“Constructive Journalism is much broader than our content it’s in the way we build our business and the way we engage with our audiences. We want to create a constructive culture, it’s in our DNA”
Lea Korsgaard, Editor in Chief – Zetland
The media startup Zetland embodies a constructive journalism culture which is present in all aspects of the business from interviewing sources to the methods journalists use to moderate comment streams.
How They Did It
The stated mission of Zetland is that it is “dedicated to digital journalism as a force of good.”
Zetland’s cofounders including former Politiken reporter Lea Korsgaard believed that the role of the newspaper in society needed to change in the online era. Their answer to this dilemma developed out of a combination of influences; the entrepreneurial spirit amidst New York’s media businesses, Dutch De Correspondent, their “long lost uncle”, with its focus on the audience as co creators in an invested community and conversations in Denmark’s DR about the need for a new type of public service journalism.
Zetland filters out the noise of an increasingly bewildering 24 hour news cycle.
Context and Clarity is Key
Using a subscription-based membership model Zetland’s team of 20 deliver daily publications of high quality feature journalism. The focus is to filter out the noise of an increasingly bewildering 24 hour news cycle, “not to make news (but)- to make sense”. Subscribers receive two in depth stories a day and a podcast.
The team argue that the newspaper’s role must be a fundamentally different to what it was in the days of the news monopoly. Then there was a lack of information so it made sense that the newspapers aim was to give people the maximum amount of information in the fastest way possible. Now anyone with a smart phone in their pocket can be their own mass media.
Lea says “The modern news consumer is bombarded with a stream of constant news. We think that the newspapers role is now to be a service for the reader and point out what is important and interesting and what is not. People pay us in order to get less information”.
“The modern news consumer is bombarded with a stream of constant news. We think that the newspapers role is now to be a service for the reader and point out what is important and interesting and what is not. People pay us in order to get less information.”
Lea Korsgaard, Editor in Chief, Zetland
Curiosity as a Starting Point for Interviews
For Lea curiosity is an essential approach for research and interviewing sources, particularly those in positions of influence and power. She says
“You still need to be critical but with curiousity you have another starting point for the conversation. It’s a totally different from “I know you’ve got something to hide and I’m going to take you down”. Curiousity it just another way of being critical, it is truth seeking”.
For the Zetland team approaching those in power with constructive and curious questioning results in more interesting conversations, more transparency and more variety. When sources are attacked they shield themselves and hide which means the journalist can stand in the way of interesting information that the public will never get to hear about.
Facilitate Live Events
Zetland.dk is complimented by Zetland Live events inspired by Pop Up magazine in San Francisco. The concept is to explore what would happen if you took a newspaper and put it on stage. The live events took off quickly and now they have sold out show’s in Copenhagen’s Royal theatre addressing audiences of around 1,200 people.The process taught the team that there was a need to build a community around their journalism, meet their readers, as well as facilitate calm and curious conversation.
The latest iteration of their events is a micro scale engagement format called ‘Zetland Conversation’. The conversations are hosted by one member and take place at a cafe or in the hosts’ home in order to have conversations about what they read/listen to at Zetland. No more than five members take part. No one from the Zetland team is present, but the journalist, who has written the story sends a postcard to the host with background information. People love it.
Constructive Conversation Online
Korsgaard believes that a culture of mutual listening to one another amongst their readers has developed from their events. She says “We create a bridge between different people which is carried into the comments stream”.
The journalists know it is part of their job to moderate online conversation around their articles. It takes time but it is considered an important aspect of their work. Audiences are expected to be either learning or sharing knowledge. All comments are tagged as either “knowledge” or “question”. There is “no room for people yelling at each other” she says. Sometimes the journalists will have to step in and explain the conditions around Zetland conversations and steer discussion onto a more constructive track.
Readers contribute to this constructive culture because they are members and they have ownership of Zetland, they shape and reshape the culture.
1. Context over speed and volume. Context and clarity can be prioritized over speed and volume of news flow.
2. Curious engagement with sources. Aggressive and critical interviewing isn’t alway the most effective tactic. A curious and open engagement with sources can lead to more interesting information.
3. Both live and online. Journalists can facilitate informative and engaging conversations with their readers both at live events and with their online content.
3. Listen to audience. Listen to your audience and let them guide your decision-making in what to spend time, money and energy on.