Digital in-depth

Exploring in-depth reporting and feature journalism on digital platforms

In-Depth Storytelling in Germany

by annaheinemann

For all of you out there worrying about the future of online journalism, apparently you can stop now. One month ago the German blog, Krautreporter, went online-and if you believe the media buzz out there, it’s going to change the world as we know it. That should be reason enough for us to look into this new blog to understand what all the fuss is about. Besides, after focusing on journalism projects on Kickstarter in our latest post, it seems like a good idea to look into examples of what crowdfunded journalism can look like in detail. Which is why the launch of Krautreporter comes in handy, since it is the first crowd funded journalism project in Germany. After focusing our attention on the American media landscape it seems like a good idea to look into a European example.

The story of Krautreporter – which is a very German name – started in June 2013 when the founders launched their crowd funding campaign that earned them 1 Million Euros within a month. The campaign alone gained a lot of media attention, mostly because the founders optimistically declared that they would save online journalism.

Actually, we are doing everything differently” says Sebastian Esser, founder of Krautreporter, when discussing the characteristics of his new blog. But how does this new concept look like?

First of all, it is very community driven. Members of the blog community pay 5 Euros a month, enabling them to read the articles, comment and discuss them with the authors, and take part in the journalistic research process. Plus, the blog hosts so called “Lesertreffs”, where readers and authors of the blog can meet up and talk about the future of journalism, crowdfunding, or other topics. As Sebastian Esser puts it, the blog is not a news site but a community of people that want to enable independent journalism. Since non-members are also able to read the blog posts, just without the ability to comment on them, the paywall is based on the community factor. You pay to participate rather than remain a bystander.

Looking more closely at the blog, it is apparent that the blog creators seek to differentiate themselves. Although it is the concept of Krautreporter to focus on stories normally overlooked in our fast-paced world, the blog doesn’t offer any traditional news desks. Instead you can select articles according to the 30 authors working for the blog. This seems to be Krautreporter’s way to reward good journalism made by popular journalists or as the Zeit puts it “The author is the message”.

Independence is another important factor in Krautreporter’s campaign of distinction. With the help of the paywall and the crowdfunding, Krautreporter does not depend on advertisement; meaning it is ad-free and therefore independent of commercial influences.

Looking at the German media landscape, Krautreporter is the cool new kid at school, with previously established media outlets like Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Süddeutsche Zeitung suspiciously eying their every move. Still, the feedback is mostly positive, with only Stefan Plöchinger, chief editor of sz.de, remarking that the idea of Krautreporter is not as new as people seem to think. Actually Plöchinger really has a point there. In Germany, the blog seems new and creative and the media attention indicates genuine excitement. But when compared to recent developments in foreign markets, it is evident how German media is struggling to develop new, exciting journalistic ideas and strategies to pay for them. While Krautreporter really does look promising, it is not that different from American competitors like The Big Roundtable, Narratively, or Epic.  But it also comes as no surprise that a country where chancellor Merkel characterizes the internet as “unknown territory” is a bit behind in developing better digital journalism.

So maybe, Krautreporter’s promise to save the journalistic landscape is a bit far fetched but nonetheless it’s a step in the right direction. The longform-articles they offer are very well written, thoroughly researched, and well received by its community members.

But besides just being a new and exciting blog, Krautreporter also sparked anew a very much needed debate about how to pay for online journalism in Germany. So far the crowdfunding and community based paywall method seems to work, but only time will tell if Krautreporter can keep its promise.

Reklamer

Journalism on Kickstarter

by CBJ

This week we take a look at how journalism is doing on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. This summer Kickstarter added an official category for journalism as well as linking up with The Guardian who now hosts a curating page on the Kickstarter site, where the newspaper picks out noteworthy and interesting journalistic projects. Crowdfunding has proven to be a sometimes very effective way of funding and realizing journalistic ideas and projects, from single articles to radio stations and platforms. That being said, it’s no picnic getting people to cough up the money. Laura Shin from Poynter.org has written this great guide for people who wish to crowdfund a journalistic project.

But now let’s have a look at Kickstarter. The site has a neat stats section that forms the basis for our info graphic below. As you can see, the most funded project in the ‘Journalism’ category is the longform project Matter, which is of special interest to this blog. Among other longform projects on Kickstarter are Narratively and The Big Roundtable. The former received §53,739 on a $50,000 pledge and the latter received $19,219 on a $5,000 pledge.

NOTE: We’ve only extracted data from the category ‘Journalism’. However there are also categories such as ‘Radio & Podcast’ that contains journalistic projects such as ‘Radiotopia’ and ’99 % invisible’ that have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.

 

Infographic

The evolution of #longreads

by CBJ

In our latest blogpost we described the popularity of curation services like Longreads.com and Longform.org. This time we’d like to narrow in the scope a bit and use Storify to show how the hashtag #longreads evolved back in 2009 and where it is today. Click the picture below to read our story! //

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Matching readers and writers in the jungle of longform

by CBJ

A community like Twitter is useful for writers and journalists in terms of creating attention, spreading the word and interacting with readers. It’s also a great way to find good stories. Longform journalism has received quite a bit of attention in the past couple of years and calling it a revival wouldn’t be an overstatement. But now there’s now so much content online that it’s almost become overwhelming and great stories risk being overlooked. This has given rise to curatorial services helping people navigate through the substantial amount of stories and finding what they like.

The best known curating sites are Longreads.com and Longform.org. For the former one it all began on Twitter in 2009 when Mark Armstrong (founder of longreads.com) called out for people to use the hashtag #longreads to get recommendations for great stories he could read on his phone while riding the subway. This was really a brilliant idea and the hashtag is still alive and well (according the the people at Longreads.com the number of tweets including this hashtag is up 130 % over the past two years).

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Various News Outlets as well as writers and readers use #longreads to promote great in-depth writing

What the curating services do is they highlight good stories and provide links to the host sites. Maybe the extra attention doesn’t mean a whole lot to big outfits like The New Yorker or The Atlantic but they can help startups and smaller publications gain more attention (worldwide) and they help prevent stories fade away in the digital sea. Especially Longform.org with its online archive divided into topics with all the best long-form journalism (old and new). Longform.org also podcasts weekly conversations with non-fiction writers or editors. One could critically say, that these services are also gatekeepers with their own specific tastes, which is not wrong. But it might change a bit with the new app that Longform.org released resently. This seems very interesting as it lets readers create a feed of stories matching their own taste as well as it lets authors build up follow of readers. On paper it seems like a good idea but is there enough interest to carry it? Time will tell.

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The new Longform-app is free of charge and the content is generated by an algorithm scanning online publications for in-depth stories.

The App Store page of the Longform-app (above) features a picture of Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic. Writers and publishers can appear on Longform.org by signing up and readers can then follow them. However in the case of Coates he already cultivates an audience on his personal Twitter account. We also mentioned him in our previous post for being particular good at engaging with his readers on the website of the Atlantic and he does this seamlessly on twitter as well, giving people a peek into his working methods and using it very actively.

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But the smart thing about the new app as opposed to e.g. Twitter is the accessibility and ease with which you can keep track with stories from your favorite writers. You can the then comfortably read them in a single-page, ad-free “Read view” wherever you are. It’s great for the audience but what does it really do for the writers and publishers in the end? Well, it drives some traffic and help match readers with the stories they seek, highlighting the good stuff out there and keeping it alive for a longer time. This is without a doubt a big quality. Money-wise it might not make a whole lot of a difference, but then again, it shouldn’t always come down the that.

To find out more about the impact of the curating services read this excellent article from ‘The Future of Digital Longform’, a project by Anna Hiatt from Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Colombia University. //

Merging crowdsourcing and feature journalism?

by CBJ

Back in 2006, Jeff Howe, Editor at Wired Magazine, defined crowdsourcing as “[…] the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.” This type of action seems to be in the very essence of the Internet and when it comes to journalism, engaging the masses and combining the knowledge of thousands of people is an opportunity not to be missed. In this post we will take a closer look at how crowdsourcing or certain elements of this phenomenon can be assessed specifically in the context of online feature and narrative journalism.

The world has seen a great deal of exciting experiments involving the readers/users in online journalism the past couple of years. An example could be the Guardian and its launching of an experiment in 2009 involving thousands of readers in trawling through thousands of political documents related to MP’s expenses. However to do this type of crowdsourcing you need at least one vital thing: a big audience with an incentive to put in the work. It’s difficult doing as a startup as well as in the sphere of single-piece and feature journalism, which sometimes can be months underway. But perhaps there are other ways of involving the audience in these formats? Spot.us is an online platform where journalists pitch ideas and readers contribute money, thereby crowdfunding the realization of an idea. While the idea of community-funded reporting sounds promising and has proved its worth to some degree, Spot.us has not been a total success. A lot of “community members” were willing to donate money, but getting them to participate further by interacting with the writers, sharing knowledge and tips or helping otherwise, proved difficult. When asked in a study by Tanja Aitamurto (2011), the donors explained that they weren’t really interested in engaging in interaction. The reasons behind the donations were altruistic (supporting the common good), and the writer was seen as the expert, so it wasn’t really a peer-to-peer relationship. However the community members still had great impact in the sense, that they decided which stories was realized.

Another example of crowdsourcing within longform journalism is ‘The Big Roundtable’ founded by Michael Shapiro. The basic idea is that anyone can submit their stories and gatekeeping editors are cut out of the mix. Instead a panel of readers receives an excerpt of the story via e-mail and decides whether its interesting or not. If they say yes, the story is sent to another panel of readers, and if someone there too wants to read more only then does an editor begin working with the author. In the end the non-fiction piece is sold on the website and the author gets 1 dollar from each sale. This way the readers get to decide the stories (as on Spot.us, but without an editor who decides which stories people can choose from), not editors with old ideas and commercial concerns. However, the degree of crowdsourcing depends on the amount of readers asked to vet the stories, and even though everyone can submit a story, you have to be a skilled writer to get through the eye of the needle.

Whereas community members weren’t really interested in contributing anything than money on Spot.us, The Atlantic is a good example of an online community being mutually beneficial for both readers and writers. Last year, Ta-Nehisi Coates won a National Magazine Award for his essay ‘Fear of a black president’. The essay was brought in print, however as a response he wrote a blog post thanking “the horde” online, for assisting him in his reporting and ultimately helping shape the content: “People often praise this site for its online community. They speak to me as though I am doing a public service. In fact, my aims are wholly selfish. This is my notebook. The scribblings and post-its have to actually help me,” he wrote. This is a good example of what Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine, 2006) calls ‘networked journalism’ in which journalism is a collaborative process with professionals and amateurs working together, sharing links, perspectives, ideas and so forth. The feature writer is the expert who synthesizes all the information, presents it in a compelling narrative, giving it back to the readers, who can then comment again. It is not the type of crowdsourcing that for instance The Guardian uses, but when it comes to feature journalism a skilled writer is needed. Audience and readers can contribute with fruitful inspiration, ideas and tips. However, it requires a fitting model and a community that stimulates this kind of mutual interaction. The question is how you build and sustain such a thing? Well, for one thing it takes time and effort and you have to make the community members feel like they actually have an impact on the journalism and are taken seriously.

In the end there are several different ways to engage the public. From low-level participation like creating a poll and asking users for their opinion to a high level of engagement, for example asking readers to write their own articles. The possibilities to use the wisdom of the crowds are tremendous. As the previous example of The Atlantic shows, writing stories can benefit immensely from user generated input. However, it seems as though the different ideas and projects around crowdsourcing are still in an early phase of development and the question of, what perfect crowdsourcing for feature journalism looks like, remains. What we can do though, is to ask you, the reader, to comment and tell us what you think about writing for and with “the horde”. After all, this is what crowdsourcing is all about, isn’t it? //

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