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The problem with real news — and what we can do about it

Rob Wijnberg
Sep 12, 2018 · 15 min read
Rob Wijnberg speaking at the launch of De Correspondent | Photo: Bas Losekoot

The news is: one crazy unrelated event after another

To start off with the sensational: news is generally that which is shocking, scandalous, or appalling enough to evoke comment. It often revolves around what’s most visible — one might even say explosive. That is why terrorist attacks are often news, says Guardian journalist Joris Luyendijk, but occupations of foreign lands are not. Attacks are shocking, highly visible events, occupation much less so. Put another way: it’s easy to capture a bus exploding, yet very hard to film the suppression of everyday freedoms.

Cartoon: Matt Wuerker | Source: Politico

The news is: what’s not happening

When you put all this together, it means the news actually fails to deliver on its single biggest promise: to tell us what’s happening in the world. People who follow the news mostly know what doesn’t happen. It portrays the world to us as a never ending string of sensational, unusual, terrible, rapidly forgotten events. In contrast to fake news, which is misleading because it’s simply untrue, real news misleads us in a more subtle and fundamental way. It gives us a deeply skewed view of probability, history, progress, development, and relevance.

The news is: a health hazard

To be clear: when I say “news” I don’t mean “all journalism.” There are countless types of journalism that are thorough and informative, and there are ten of thousands of journalists committed to public service who do invaluable work. Nor is my criticism of the news meant as a dismissal of “the media,” as that phrase is now commonly understood. Like many of my colleagues, I am worried by the wave of mistrust toward journalists that’s currently sweeping the United States and the world at large, spurred on by a political elite that hopes to exploit this suspicion of the media.

We need an antidote to the news

To help temper the negative effects of the news, I founded the Dutch journalism platform De Correspondent five years ago with a crowdfunding campaign. The idea behind it was simple: let’s redefine the news together — from the sensational to the foundational. And the response was overwhelming: nearly 19,000 founding members joined our cause and helped us achieve a world record in journalism crowdfunding. We raised $1.7 million in a country of just 17 million people. In five years our member base grew to over 60,000 today, making us one of the fastest growing community funded news sites in Europe.

The problem isn’t liberal bias, it’s recency bias

That slogan perfectly captures our mission: to serve as a remedy to the worst effects of the news. Central to that is a different definition of news. Instead of looking only at what happened today, at De Correspondent we look at what happens every day. When you do that consistently, it makes for a different view of the world.

Rob founded De Correspondent in Amsterdam in 2013

Going from the sensational to the foundational, with the help of readers

At De Correspondent in the Netherlands, we try to tell precisely those stories that aren’t news, but news-worthy nevertheless. Or, as we often say, that reveal not the weather but the climate. Those stories are written by correspondents who don’t have a news-driven schedule to meet, and thus can take the time they need to develop an area of expertise and learn to recognize and describe the truly influential developments of our time. Our ultimate goal: to replace the sensational with the foundational and the recent with the relevant.

Breaking news: one hundred readers know more than one journalist

Our members play a crucial role in discovering and exploring the everyday systems that are the focus of our journalism. At De Correspondent we believe that a hundred readers by definition know more than a single journalist. On our platform these everyday experts share their knowledge and experience with our correspondents.

News that helps us make the world a better place

This kind of journalism, in which journalists don’t just produce and readers don’t just consume, is ultimately rooted in an underlying conviction: that by sharing our knowledge and experience with each other, we can leave the world better than we found it. Said another way, De Correspondent is based on a belief in progress.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.

Rob Wijnberg

Written by

Philosopher turned entrepreneur on a mission to redefine the news. Founder of The Correspondent, a journalism platform for #unbreakingnews.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.