De Correspondent gets cash injection from Omidyar Network for global launch

De Correspondent, a reader-funded news publisher based in the Netherlands, announced Monday that it has raised $950,000 from Omidyar Network—an investment fund set up by billionaire eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar—to finance the launch of a global version of the site known as The Correspondent. The new funding brings the total raised for that expansion to $1.8 million.

De Correspondent launched in 2013 with a crowdfunding effort that raised $1.7 million and has grown steadily ever since, funded primarily by its readers (which it prefers to call “members”). The site now has more than 60,000 paying subscribers. The headquarters of the global version will be in the US.

Co-founder Ernst-Jan Pfauth, the former head of digital strategy for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, said the funding from Omidyar Network will allow De Correspondent to undertake a marketing campaign for its expansion.

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That campaign that will be orchestrated in part by Blue State Digital—a firm known for its work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012—and also by Momkai, a Dutch design firm and co-founder of De Correspondent.

“Ultimately we want to be dependent on reader revenue, as we are in the Netherlands, where about 85 percent of our revenue comes from readers, through membership, events, and so on,” Pfauth told CJR (the site also gets funding from an entity called the Dutch Media and Democracy Fund). “But to get there we need to fund a membership campaign, and this support from Omidyar Network will allow us to make sure everyone who is interested can hear about us.”

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Omidyar Network’s Director of Independent Media, Nishant Lalwani, said the fund saw De Correspondent as being in line with its interest in helping support independent media, and that the Dutch company’s model also had other significant benefits (Pierre Omidyar also funds The Intercept, through First Look Media, as well as Honolulu Civil Beat).

“There are a few things that we really care about supporting at Omidyar Network: One is investigative journalism, and another is the development of financial models for editorial independence,” Lalwani said in an interview.

“When I learned about De Correspondent, it struck me they were achieving both of those things. They represent a radical innovation not only in the way journalism is done but in the conversation around building trust in media and journalism. When the opportunity arose to help them with their expansion we jumped at it.”

One of the core principles De Correspondent is built on, Pfauth said, is the idea that the site’s readers or members are a critical part of the journalism that gets done there. Not just because members fund it with their subscriptions, but because interacting with them throughout the process of writing a story is a key part of what De Correspondent tries to do.

At a time when many other media outlets have given up on reader comments, De Correspondent not only welcomes them but refers to them as “member contributions” instead of comments. Every writer who works for the site is required to reach out to members to find those who might have expertise or knowledge about a story, and to highlight those contributions, and the site recently hired an editor to help do that.

Lalwani said he hopes this kind of approach can help rebuild public trust in journalism.

Pfauth said the Omidyar Network funding will help the company get a head start on building a US-based reporting operation, which he hopes to launch with between five and 10 full-time reporters. The Dutch newsroom consists of about 20 writers, and Pfauth said it is close to being profitable.

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, is acting as an adviser to the company, and is also studying the company’s approach to membership-based journalism.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR's chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in The Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as Reuters and Bloomberg.