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.

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