Journalism startups will think beyond English

“There is much we can learn from our American colleagues. But there is as least as much we can’t.”

Those of us who try to pursue paths forward for journalism face a peculiar obstacle. I’m not talking about the speed by which media consumption evolves, or the inscrutable media habits of the teenagers that dwell in my house. No. I’m talking about the language I’m writing in.

The international debate on the future of the media business has a bias toward English. This is less trivial than it might seem. Our most important hubs of information — Nieman Lab, CJR, Poynter, others — are based in the U.S., as are the companies that drive many of the changes in technology. Almost invisibly, the conversation is framed in the context of the American news consumer: On a national level, endless options for quality journalism, much of it free — and for publishers, the theoretical possible of reaching a vast audience if you succeed, even with a niche operation.

Crisis can help us see things more clearly, and I hope the ones we are in now will do exactly that. Hopefully this will propel us toward ambitious journalism startups across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. My prediction for 2023 is that those of us working in small and small-ish languages will begin to grasp the opportunities we have for creating original journalism products tailored to our national context. That we understand that the best solutions are more likely to hide two countries over, than in the English-speaking world.

The problem with our collective focus on the English language is often a question of math. The Guardian’s much lauded (and rightly so) yellow-box-please-support-us model is brilliant, exactly because it draws on the immense reach of theguardian.com’s most powerful articles. Conversion rates can be a fraction of a percent and still cover the costs of running a newsroom the size of The Guardian’s.

The scale of The New York Times gives it similar gravity-defying powers. The price of a Times digital subscription can be next to nothing, essentially placing it in a category of one: the news product where I must ask myself if I can afford not paying two dollars a month for the most well-resourced news app in the world.

Niches hardly even exist in English, at least not the way we define niches in smaller countries around the world.  A history enthusiast with a podcast, a newsletter, and a YouTube channel can make a decent living publishing in English — but it’s a mathematical impossibility in my native language, Danish, and in most other languages in the world.

I’ve often heard colleagues around the world agonize over this lack of opportunity.

This is a fundamental mistake.

The English language creates what can be compared to the biotope of the jungle. There is an abundance of activity, the forest reaches the horizon, but someone is poised to eat you at all hours of the day. Competition is fierce. The media landscapes in most countries in Europe are more like meadows or a lowland shrub in comparison: Plenty of space and very little competition. If you look hard, you are almost certain to find audiences with unfulfilled needs. In many smaller countries, a few legacy organizations dominate journalism, and it is safe to say that most of them have a firmer grasp on the past than on the future.

I co-founded the membership-driven digital newspaper Zetland in Denmark following this logic. We knew that we would need to make people pay a lot of money for our product (unlike The New York Times). We knew that to survive, we needed high conversion rates at every touch point with potential members (unlike The Guardian). We had to make our newsroom exactly large enough to deliver on our promises — and laser-focus our resources on what we could do better than old media in Denmark.

We came to understand that whatever we came up with, our only path to success was to pick up on even the slightest signal that could help our product evolve. We cultivated trust and a meaningful relationship with our members. We made it.

I spent most of the past year in the U.S. trying to come up with even more radical paths for sustaining the journalism the world needs most. There is much we can learn from our American colleagues. But there is as least as much we can’t.

So, who do we turn to for inspiration? To the people succeeding with business models and products tailored to the confines and peculiarities of their local meadow. And if anyone out there sees an opportunity in a non-English setting, we at Zetland are standing by to help you do something about it.

Jakob Moll is a co-founder and head of development at Zetland, a trailbrazing membership-driven digital newspaper in Denmark.

Those of us who try to pursue paths forward for journalism face a peculiar obstacle. I’m not talking about the speed by which media consumption evolves, or the inscrutable media habits of the teenagers that dwell in my house. No. I’m talking about the language I’m writing in.

The international debate on the future of the media business has a bias toward English. This is less trivial than it might seem. Our most important hubs of information — Nieman Lab, CJR, Poynter, others — are based in the U.S., as are the companies that drive many of the changes in technology. Almost invisibly, the conversation is framed in the context of the American news consumer: On a national level, endless options for quality journalism, much of it free — and for publishers, the theoretical possible of reaching a vast audience if you succeed, even with a niche operation.

Crisis can help us see things more clearly, and I hope the ones we are in now will do exactly that. Hopefully this will propel us toward ambitious journalism startups across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. My prediction for 2023 is that those of us working in small and small-ish languages will begin to grasp the opportunities we have for creating original journalism products tailored to our national context. That we understand that the best solutions are more likely to hide two countries over, than in the English-speaking world.

The problem with our collective focus on the English language is often a question of math. The Guardian’s much lauded (and rightly so) yellow-box-please-support-us model is brilliant, exactly because it draws on the immense reach of theguardian.com’s most powerful articles. Conversion rates can be a fraction of a percent and still cover the costs of running a newsroom the size of The Guardian’s.

The scale of The New York Times gives it similar gravity-defying powers. The price of a Times digital subscription can be next to nothing, essentially placing it in a category of one: the news product where I must ask myself if I can afford not paying two dollars a month for the most well-resourced news app in the world.

Niches hardly even exist in English, at least not the way we define niches in smaller countries around the world.  A history enthusiast with a podcast, a newsletter, and a YouTube channel can make a decent living publishing in English — but it’s a mathematical impossibility in my native language, Danish, and in most other languages in the world.

I’ve often heard colleagues around the world agonize over this lack of opportunity.

This is a fundamental mistake.

The English language creates what can be compared to the biotope of the jungle. There is an abundance of activity, the forest reaches the horizon, but someone is poised to eat you at all hours of the day. Competition is fierce. The media landscapes in most countries in Europe are more like meadows or a lowland shrub in comparison: Plenty of space and very little competition. If you look hard, you are almost certain to find audiences with unfulfilled needs. In many smaller countries, a few legacy organizations dominate journalism, and it is safe to say that most of them have a firmer grasp on the past than on the future.

I co-founded the membership-driven digital newspaper Zetland in Denmark following this logic. We knew that we would need to make people pay a lot of money for our product (unlike The New York Times). We knew that to survive, we needed high conversion rates at every touch point with potential members (unlike The Guardian). We had to make our newsroom exactly large enough to deliver on our promises — and laser-focus our resources on what we could do better than old media in Denmark.

We came to understand that whatever we came up with, our only path to success was to pick up on even the slightest signal that could help our product evolve. We cultivated trust and a meaningful relationship with our members. We made it.

I spent most of the past year in the U.S. trying to come up with even more radical paths for sustaining the journalism the world needs most. There is much we can learn from our American colleagues. But there is as least as much we can’t.

So, who do we turn to for inspiration? To the people succeeding with business models and products tailored to the confines and peculiarities of their local meadow. And if anyone out there sees an opportunity in a non-English setting, we at Zetland are standing by to help you do something about it.

Jakob Moll is a co-founder and head of development at Zetland, a trailbrazing membership-driven digital newspaper in Denmark.

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders