Looking back at 2013: What made us what we are today
2013 started with a challenging assignment: Among the many conventional institutions around the world, the World Economic Forum opened up to youth. Our reporters created the first media footprint of young people covering the Open Forum of the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. Even though we were struggling to position our reporting among the WEF’s extensive media coverage, we studied the WEF media team closely, played around with different formats and developed an angle for looking at what we call fringe stories while Davos turned into a car park featuring German luxury cars. Watch for our upcoming coverage in 2014, when we expand our footprint to coverage of the previously inaccessible main Forum. We will also continue our commitment to offering the fringe angle by mentoring high school students in their hunt for local stories.
Another highlight was our Copenhagen coverage of a niche global subgroup of social scientists advocating the positioning of philosophy in the boardroom. Attempts to grasp the complex assumptions of such scholarly discussions might seem simplistic to the philosopher. But for the general business-school observer and students alike, these discussions provide insights into an academic movement they should care about. Efforts to reform the American business school also made us aware of the benefits of our global editor team in delineating cultural differences between the U.S. and the European Union.
Having largely depended on reporting at events, we set out with The Huffington Post and the Schwab Foundation to inform the rather heroic debate about social entrepreneurship—a theme that has become omnipresent at business schools around the world. A passionate and audience-activating Stanford student, Marta Belcher, wrote the most shared story this year—a well-researched piece about the well-intended but prejudice-exploiting behavior of market-driven nonprofits in the U.S. Still, through this story we learned that we don’t want to be in the business of “hit jobs” that just report news items. Instead, through multi-sided reporting we want to make sure our stories bring to life important and nuanced debates in the areas we cover.
Multi-sided story writing doesn’t come naturally to non-journalists. But since Sciences Po journalism student Patrick Reevell excelled at this in a story about the new culture of nonprofit investment in Europe (which he found in Lugano, Switzerland, at an investor conference), we expect our authors to consider sources from all, or at least two, sides when constructing a story. Patrick soon became an editor of our growing team that recruits journalism talent to work entrepreneurially, as we (and others) like to call it.
Following Patrick’s journey from Lugano to Moscow, he also broke the story on how Russia’s government has set the stage for adapting to the international trend in social innovations.
Back to the WEF, but way more Eastern this time: It hosted its summer meeting of the “New Champions” in Dalian, China. While the Champions were dining comfortably, literally above the reporting press members lunching in the basement, they were represented as the hottest idea generators on climate change, whereas our reporter Adam Byrnes from the University of Michigan proved that their ideas were tepid at best.
For the first time, we partnered with a government agency on the coverage of its global private-sector development forum in Istanbul, Turkey. Maybe it was a less emotional topic than the people rallying in Taksim Square, but our reporters wrote in-depth stories (even though long-form business journalism is an endangered species) about entrepreneurship as a trendy solution to the global and structural youth unemployment problem, something countries like Turkey should listen to. They also wrote shorter pieces in which they showed how present young people are in these business and development discussions. Not bad for a government agency-facilitated meeting, we think.
Back in Switzerland, our reporters approached with a slightly more critical eye a science-focused resource management event in Davos and an investor meeting in Zurich. The former exploited cuddly toys to get the environmentalists’ message heard, and the latter chose balanced agreement over competition to promote best practices in the emerging category of impact investing. Continuing the former event’s environmentalist theme, and with the New York Times style of our seasoned editors in these projects, we published well-crafted cultural reporting about how people innovatively respond to industry-led environmental destruction in China and government efforts to introduce electric cars in Lithuania.
What makes us in 2014
Sledding into 2014, we will start as we did in January 2013, with the global gathering of business and government heads in the tiny, snowed-in city of Davos. But this time, we will also start off with an ambitious goal: to incorporate (and pitch) an independent business-news organization created for and by a global under-30 crowd. It’s nothing less than building an outlet around our training model and community of writers to report on business and economics phenomena that we are obsessed with. An exciting moment, we feel, and the right time to build a global journalistic voice and share with our young audience the relevance of the press in the business of news media.
In 2014, we want to build on what our reporter Anna Hoffmann from the University of Oxford calls, in our short film, a “wake-up call that you can reach people with your writing.”
Nonetheless, there is a risk that our young writers might confuse journalism with advocacy. Though journalism increasingly embraces advocacy work, thanks to the Internet, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and the latest Edward Snowden escapades, we have seen our writers become too much entangled with their pet subjects. Journalism ethics support a shift in young people’s minds from writing for a cause toward writing about a cause. We hope this kind of critical distance and “kill your darlings” approach opens up myopic perspectives on the many trends shaping our digital opinions.
What will drive us the most in 2014 is an ongoing debate that we want to share with our young audience: How journalism is produced and what the actual concerns of reporters are, while walking the (thin) line that separates our honest but ambitious approach to digital journalism (what Jay Rosen and others call “the press”) from the necessary business side. We take with sportsmanship the fact that others (such as Contently, an industry shaper “marrying companies and content”) have labeled our work as brand journalism. We did not intend to “initiate the next generation of brand writers.” But as one of us wrote in Fast Company, being outsiders in relation to a fast-changing industry means we might have some benefits as misfit entrepreneurs.
Much is to be done in 2014 as we develop our own voice and editorial product for the young global audience. Simply believing in the practice of journalism does not guarantee us this. Whereas legacy publishers argue that the “function of reporting and the press is to produce the best obtainable version of the truth” (Page One), in a highly digital world of news consumption, especially by young people, the question of truth is somewhat beside the point, as Felix Salmon from Reuters, in his 2014 outlook, would argue. So where does this leave us heading into 2014?
Despite the philosophical, slightly postmodern and highly endemic discussions about truth by journalists, we find ourselves in an era where you can no longer avoid how tech companies create readership (and money) by blending journalistic elements with advertorial content (or vice versa; see the coinage of Upworthy-style headline writing).
In the end, what drives us is the mission we started out with, which is “to push students beyond the walls of the classroom by immersing them in the practices and ethics of journalism.” And diving in headfirst, we’re getting a glimpse of the innovations in media and journalism that are happening on our editorial “flanks”— global business-news outlets and “millennial” outlets, startups and legacy publishers alike.
And in this landscape we’ll continue to share the relevance of this rather philosophical take on journalism with our young and business-focused readers, writers and editors, as an agent for the press in the crowded space of digital media products.