A shift in journalism: My visit to Perspective Daily

Sometimes, all it takes is having a slight breakdown in a restaurant. “The media should leave people feeling powerful, not powerless. That’s all I care about! And there’s gotta be journalists doing that already!” I remember tossing my plate away from me.

Turns out, there were. I just wasn’t looking in the right places. I was aware of a couple of initiatives here and there–pioneering platforms founded by ex-anchors, news reporters turned influencers creating refreshing blogs and Twitter content. But I hadn’t seen anyone give it a name before. “Solution journalism. That’s what they call it,” a friend of mine replied, devouring his own plate. “There is online media in Germany and the Netherlands driving a change called solution journalism. You should look them up. In fact, I might know someone.”

Solution journalism. Okay.

To me, it sounded like a movement. And more so, it sounded like a plan. Shortly after our conversation, I was headed to Münster, Germany.

 

Perspective Daily (PD) is an ad-free, membership-only news company founded in 2016 by Maren Urner and Han Langeslang in Münster, Germany. Independent of advertisers and third parties collecting data, Perspective Daily is solely dependent on reader revenue. News cultivated for their readers, with the readers’ comments continuing the conversation and driving the stories further.

To me, that was revolutionary enough for a newspaper, but given Han and Maren’s background as neuroscientists, their vision was more than simply launching a new magazine. “Lots of media don’t cover big, complex issues on their front pages. Instead, they 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,” one of the co-founders, Han, says on Medium.

Covering the climate instead of the weather, in other words.

Inspired by the Dutch De Correspondent, authors of the climate over weather analogy and pioneers of modern-day solution journalism, Perspective Daily aspires to be an antidote to the traditional news media, providing in-depth articles about long occuring tendencies (rather than super-current events) and leaving the reader feeling critical of the world he or she is reading about, yet uplifted because there are ways that we as individuals and as a society can change things.

“The call for objectivity in journalism is dangerous. Readers need to know where the writer is coming from and what shaped their view.”

While explaining what solution journalism is, it is also important to say what it is NOT. It is not about acting “objectively.”

In fact, journalists/media need to always say where they’re coming from and provide context, arguments, and different points of view with full transparency to the reader. Rob Wijnberg, one of De Correspondent’s founders, wrote about How objectivity is misleading in this article and he explains it perfectly:

Objectivity may be the most poorly understood, tenacious, dangerous illusion journalism has ever believed in. Misunderstood, because it’s confused with independence and impartiality. Tenacious, because it seems easy and it’s cheap. Dangerous, because it’s the biggest lie you can tell the public. And an illusion, because it doesn’t exist. In today’s world, we’ve gained a fully professionalized PR and information industry and lost every modern illusion about Truth with a capital T, and objectivity has come to mean precisely the opposite.”

When I talked to Han, he was both inspired by and critical of the future, as any good scientist would be.

“We are cheering De Correspondent’s success, especially now when they’re campaigning in the USA as The Correspondent. The response worldwide makes it clear that the way we want to consume news is shifting,“ Han says, to my delight.

To give you a bit of a context: De Correspondent launched a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign in the Netherlands in 2013, raising $1.7 million from 20,000 backers and is now 56,000 members strong and completely ad-free. “After the first year, we at Perspective Daily were 15,000 members strong. The growth is slower than in case of De Correspondent,” Han tells me. There might be several reasons for this.

Trust in media sources is as high as 88% in Germany, while it is 61% in the Netherlands and 52% in the Czech Republic, according to Future Media Lab and The European Magazine Media Association. Han also points out a different angle: “Germany is a Bundesrepublik; it is much more fragmented than a compact country like the Netherlands.”

To me, that makes a lot of sense, as I am watching The Correspondent’s all-American pursuit through a similar lens–curious how they are navigating fragmented public waters, asking myself how many backers are from which US states and how many are, in fact, global backers from outside the USA. They seem to be doing a hell of a job though, reaching 90% of their fundraising goal with 2 more days to go. In fact, in case this whole cause makes sense to you, now is a good time to back their effort. There are more than 40,500 of us believers already.

“A realistic worldview comes from the combination of all the facts, not just the ones generating clicks, drama and attention.”

Back to Perspective Daily.

The two days I spent with them was far from enough, but they still did their best to share the company’s philosophy and journalistic practices with me in the short time we had.

Starting with a presentation for the interns. Here I am, curious as hell, sitting in a hot conference room in a rather remote part of Münster, a picturesque city that has already impressed me with its tranquil atmosphere, beautiful lake, and biking-over-driving culture.

Although I’ve spent the night on Flixbus getting here from Prague and it feels like a hundred degrees, I love it here – I’ve gotten the warmest welcome from PD’s staff. And there are even more newbies in the room. What strikes me the most about Perspective Daily is their openness and enthusiasm in sharing their experience and know-how.

The two young gentlemen to my left are sitting here because they saw PD’s hiring ad on Facebook. The girl to my right heard it on TV from a well-known German actress.

Katharina Ehmann, our host, has worked at PD for only a couple of months. First as an intern and then a contributing author, she wanted to know if she could function like this as a full-time journalist.

In this introduction to Perspective Daily’s work, I learn that “constructive (or solution) journalism is another form of current journalism, working on identifying the truth that is under the radar. That is often ignored by click-generation media headlines. We are wired in a way that missing one dangerous piece of information can cause us death,” our mentor says, making an interesting point. When consuming news, our natural instincts draw us to negative trends and sensational titles. But reading such news day after day gives the (incorrect) impression that the world is doomed. I remember what I read in this research article: The world is actually better than we think. Better than what the news tells us.

Katharina Ehmann gives an introduction to solution (constructive) journalism.

“An article has to be evidence-based. As journalists, we build on research. We link everything so everyone can look it up. And on this evidence, we build our attitude.”

“A realistic worldview comes from the combination of all the facts, not just the ones generating clicks, drama and attention,” Katharina goes on. How does that translate to actual news creation, I wonder. “An article has to be evidence-based. As journalists, we build on research, current studies. We link everything so everyone can look it up. And on this evidence, we build our attitude,” she adds. The intern boys elaborate:

“The way it works is quite different to what we’ve seen elsewhere. It is a lot more teamwork than you’d expect.” They go on to tell me that an article is in fact born and then perfected in groups of about three people, one being the lead author, the other two adding additional input from their point of expertise. “Other newsrooms do generate ideas together and colleagues give you notes when you ask them to, but this all is quite unique,” the taller of the two, Daniel Peyronel, believes.

“At first, it wasn’t easy for me to create this way. It’s a lot of back and forth. A lot of thought goes into one piece,” another Katharina explains. This time, it is Katharina Wiegmann, better known as Katha, my lead. The person that made it possible for me to come visit. We connected through that one friend I’d had lunch with. An experienced journalist, she also lived in Prague for years, writing for Prager Zeitung, a weekly newspaper published in German, as well as the Goethe Institut, and commercial clients in hospitality. Yet still, PD is a learning experience for her.

“Having your article commented on all throughout by your colleagues can be challenging for a senior writer, but seeing the article benefit so much from three people looking at it from three different perspectives, going deeper and multi-dimensional, is great. And we always feedback each other’s work with respect to our individual writing styles,” Katha explains.

“By pressing publish, a journalist’s job has only just begun. Content creation is a two way street.”

As if this was not enough, Katha goes on: “By finishing the article and pressing publish, your job has only just begun. As journalists, we engage with readers. We discuss and elaborate on what we wrote. Content creation is a two way street.” According to Perspective Daily, it would not be constructive journalism if articles just stopped once being published.

“The perfect solution does not exist, the solution always affects someone a little bit,” I remember from the intern presentation. Interacting with readers, who in the case of PD, De Correspondent, and other platforms like Czech Voxpot, is a way to present topics with as broad a worldview as possible. “Heavy readers do have heavy comments, but platforms investing in long-term relationships with readers have an educated and heavily interested audience,” Katha adds. So no trolls here. It also corresponds with what Han told me about his and Maren’s vision: for media to be a lifelong education of sorts for adults.

Perspective Daily has a permanent staff of 10 writers and 70 guest authors. The platform releases one article per weekday, as it takes about two weeks to finish one, as well as one podcast a week. Most content is accessible to members only, but as a member you also get a chance to use something called leaky paywall to send an open URL, so even a person without a membership can read it. This spreads the word.

All authors are experienced professionals. Juliane Metzker is, for example, focusing her work on migration and the Arab world. After all, that is what she studied and then reported on around the developments following the Arab Spring uprisings. During my time in Münster, she is busy with the #MeTwo movement. What started as a short video on Perspective Daily spread into a Twitter riot of second and third generation German immigrants coming together to share their struggles with everyday racism.

Dirk Walbrühl, another experienced and inspiring author I met at PD, has a background spanning more than a decade in tech. This gives him a firm basis, yet an open mind, to write about the future through the lens of technology.

“Our goal at PD is for each writer to have a strong area of expertise. You simply can’t jump from topic to topic. Continuity of your pursuits is what differentiates constructive from traditional forms of journalism,” Han explains. “Given the topics we cover, be it migration, diversity, or climate change, the traditional media landscape tends to see us as activists, putting an agenda out there. But honestly, all media acts as activist in this sense, choosing which topics to write about. Choosing the agenda to put in the spotlight.”

With this, we go back to the notion of objectivity in the media – which, if we all are really honest with ourselves, is zero. I find this a breath of fresh air. I have needed this in my field. We all did, as a society.

Leaving Münster behind, I can’t wait to find more pioneers like Perspective Daily in today’s world and cover their journeys as trend-setters and – hopefully – even mainstream media one day.

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Hi, I am Pavla..

Prague-based writer, company content creator, aspiring global journalist and future-of- everything enthusiast.

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