of Amsterdam. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Dutch city, except The Correspondent founders had set up an office in New York for the duration of the fundraising campaign, probably knowing that Americans are particularly generous when it comes to giving for a purpose. Apparently this strategy paid off -- about 40 percent of donors came from the US, including some high profile supporters and help from well-known NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. Now with its pockets filled, The Correspondent is retreating to Europe.

This retreat caused quite a stir. “What a shame!” said those who felt deceived by this move. There were even calls for refunds. “What does it even matter?” others argued, its a digital operation after all, and couldn’t that be anywhere?

While it is legitimate to question whether the founders had deceived supporters into believing that there would be a permanent office in New York, there is, frankly, another, much more interesting question at play here: Can there be a truly global journalism that appeals to all audiences, no matter where it is produced? Or will journalism always be tied to culture in a way that makes a global product impossible no matter how much we talk about a global community and cultural assimilation? And does the mere fact that it is published in English -- the closest thing to a global language there is – mean that it can be culturally neutral?

Now this is arguing close to home, but NewMavens is an interesting field study for this. Europe’s first all-female newsroom is run out of Warsaw. But it doesn’t feel like a Polish product – at least not to someone from Germany working in Britain.

The idea of letting female journalists from all over Europe curate, comment and contribute news articles that could be of relevance to readers from anywhere has been an experiment in how different an audience’s needs and interests are and what could be the common denominator.

What did we learn from this initiative? That, yes, there are many topics that are relevant to all audiences, in this case specifically women, no matter where the stories originate from. Most certainly, they would have been framed differently in other cultural settings. But it is quite interesting to put on one particular lens and learn about what goes on in different parts of Europe from this perspective, other than through the eyes of a foreign correspondent deployed in that country as some sort of cultural translator.

What is most striking is the richness of voices and expert knowledge that open up in such an international setting. Reading an interview with a forensic scientist from Spain, a human rights activist from Poland, or an abortion advocate and doctor from Germany makes one realize that there is an abundance of interesting thoughts and voices out there. Far more than the usual suspects from American or British elite universities that tend to be quoted everywhere (particularly when an international book launch is imminent).

The diversity in this new playing field can feel somewhat strange at first, but it feels like a whole new game when one has gotten used to it.

Now the United States has always claimed cultural hegemony -- Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Levi’s and Hollywood -- but hasn’t their pervasiveness proven that there is something like a universal taste? And isn’t The New York Times read everywhere, proving that there is a universal kind of great journalism? Well, there is, and there isn’t.

Nobody questions the quality of the editorial powerhouse from New York, just as nobody questions the merit of blue jeans.

The Correspondent -- independently from its different outlook on journalism -- might become an interesting experiment exactly because of its being far away from Manhattan, Washington or London.

Being published out of a small country that has no claim to hegemony and with a bit more distance from the English-speaking world could bring new perspectives to the global conversation. In an age that is shaped by the simultaneous pulls of global and local forces, these perspectives are much needed.    

Journalism thrives on the tension between sameness and difference. It is most successful, when audiences feel just enough similarity in an experience to relate to it and just enough difference to find it interesting. This works for women’s publications, because many aspects of being a woman are a universal experience. But being human should be one as well.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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