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Journalism startups are going “beyond journalism,” Univ. of Amsterdam professor tells GBJ students

Updated: May 9, 2021

Mark Deuze: “Nothing that happens in our lives today is unique to the country we live in. We need a journalism that truly speaks out.”


Global Business Journalism reporter

Once a year, a Copenhagen journalism startup takes all its best stories and turns them into a theatre show. They travel around the country to perform in front of sold out crowds. On the stage, you can find fun, joy and energy. Journalists reenact stories by interviewing people and inviting artists to join the show. This is one way today’s journalists are going “beyond journalism” in a bid to survive in a rapidly changing world.

Mark Deuze, professor of media studies at the University of Amsterdam, has documented case studies of high profile journalists creating new paths for startup culture all over the world. The common paths were flexibility and creativity, Deuze told to international students at Global Business Journalism lecture series on Dec. 8.

“There was something going on,” said Deuze. “They were trying to be kind of journalists that you passionately feel you should be.”

Journalism startup culture is not about “mass” media. Deuze rather refers to this movement as “massive changes” that start small. Journalism startups are avoiding becoming highly dependent on subscription, advertisement and sales that dominate the traditional business model. Instead, journalists are writing stories that really matter to the community by separating themselves from major media outlets that colonized distribution.

“What they can do is win the war of impact,” said Deuze. “That could be just for two people. Or 20 or 20,000. It doesn’t matter.”

Deuze also witnessed startup culture becoming a global trend among journalists regardless of country. One startup business in Cuba, where startup news organizations are banned, downloads the latest American content to USB sticks and sells them via computer shops. Another journalism startup in China offers international news report about the country via WeChat, China’s messaging app with over billion users, by translating and editing foreign media contents.

What triggered this transformation of journalism? Deuze’s answer is that journalists were attracted to the social support in the startup community. They felt seen and recognized. Surrounding themselves with people willing to invest in their ideas created the motivation to walk away from decent jobs and the industry that “doesn’t really have to care about you.”

“To be emotional is actively discouraged in the current newsroom,” said Deuze. “But here, I can be who I really am.”

In the revolutionary era of journalism today, traditional news organizations are also changing. They are trying to take some of the startup “spirit” into their own organizations. They are creating units to produce “cool stuff” such as multimedia storytelling integrating artificial intelligence and virtual reality. By recruiting young journalists, they hope the innovative spirit could inspire the rest and trickle down to the entire organization.

Deuze doesn’t draw a conclusion about the future of journalism. However, he underscores the importance of collaborative journalism in this complex media industry. Understanding the whole ecosystem of new voices is important to uncover stories that have the impact on international community such as climate change, global economics, terrorism and, most importantly, COVID-19.

Throughout the lecture, Deuze encouraged international students to find people beyond national boundaries and cultures to work together and go beyond nationally oriented journalism.

“Nothing that happens in our lives today is unique to the country we live in,” said Deuze. “We need a journalism that truly speaks out.”

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