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April 08 2013


Getting personal: A Dutch online news platform wants you to subscribe to individual journalists

“It’s my own little shop, that’s what I like about it. You decide what goes in — like having your own newspaper.”

Arnold Karskens has his own channel on Dutch news startup De Nieuwe Pers (The New Press). For €1.79 a month, readers can subscribe to him and read his war reporting and investigations into war criminals. Don’t care about war crimes? Maybe some of the other journalist-driven channels — on subjects from games to France, from the science of sex to environmental sustainability, from Germany to the euro crisis — would be of interest.

De Nieuwe Pers recently launched in the Netherlands as an online platform for freelance journalists. Users pay €4.49 a month for access to all content on its app or website. But what stands out is the possibility to subscribe to individual reporters, for €1.79 a month. Think True/Slant, but with paywalls.


“News has become more personal,” Alain van der Horst, editor in chief of De Nieuwe Pers, told me. “People are interested in the opinions, the beliefs, the revelations of a certain journalist they know and trust, much more than an anonymous person who writes for a large publication.”

Karskens concurs, stressing that a personal brand is key in this business model. “People read my stuff because I have a clear, crystalized opinion based on over 32 years of war correspondence,” he said. “This really works well for journalists with a distinctive character. It’s not for the average desk slave.”

Van der Horst also thinks paying per journalist is fairer to the readers than subscribing to a publication as a whole. “When you subscribe to a newspaper, you’ll get the full package. Even if you always throw out the sports section, you’ll still get it. With this model you decide: ‘This is what I want to read, so I’ll pay for it — what I don’t read, I don’t pay for.’”

The metaphor isn’t perfect — rather than paying for content on a specific subject, De Nieuwe Pers invites readers to pay by the journalist. Authors have full editorial control over their own channel (“as long as it’s legal,” van der Horst says). Though of all them state a thematic or geographic specialism, those aren’t binding and there are no posting quotas. With this freedom comes unpredictability for the readers — the bang they get for their buck depends on which journalists they subscribe to.

“I do investigative journalism, so sometimes I won’t be able to publish something for a week, sometimes two weeks,” Karskens says. “By subscribing to me personally, people support this type of investigation.”

Until the end of 2013, journalists will receive the full revenue generated by their channels, which includes in-app purchases through Apple’s App Store. Next year, De Nieuwe Pers will start collecting a 25 percent commission. They already take a quarter from the collective subscriptions, with the rest of the money divided among the individual contributors.

In its first few weeks, De Nieuwe Pers has sold about 2,000 subscriptions — about 40 percent of them for channels, the rest for the full collection. (The balance was 20/80 in the very beginning after launch.) The platform wasn’t building its following from scratch, strictly. It’s the descendant of De Pers, a free print newspaper that went out of business in March 2012. Much of De Nieuwe Pers’ editorial staff came from De Pers.

“After we shut down, we got a lot of attention, and readers were telling us they’d be willing to pay for us,” van der Horst said. “It’s encouraging to know that people will pay for digital journalistic work. People often still doubt that, and in many places it’s not yet customary. But it works. People do it as long as they get value for money.”

Though director Jan-Jaap Heij says 2,000 subscribers has De Nieuwe Pers meeting internal targets for 2013, it doesn’t take mathematical genius to figure out it’s not enough to support 17 journalists and a small editorial staff. (At current rates and revenue split, those 2,000 subscribers would generate somewhere north of $100,000 a year.) In the short term, Heij isn’t worried about the money; the company managed to sell some of the technology they developed, and because of its low costs, the bills are covered until late 2014. The authors themselves are free to publish their work elsewhere. “Maybe one or two contributors will get a reasonable income out of this in a year, but for the near future, that’s not our ambition,” said Heij.

For now, Heij’s main goal is further product development. De Nieuwe Pers is set to introduce thematic bundles and a bundle of bundles — the platform’s version of a full newspaper. They’re also expanding their pool of journalists, to cover more themes.

Karskens is the only author who chose to write exclusively for De Nieuwe Pers, and enjoys the freedom of maintaining his channel. “You can be much more personal to your readers,” he said. “They’ve become like friends.” But he says there is one drawback: “Never being able to take a holiday. There’s always the pressure of having to give something to my subscribers.”

September 20 2011


Dutch regional newspapers launch data journalism project RegioHack

In a guest post for OJB, Jerry Vermanen explains the background to RegioHack

The internet is bursting with information, but journalists – at least in The Netherlands – don’t get the full potential out of it. Basic questions on what data driven journalism is, and how to practise it, still have to be answered. Two Dutch regional newspapers (de Stentor and TC Tubantia) have launched RegioHack, an experiment with data driven journalism around local issues and open data.

Both newspapers circulate in the eastern and middle part of the Netherlands. In November, journalists will collaborate with local students, programmers and open data experts in a 30 hour coding event. In preparation for this hackathon, the forum on our website (www.regiohack.nl) is opened for discussion. Anyone can start a thread for a specific problem. For example, what’s the average age of each town in our region? And in 10 years, do we have enough facilities to accommodate the future population? And if not, what do we need?

The newspapers provide the participants with hot pizza, energy drink and 30 hours to find, clean up and present the data on these subjects.

After the hackathon, the projects are presented and participants will be named in the publications. That’s what RegioHack is all about: making unique stories with data, helping each other to develop new skills and finding out how to practise data driven journalism.

If you happen to be in The Netherlands on November 10th and 11th, contact me on jerry@regiohack.nl or Twitter (@JerryVermanen) for an invite to the final presentation.

We’re also searching for guest bloggers – and yes, that can be in English.


February 12 2011


TSG2011 Summit Introducation - Jordan van Bergen

Hi all,

I am the CEO of the Dutch foundation Stichting GeefGratis which is one of the partners of the Dutch TechSoup program. TechSoup The Netherlands is run in partnership between TechSoup Global, Socialware and Stichting GeefGratis. Stichting GeefGratis is a Dutch NGO and charitable foundation (ANBI) that offers free to use internet services to 2.500+ NGO's in the Netherlands. My professional priorities within TechSoup the Netherlands lie in outreach models.

January 25 2011

Robert Altman - Vincent & Theo (1990)


This film, about Vincent Van Gogh and his art-gallery manager brother, could easily have been one of those painfully earnest biographies of great men. Fortunately, the director is Robert Altman (M* A* S* H, Nashville, Three Women and TV's Tanner '88), and he doesn't go in for earnest. He prefers bold, innovative and provocative. That applies to his successes as well as his misfires (Beyond Therapy, Quintet and Popeye). This time, the risks pay off.

The film opens with a recent British auction of a van Gogh painting for millions, then moves back to nineteenth-century Holland and France, where Theo must strain to support his older brother, who sold only one painting in his lifetime. That may seem easily ironic, but Altman makes it the heart of the matter: how an artist manages to practice his craft in a world that doesn't share his vision.

The film, with a discerning script by Julian Mitchell (Another Country), approaches the interdependence of the brothers with compassion and great humor. British actor Tim Roth (The Hit) is overwhelming as Vincent. Grinding his rotten teeth and squinting at his paint in the sunlight, he looks nothing like the towering genius Kirk Douglas portrayed in Lust for Life, in 1956. Roth's Vincent is a stinking, whining, childlike burden, capable of tenderness but most often on the rampage. As Theo, Paul Rhys (Little Dorrit) makes us see the emotional toll Vincent takes on his brother's life as well as the intensity of Theo's devotion, which allowed Vincent to get away with it. These are stupendous performances -- funny, sorrowful and moving. No one says much about Vincent's paintings -- though the fields, flowers and skies that inspired them are vividly shot by Jean Lepine. The film's canvas is the psychological lives of these tormented brothers, not their reputations. The result is an Altman masterpiece.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Single Link


no pass

October 18 2010


Hyperlocal voices: Bart Brouwers, Telegraaf hyperlocal project, Netherlands

Bart Brouwers has been overseeing the establishment of a whole group of hyperlocal sites in the Netherlands with the Telegraaf Media Group. As part of the Hyperlocal Voices series, he explains the background to the project and what they’ve learned so far. Two presentations on the project can be seen embedded above.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

About a year ago, I came up with the plan for a hyperlocal, hyperpersonal news and data network covering all of the Netherlands. My dream was to give every single Dutchman (we have 16 million & counting…) his own platform for local relevance.

I wanted to roll it out myself and in order to get it financed I made contact with the board of directors of the Telegraaf Media Groep. I already worked for them (as the editor-in-chief of national free newspaper Sp!ts and before that as the editor-in-chief of regional newspaper Dagblad De Limburger), so it felt kind of natural to tell and ask them before I would pitch my idea somewhere else.

What I didn’t know is that TMG was already working on a hyperlocal platform, so after a few talks we decided to combine both plans. So instead of quitting TMG and starting my own company, I’m still an employee.

What made you decide to set up the blogs?

I was convinced local relevance would/will be a strong force in media. The combination of local business and local information (news, data) could easily become the trigger for a fine enterprise.

It would be journalistic, and would at the same time concentrate on helping the local businesses and local governments find their exact audience.

Of course the problems newspapers have encountered the last couple of years helped build my ideas. Newspapers are powerful media, but they are also very inflexible: production and distribution don’t seem to fit in modern times anymore.

But that doesn’t mean necessarily that people have lost interest in (local) news. On the contrary, the internet has made it a lot easier to be informed and indeed, we are seeing a lot of traffic on news-sites and newsblogs.

Finally I was convinced that journalism itself would have to change. Old fashioned legacy newspaper journalism still has its value, but journalists will have to “open up” themselves: learn from the experiences from blogging and – most important – replace the old role as a messenger for a new one as an intermediate: break down the castle and and build a market place. Go look for the symbiosis between the professional (who still has the skills and the experience) and the amateur (who has the knowledge and could want to share it).

When did you set up the blogs and how did you go about it?

We are running several pilots momentarily, one of which has the shape of a blog. One acts more as a classic news site and one is a combination of both. We are piloting an aggregation model, a community model and a commercial model.

Apart from that we are building (not yet piloting though) mobile platforms with totally different functionality and usability.

The lessons we learn from the pilots will lead to the choice of the direction and a national rollout starting early 2011.

And as I stated above, the ultimate dream is to set up a different platform (web, mobile, whatever) for every single citizen.

With the help of technique I still hope that I will reach that goal, although I realise that it is a rather ambitious one. (on the other hand, you don’t have to actually build 16 million platforms to be able to offer a different platform for every citizen…)

The first months of this year have been filled with preparations on four levels: IT, content, business and marketing. We formed four research teams (one for each level) and from the results of those teams I wrote a business plan for the pilots. They started last august.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Most influential to me is Erwin Blom (http://erwinblom.nl, @erwblo), a Dutch blogger who has convinced me that not only the old business model of legacy media companies – based on print – is breaking down (anyone could see that), but also the way journalists act within it. He has been blogging for years about the way citizens act on what used to be the journalist’s pitches. Blom’s blog can easily be compared to blogs by people like Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen. I’m not exaggerating!

Next to the ones mentioned: journalism.co.uk, niemanlab, readwriteweb, those sort of media related blogs. Not very surprising, I guess…

Of course I have been monitoring all sorts of hyperlocal websites, all over the world. All of them seem to have something special that makes it different from the rest. Most attention has gone to the much discussed American platforms like Outside.in, Patch and Everyblock. And yes, you can see elements of them in my own work.

But also English and French exemples have been helpful. One of my main lesson: don’t try to invent every wheel by yourself.

By the way, starting my own blog (dodebomen.nl) helped a lot in organising my views and thoughts.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Interesting question, because we are coping with it every day within the legacy media company I am working for. I am very traditional where I see the role of a professional in the selection, the filtering and the creation of quality content. I am also traditional in my ambition to tell stories that are not only interesting to read but also get as close as they can get to something you could call the truth.

But I am far from traditional when I look at the possibilities of mixing journalism with commercial activities. I am very opposed to the Chinese wall between editorial and commercial departments. These people should not only see eachother and talk to eachother, they should actually make their plans together.

One bottom line stays the same though: your audience has to be able to trust you. You should never write that a certain product is good when it is not.

I am also far from traditional when I stress the importance of finding a symbiosis with the audience. The skills of the professional combined with the knowledge of the citizen make a great basis to start from. It’s up to the professional to find this knowledge and – in most cases – curate it, but it is also a duty for this journalist to let himself be overruled by people who know better. Which isn’t easy for a traditional journalist.

And of course, it’s hardly traditional to say that journalists should get much more entrepreneurial than they have been for the last 50 years or so.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

These moments have yet to come. I want to find out from the pilots what the ideal balance will be between news, data, utility, UGC, commercial info, etc.

Also I want to find out if it works best to publish in a traditional news-style or if a bloggers style would do better.

In fact, I want to accept the situation where one place will be treated in one way and another place in another way. It will all depend on the needs of a specific region, but also on the abilities and the strengths of the blogger/journalist/communitymanager/etc who is working on it.

Editorially and commercially this platform will be as flexible and multisided as possible.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Of course, as I only just started the pilots, I don’t have a lot of data yet. And as far as unique visitors are concerned, they are not very stable. One pilot has a range between 2,000 and 86,000 unique visitors per week (no data yet for one full month), another one (small village) has somewhere between 500 and 2,000. The other two are in between.

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