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Dec. 1, 2016, 12:52 p.m.
Reporting & Production

Coda Story, focused on deep dives around single themes, is now tackling a “post-truth” Eurasia

The platform is focusing on two major themes — disinformation campaigns in Eurasia and the migrant crisis in Germany — and focusing on larger character-driven narratives.

“One of the conceits we’re totally in opposition to is parachuting into a story without really having our bearings,” says Ilan Greenberg, cofounder and one of the editors-in-chief of the new nonprofit storytelling platform Coda Story. “So we’re committed to being in the locale of the crisis, and that puts me here in Berlin.”

The Coda Story team is attempting to build a platform for continued reporting on issues percolating in various parts of the world, especially once a significant amount of media attention from larger news outlets focused more on breaking news has dissipated. For the platform’s official launch today, it’s slicing as many ways as it can the impacts of “disinformation” campaigns in Eurasia and the migrant crisis in Europe (from Berlin, one of the flashpoints of the crisis).

Supported through a modest amount of foundation and crowdfunding money, Coda had run a pilot at the beginning of this year covering various facets of the struggles around LGBTQ rights in Russia. The 30-plus pieces it published on its own site — and in editorial partnerships with bigger outlets like The Guardian, Eurasianet, and Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting — offered a window into still larger issues relating to the challenges liberal democracy in Russia, and problems around politicized, weaponized fake information (sound familiar?).

The Disinformation Crisis and Migration Crisis themes launched Thursday (with a redesigned site), and Coda has an expanded staff to handle the reporting, editing, as well as the social push around its stories (it now has a front-end developer and a full-time social media editor). The two new editions will be larger, and will feature a more ambitious array of experiments with visual storytelling, said Natalia Antelava, Coda Story cofounder and a long-time correspondent for the BBC.

“There’ve been a whole range of lessons we took away from the pilot, and some of them are very much startup-y and managerial, such as the importance of workflow or refining the workflow. Or, oops, we didn’t budget the bank transfer fees!” Antelava, who’s based in Tbilisi, Georgia, said. “But we’ve also learned the importance of building the network of correspondents. It’s gratifying is about the importance of working with reporters on getting the stories, getting the stories right. Some of the reporters we worked with and want to continue working with are people who are young, or don’t write natively in English. It’s nice to be an organization that offers something most media organizations can’t offer to the same extent: editorial attention.”

“We were looking for a launching-off topic that complemented what we did with LGBT issues in Russia. When we search for a topic, we’re really concerned with finding a crisis that we can identify that also yields both a gap in coverage, and a way towards illuminating larger global issues,” Greenberg said. “With migrants — in Germany there’s been no shortage of coverage here — there was an orgy of coverage when the journey was the focus of the story, of the people going to Greece, for instance. But now it’s a story about integration in Germany, or lack of integration, and the politics coming out of that. Jumping to Brazil would’ve been a stretch — but this didn’t put us so far afield from what we had been doing already [in the pilot].”

Greenberg in Berlin is working with a Robert Bosch Stiftung fellow (an immigration reporter from the Arizona Daily Star), finding editorial partners for both distribution and reporting collaborations, and also tapping into a network of freelancers — paid — who can help Coda carry out its mandate of not “parachuting into a story.”

“There are a lot of professional journalists who are migrants or refugees — who don’t like to be called refugee journalists, so we shouldn’t be calling them that — who worked for news outlets back in Syria, or other home countries,” Greenberg said. “There are language issues, but nonetheless there are many out of work journalists here, who know these communities, so I’m making a real effort to commission them.”

For a small newsroom with such large ambitions, the work that goes into nonstop fundraising and building connections with other larger newsrooms can be a bit of a slog. Large foundation grants are the bulk of its revenue stream (some of its funders are banned in Russia and areas Coda Story covers, so it can’t freely list granters on its site). It will be testing out a membership scheme starting this month. It’s currently also developing a sort of popup newsroom, still around the idea of diving deep on a single theme, to bring together journalists from different outlets to brainstorm more story ideas (with more funding on the way for that project).

“How do we make money is constantly part of the conversation — and how do we diversify the sources and types of income,” Antelava said. “We have ideas for production of content off the back of our content that we could be selling. We have ideas for sponsored Codas, that are of interest to specific groups. We think there’s a lot of potential there, that we haven’t yet been able to focus on because we’ve been so focused on launching the editorial side. But that will become a priority as soon as these editions start rolling.”

POSTED     Dec. 1, 2016, 12:52 p.m.
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