I’m supporting The Correspondent because I believe in democracy and journalism (and also beautiful fonts)
Listen up everybody. I’ve come across a new media organization that’s got me so excited, I’ve decided to join as an ambassador and help with its US launch. It’s called The Correspondent, and it’s a Dutch-born journalism organization that is member-funded, in-depth, and fiercely ad-free. I am consulting on their upcoming membership campaign, working on messaging, acting as a spokesperson, and of course I’ll be joining as a paying member myself.
I’m doing this because I believe the stories we tell shape the reality in which we live, and we need better stories. Journalism is a key driver of those reality-shaping stories that I’ve loved since I was a child.
Growing up in Washington DC, I used to read the Sunday Washington Post cover-to-cover. In school, I would keep one headphone in my ear, tuned to NPR, and turn it up when classes got boring. (Is that an endorsement of NPR or just serious shade thrown at one of my high school teachers? You decide!) And I would race home from school to arrive in time to catch the NBC Nightly News as well as public television news — we didn’t have cable, so PBS was the closest I could get.
But I haven’t just been a serious news consumer. I’ve also tried various forms of making it, always with an eye toward integrating what I thought was missing: more diverse voices and more meaningful uses of technology.
So when I wrote and edited for my high school and college newspapers, I also worked on integrating technology into those newsrooms. I started blogging in 2000 and picked things up significantly when I partnered with Cheryl Contee to create Jack and Jill Politics, a middle class black perspective on US politics whose DNC coverage is archived in the Library of Congress.
My most prominent pseudo-journalistic pursuits have been in the fields of comedy and satire. My time with The Onion and The Daily Show honed my criticism of news media while also allowing me to experiment with ways to make it better.
So while I have never formally worked as a journalist per se, I have considered myself a writer, activist, and citizen with deep “journalistic tendencies”, taking every opportunity to inform people as best I can, whether through my comedic performances, deep dive Twitter threads, or regular television appearances. I believe in an informed citizenry because I believe in democracy.
And our democracy is in danger. There’s an all out assault on the truth in an information war that is reshaping the boundaries of political discourse for the worse. Too much of our news is just-in-time delivery of undigested information that doesn’t provide enough context for how we got here or enough possibilities for improving our situation.
Yet, I have seen hopeful signs even in these dark times: the record levels of digital subscriptions supporting my original hometown Washington Post and my now-hometown New York Times is inspiring and indicative of the public’s hunger; the view rates on John Oliver’s biting, informative, and satirical 20 minute lectures (I had no idea how much of a problem there was with guardianship!); the popularity of deep podcast topic series like Uncivil or The Wilderness or There Goes The Neighborhood; and institutions like ProPublica or The Texas Tribune who have a different business model. There’s even the Solutions Journalism Network which reports on what we know about how people are fixing the various messes we’re in.
So we know a lot about what we need more of to improve our media ecosystem, and I’m convinced that The Correspondent is an urgently needed addition. They’ve been doing it in The Netherlands for five years with De Correspondent.
Last month, I met with one of the co-founders at the suggestion of artist, activist, and journalist Molly Crabapple. I’ve learned it’s best to just do what she says and can only dream of the day when world leaders realize this as well.
Over coffee, I listened as Ernst Pfauth and operations lead Zainab Shah outlined the company’s 10 founding principles. I was like, “I believe in all that! Y’all are my people!”
The ones that really got me:
- We do not take ad dollars of any kind. Say it loud! We have defaulted to advertising as the financial support for too many things in our world.
- We minimize personal data collection. I have written a few thousand words on this already.
- We don’t just cover the problem but what can be done about it. We are fired up and ready to go but many of us don’t know what to do.
- We collaborate with you, our knowledgeable members. Finally we can get past comments as a measure of “reader engagement”.
I think the most notable of these is the member collaboration. The networked nature of our emerging society requires a networked approach to civic functions, including journalism. No single journalist could possibly uncover all the relevant information on a particular topic. The Correspondent leverages its members for more than dollars. It taps them for expertise, and on occasion, reporting.
At a time of record human migration, immigrants and refugees have been vilified globally, including in The Netherlands. So De Correspondent mobilized hundreds of its members to interview new Dutch residents about their fears, their motivations, and their experiences. Instead of treating refugees as objects in the story, they talked with them directly. It should not be a radical act to treat our fellow human beings as humans, but this StoryCorps-like endeavor strikes me as radical and beautiful at scale. In an act of useful transparency, they explained how and why they did it.
We could use a similar effort here in the United States as our vilifier-in-chief further limits refugee admissions and helps millions forget that immigrants have sacrificed all they have in order to contribute to this nation.
We don’t just need more information. We need more knowledge. We need to understand how our problems became problems so we can stop repeating them. We need to see examples of solutions so we can repeat those instead. And given the size of the challenges facing our society and the speed with which change is being foisted upon us, we can look at journalism’s consumers as much more than that.
These are just some of the reasons I’m proud to support The Correspondent. One additional and non-trivial factor is that their design is on point. The logo, the fonts, the readability. Trust me. It literally feels good reading it.
If you’re tired of watching the news and screaming into the void, consider joining this organization and helping make more of the news we need. Become a founding member at thecorrespondent.com today.
Baratunde Thurston is an Emmy-nominated futurist comedian, writer, and cultural critic who helped relaunch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, co-founded Cultivated Wit and the About Race podcast, and wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black. He is the host of the iHeartMedia podcast Spit and is a highly sought-after public speaker, television personality, and advisor who has been part of noteworthy institutions such as Fast Company, TED, the MIT Media Lab, The Onion, and the gentrification of Brooklyn, New York.
He is an ambassador for The Correspondent, and consulting on our upcoming membership campaign.
Let’s build a movement for radically different news, together!