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April 30, 2019, 2:44 p.m.
Business Models

The Correspondent apologizes as Nate Silver, David Simon, and Baratunde Thurston speak out

“We screwed up,” The Correspondent said in a tweeted statement.

Last Friday, we published a story in which Zainab Shah, the first U.S. employee of Dutch import The Correspondent, spoke out about the messaging and marketing around The Correspondent’s U.S. launch. “I felt like it was a betrayal, and we had raised funds on false pretense,” she said. The story also raised questions about The Correspondent’s use of the $1.8 million in “runway funding.”

Shah sharing her story had an impact. On Monday, two of the most prominent “ambassadors” for The Correspondent’s U.S./English-language launch — FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and “The Wire” creator David Simon — tweeted statements that what The Correspondent “isn’t what I thought I was getting behind” and “is entirely disappointing,” respectively.

Those comments joined many statements from members of The Correspondent and others who felt duped or otherwise surprised by the news of a non-U.S. focus.

Jay Rosen, the NYU professor who has been the project’s biggest American supporter, also tweeted Monday that he had “strongly advised The Correspondent’s leadership that they needed more financial transparency and they assured me they will do that.”

The Correspondent and its founders Rob Wijnberg and Ernst-Jan Pfauth had been conspicuously silent on social media, not responding to or mentioning the story for more than three days. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, The Correspondent tweeted out an unsigned “unconditional apology” noting that “some of our early team members, prominent ambassadors, and members feel misled.”

The Correspondent will be “taking the time to carefully and precisely share” some additional information “in the coming weeks,” including:

  • “Insight into how we plan to offer journalism that is relevant to all our members”
  • “A detailed description of how we expect our correspondents and editors to work”
  • “Financial transparency about our budget and how we intend to spend the $2.6 million that our founding members generously contributed”

Some elements that the statement (which doesn’t directly reference our story) doesn’t address:

  • It pledges financial transparency about how The Correspondent plans to spend its new money, but it doesn’t mention the $1.8 million it has already spent to raise that $2.6 million. Our story reported Shah’s claim that she was not allowed to see updated budgets, and other employees’ concerns that spending had gone over budget, including the redirection of grant money originally intended for other purposes. The Correspondent also declined to say how much of the money went to Momkai, the design firm that shares a building and two co-founders with The Correspondent.
  • If the issue was an internal decision that wasn’t properly communicated outside The Correspondent, why did the organization’s operations lead and first U.S. employee (Zainab Shah) and its paid U.S. campaign strategist (Baratunde Thurston) not know about the change?
  • Why did it not try to correct any of the many news stories about the campaign that referenced the U.S. (“coming to America,” “bringing its ad-free journalism to the US,” or “‘unbreak’ U.S. news” or “it will launch a site in the U.S.”)?
  • Who specifically is the “we” referenced throughout in the unsigned statement, given that “we” “poorly communicated [the change] to our early ambassadors and staff”?
  • Did the evolving thinking about New York play a role in the pre-campaign decision not to hire for the site’s two highest editorial positions, editor-in-chief and managing editor, both of which were to be based in New York?

Speaking of Baratunde Thurston — who served as a part-time paid strategist for the campaign and was prominent in press coverage — he spoke out today as well.

Reaction to The Correspondent’s apology was mixed.

POSTED     April 30, 2019, 2:44 p.m.
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