Crowdfunded, ad-free Dutch “context news” site raises €1 million in 8 days

Soon-to-be launched Dutch news site De Correspondent shocked its own founders after raising more than €1 million from advance subscribers in eight days — and 13 fundraising days still remain.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 4, 2013

Creator Rob Wijnberg told The Editors Weblog he originally thought De Correspondent had a 50 percent chance of meeting its goal of 15,000 members. But as of Thursday, more than 17,000 people have shelled out €60 for an annual subscription to the news site, set to launch in September. According to the site, 48 members have additionally donated €1,000 or more to fund the project.

“We were overwhelmed, especially by how fast it was and especially by how much enthusiasm people showed for the initiative,” Wijnberg said. “People really mailed us lots of letters and tweets and everything saying that ‘I’m so glad you started this.’ We didn’t expect that.”

While this sort of drive is unusual, it is not unprecedented. Several years ago Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano similarly preemptively fundraised, and collected €5 million from 30,000 advance subscribers in 3 months.

De Correspondent has been in the works since Wijnberg quit his job as editor of Dutch national newspaper NRC Next in September. He said he noticed how people are “hounded by news” — often “struck by the same news from all different directions.”

But while people are inundated by “snacking” news, they’re hard-pressed to find stories with context and nuance, Wijnberg said. De Correspondent aims to fill that void, and Holland residents have responded enthusiastically.

“We, generation Y, grew up on readily available news,” Sidney Vollmer wrote in response to De Correspondent’s launch. “We probably know basic facts before the papers publish it. If they do publish it, later, there’s too much [expletive] surrounding their news.”

De Correspondent will either ignore major headlines or add to them — the site won’t merely regurgitate them, as Wijnberg said too many other publications do. Instead, “we will try to focus on things that are not news in the traditional sense of the word,” he said.

Wijnberg said today’s news is not an accurate reflection of society: Rather than focusing on the way life is, front pages are plastered with the exceptions, rather than the rules. For this reason, he thinks important aspects of society are rarely covered.

For example, in Holland, the number of crimes solved by police is troublingly low, but the issue is rarely reported by major news outlets unless mentioned by a politician, he said. De Correspondent aims to shift focus to these “things that are happening every day instead of only today and try to find deeper insight into these problems,” he said.

Instead of having clearly defined sections as most newspapers do, De Correspondent’s audience will instead be familiar with the reporters themselves and their interests. For instance, one reporter may focus only on health care for a few months, Wijnberg said.

Reporters won’t be merely “messengers” but recognizable voices. They’ll be outspoken and will persuade readers why they should care about certain subjects even though they don’t make headlines elsewhere, he said.

De Correspondent chose to be ad-free not only for the visual impact but also the symbolism. Wijnberg said that newspapers today are in a sense created for advertisers, citing how some Dutch papers have luxury sections just to target high-dollar advertisements.

“We’re trying to lower the indirect influence of advertising on journalism,” he said.

While other cash-strapped newspapers might be tempted to replicate De Correspondent’s crowdfunding success, Wijnberg said there’s no recipe. What made the site successful was the authenticity of its mission, he said.

“I think a great part of success in general is that people who are behind it really mean what they say,” he said. “If you think it’s a formula, then most of the time I don’t think it will work.”

That’s not to say sites like De Correspondent wouldn’t be welcomed in other parts of the world. Wijnberg said audiences would likely devour other similar news resources, and Vollmer said the site’s launch will likely encourage other similar endeavors.

“As often, it takes an outside-initiative to shake things up,” Vollmer wrote. “This will do that. We will see genuine innovation in the Dutch publishing industry following this initiative, something I’ve personally been eager to see happen for quite some time. Finally, stuff’s happening.”

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