A Netherlands-based crowdfunded news site which raised $2.6m ahead of “launching in the US” has apologized and said it “screwed up”, after announcing its headquarters will actually be in Amsterdam.
In December 2018, the Correspondent, a planned English-language version of the Dutch De Correspondent, raised $2.6m from more than 45,000 donors in a widely publicized fundraising campaign. In March, however, it said it would not after all open a newsroom in New York.
On Tuesday, after its former US operations lead said the decision not to open in the US “felt like it was a betrayal, and we had raised funds on false pretense”, the site made an “unconditional apology”.
“We screwed up,” the Correspondent said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Some of our early team members, prominent ambassadors and members feel misled. They expected that the Correspondent would be US focused – and we completely understand why.”
In late 2018, De Correspondent co-founder and chief executive Ernst Pfauth told journalists: “We aim to bring the same journalistic integrity and unconventional editorial approach when we launch in the US.”
In its apology, the Correspondent said while it had “initially envisioned setting up a newsroom in the US” it had changed its mind – a decision it said was “poorly communicated”.
“We failed to give adequate insight into what we mean by ‘global platform’, leaving the impression we would be ‘US focused’,” the statement said. “We offer our unconditional apology. We are committed to doing better in the future. When members ask for a refund, we will process that right away.”
The apology came after the Correspondent’s first (and now former) US employee, operations lead Zainab Shah, said the way the company handled its English-language launch “felt like gaslighting”. Shah was hired in July last year.
She told Nieman Lab: “I wouldn’t have left my full-time job at BuzzFeed, doing strategy and operations for global growth, if I had known there was a chance that – even if we made the fundraising goal – [the Correspondent] wouldn’t have a US office. It would just have been a really stupid decision on my part.”
Around the time Shah was hired, the Correspondent posted a job listing for a managing editor “to help build and run a diverse team of correspondents from our headquarters in New York City”.
Describing the role, the Correspondent said there would be “an NYC office” on West 20th Street. A marketing campaign saw a Correspondent-branded van turn up across the US, including New York City and Washington DC. But in March, Pfauth admitted: “We have decided that we won’t open a newsroom in the US for now.”
In a post on Medium, he added: “We don’t aim to be a national US news organization (we have founding members from more than 130 countries around the world!) but instead want to cover the greatest challenges of our time from a global perspective – in English.”
That came as a surprise to many.
“Dear Anthony,” Pfauth had written to TechCrunch journalist Anthony Haahead of the fundraising campaign. “I’m CEO and co-founder of the Correspondent, an online journalism platform from Amsterdam that will soon be launching in the US.”
Reporters at NBC News, Axios, Digiday, Nieman Lab and elsewhere also reported there would be a US newsroom. Adding to the confusion, when the Guardian interviewed Pfauth’s co-founder, Rob Wijnberg, in November 2018, he said the Correspondent did not plan to have a traditional office.
The decision to base the Correspondent in Amsterdam came as a surprise to Shah. She quit in March, and told Niemen Lab she had been left confused.
“They’re really good at the PR thing, and it really feels like gaslighting,” she said. “They were like, ‘Well, we never promised a US newsroom.’ I was like: ‘Wait, did I just imagine all this?’”