Offering a daily perspective to members
The story behind growing German online news company Perspective Daily
Closing in on 15,000 paying members after its first year, and recently being nominated for the Grimme Online Award 2017, this ad-free media company has made great strides by putting their users first.
At this year’s edition of Future Media Lab’s annual conference we met Han Langeslag, co-founder of the Perspective Daily, who was keen to share his story about the need for a new kind of media platform:
“Lots of media don’t mention the big issues on their front pages and focus on reporting scandal and conflict. We wanted to go beyond that, providing an understanding of different perspectives and opening up the view for solutions.”
Perspective Daily’s ‘solutions-orientated’, constructive approach is based on what we know about how people can solve challenges and conflicts. Langeslag and his co-founder Maren Urner are both neuroscientists who wanted to start empowering people to see their potential and possible influence.
When kicking off this idea, Langeslag says they were inspired by the work of De Correspondent, a member-funded journalism platform that launched in 2013 with a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign in The Netherlands, raising $1.7 million from some 20,000 backers. De Correspondent are now 56,000 members strong and ad-free. Langeslag explains:
“We learned a lot from them, especially in the way they approached news, and we wanted to take ‘a kind of De Correspondent’ to Germany.”
Since then, other initiatives have followed suit. Recently, Swiss digital magazine Republik raised more than $2 million in two weeks (along with $3.5 million of investor money) to do long-form journalism. They want “to create a new business model for media companies that want to place their readers at the center”. Republik will also be ad-free and launches in January 2018.
A unique Perspective
The key to successful member-funded initiatives in media is having a clear concept. But what makes Perspective Daily truly different? One of the unique identifiers is the important role psychology has to play on their platform, says Langeslag:
“It’s about discussing the problems behind big issues, and psychology is a big part of why politics and economics work the way they do.”
To truly grasp the inner workings and explore the big issues, a short article won’t suffice. Lots of articles on the Perspective Daily are long-reads that sometimes turn into background articles for more specific stories later on. This makes them build a referable knowledge base for challenges such as climate change, refugee crisis and European collaboration. Langeslag and Urner knew that in order to make Perspective Daily a success they needed to attract certain journalists:
“It’s important to have journalists with a specific expertise, from economy to psychology to computing. I guess this goal regarding our team is also due to the academic background of both myself and Maren.”
Having a team who are experienced in evidence-based journalism helps to build members’ trust. There are two more elements in gaining and retaining the confidence of members, Langeslag says:
“You also build trust by having journalists who engage and are transparent with members. Also, it’s crucial to have your platform mainly funded by your readers rather than by third parties.”
Don’t feed the troll
Regarding the first element in the above quote, Langeslag mentions that engaging with their very active members is an enormous challenge, but one that’s definitely worth it. He’s aware that in the last year, more news websites have been closing down their comment sections due to trolling and other offensive behavior by readers:
“Our comment section is only visible for members, with your first and last name displayed when you post something — this creates a space for healthy, constructive discussion.”
Moreover, Langeslag thinks that trolling is also connected to the way lots of articles are written on media platforms. “Focusing on scandals and sensationalism provokes a certain way of responding”, he says. “Of course anonymity doesn’t help, but the lack of moderation and guidance for readers on many platforms is a real problem.”
Langeslag sees members as people who not only consume but also co-author pieces, by utilizing the comment section or being in direct contact with the journalists. To drive the relationship with their (potential) members further, Perspective Daily have organized 17 events across Germany for the crowdfunding campaign they ran their first year. It’s important to engage with the people who could potentially become future members: “We show who Perspective Daily are and learn from the audience what expectations they have of us.”
A single customer
The last element of building trust, as mentioned by Langeslag, is running an ad-free platform. “People always claim that media should be truly independent”, he says, “which is utopian, because the money needs to come from somewhere”. For him it’s vital that it’s coming from the members, so you limit the influence of third parties:
“However you look at it, having advertisers as a main source of income results in having two customers — the readers and the advertisers.”
This could lead to unhelpful situations, such as being persuaded to write more articles ‘suited for millennials’ just to please a specific ad targeting scheme. Langeslag says they are happy to be free of that. “Going ad-free might not be the easiest route”, he says, “but it’s the best one for quality journalism.” He feels strengthened not only by the growing numbers of members but also by emails they receive:
“Most of the times we receive very positive feedback from our members. I mean, I don’t know how often other media platforms get fan-mail — we get a lot of it.”
Langeslag hopes media platforms will “stop focusing their effort on saving the last bit of advertising income that Google and Facebook haven’t gotten their hands on yet, but rather start investing in a long-term relationship with readers.”
Plans for year two
What’s in store for Perspective Daily? Langeslag mentions he has learned that the German media landscape’s quite conservative, and it’s sometimes tricky to get the established media companies to give new initiatives exposure. Despite this challenge, he has his mind set on a bigger growth in member numbers:
“Firstly, we’re expanding our current team of eight full-time journalists, as more coverage and diversity will be key next year. This will include hiring people who are experts in critical thinking. Secondly, we want to do even more face-to-face events! Lastly, we continue to learn from initiatives like the open source Coral Project to further our discussion fora and comment sections online.”
Thanks to Han and Perspective Daily for sharing their story on how you can focus on quality journalism and bring the reader, or member, to the fore once again. Would you like to share you story on The Graph? Feel free to contact us.