Our problems don’t stop at the border. So why should journalism?
National boundaries are rapidly becoming an impediment rather than an aid to understanding the most pressing issues of our time.
The financial crisis that forced taxpayers from many European countries to spend billions to save their banks? It started as an American subprime mortgage crisis, soon spread around the globe, only to be pushed to a boiling point by Greek debt.
The rapid advance of solar panel technology? It started with the US-Russian race to the moon, gained momentum from German subsidies, and skyrocketed thanks to Chinese innovation.
Those fake news posts that show up in your personalized search results? They’re generated by content mills in Macedonia, and distributed by algorithms designed in Silicon Valley.
There are many other examples, but the message remains the same: more than ever, events that take place across the world affect what happens in our own countries, our own legislatures, and our own communities. The world has become our backyard.
And the opposite is just as true: the decisions we make about what to eat or wear, who to vote for, how to electrify our homes and power our cars, all have implications — good and bad — for far-flung parts of the world.
Why we need transnational journalism
But while multinationals, tech giants, ecosystems, and algorithms operate at a global scale, journalists still tend to default to a national perspective when covering them.
Despite the reach of global media brands, international news is still strongly shaped in content and form by national borders. It often focuses on national events, such as elections, disasters, and conflicts. Much of what is reported on is presented as “foreign” — in other words, far away. In making that distinction readers are being trained to see those realities as unconnected from their own.
We can thank print newspapers for that view of the world. Mass media arose more or less simultaneously with the modern nation-state, and was largely limited to their own countries by both language and layout. One theory even claims that printed news is what made us start to think of ourselves as members of a geographically defined community — as citizens of a country.
Most newspapers today still make that age-old distinction between “domestic” and “foreign” news. A distinction which is increasingly a myth, but which still forms the basis for the way much of the news is presented to us.
All this is not to say that countries no longer matter, or that you can no longer consider yourself an American, German, or Nigerian. It also doesn’t ignore the fact that the amount of information humans are able to retain, and the groups of people we are able to feel close to, are still relatively small. Rather, the point is this: to understand events here, we need a deeper insight into the underlying systems and structures that are everywhere.
As Eliza Anyangwe, who recently joined The Correspondent as our Managing Editor, wrote: “By understanding journalistic ‘beats’ as transnational themes rather than issues that exist within geographic boundaries, by tapping into the knowledge and reach of our members, and by investing and experimenting with storytelling tools, we have an opportunity to forge a new kind of journalism that is truly global, rather than chews the world down to convenient tropes and stereotypes for one narrow audience. The ambition is not that any group or region disappear from view but rather that more come into view.”
Joining forces with our members to understand and change the world
The English-speaking correspondents we can now hire thanks to the support of more than 49,000 members can live and work anywhere in the world. They won’t be correspondents in the traditional sense (such as a “US correspondent” or “South Africa correspondent”), but correspondents with transnational beats (such as “artificial intelligence correspondent” or “sustainable living correspondent”).
This is something our correspondents can’t possibly do on their own — not just because their capacity is limited, but because their perspectives are too. But with the help of our members from around the world (130 countries and counting), they’ll be able to gain a deeper and richer insight into the systems and structures that shape the world around us. Because while the effects of these global developments differ — by continent, by country, by region, by person — the underlying driving forces remain the same.
Imagine that lawyers in the United States, the Netherlands, and Peru can share their evolving experiences in climate change lawsuits. Or that business owners in Mexico, Texas, and Nigeria can discuss the impact that stricter immigration policies are having on their local economies. Or that teachers in Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, the Netherlands, and the US can share their experiences with increasing political intrusion into public education.
It’s clear that the developments that shape the world we live in transcend national borders, and we think it’s more important than ever for our news to do the same.
Together, we can better understand the world — and change it for the better.
During May and June 2019, we’re sharing more about the type of journalism you can expect from The Correspondent (find out what we look for in a correspondent here) and details of how your membership contribution will be spent during our first year.
Rob Wijnberg (1982) is the founding editor of The Correspondent, a journalism platform for Unbreaking News.
Let’s build a movement for radically different news, together!
The Correspondent will launch on September 30, 2019. Become a member at thecorrespondent.com today.