Despite many similar problems and stories, it was always a bit of stretch to call Europe a single media space. Language and differing agendas are two big barriers. As a result, apart from a handful of English-language publications, Europe’s big players never really managed to build a product that would appeal to a continent-wide audience.
Forum.eu, a Berlin-based digital news startup, is trying to fix that problem and become a leading platform for debate around Europe.
Every day, it offers readers up to 7 curated stories high on the European news agenda. Articles come from its network of publishing partners. Forum translates them into 6 European languages currently available on the website and kicks off a discussion around them for the day.
Launched in the spring of 2020, amid the early peak of the pandemic, Forum has already built a prestigious list of partners. It currently works with over 20 media from 9 countries, including Die Zeit from Germany, El Mundo and elDiario.es from Spain and The Telegraph from the UK.
Today Forum.eu announced it had secured The New York Times as their first non-European partner, as well as a number of exclusive opinion pieces from John Bolton, Trump’s former Security Advisor, and former German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
Unlike many other pan-European media projects, Forum is not trying to challenge European publishers and win over their audience. Quite the opposite.
“We want to become complementary to a lot of media publishers. Elevate what they are doing,” Paul Ostwald, Forum’s founder and Editor at large, told The Fix.
He believes there are a lot of media around Europe, often small, who produce high-quality content and Forum can offer them an additional channel of distribution on markets they are not present on.
Right now Forum has six languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Greek and Polish. Team plans to build up services in all European languages in the future. Solving the language issue through translation and content curation is where the team believes Forum brings the most value.
“Language barriers need to be removed in order for debate culture to flourish. A mode of discussion that challenges, informs and involves as many Europeans as possible,” Ostwald noted.
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Apart from translated curation, Forum also offers original opinion pieces on European matters, such as John Bolton’s recent article on European defence. Those op-eds can then be republished by Forum’s publishing partners. Each piece falls into a separate “Debate,” a category that combines articles around an important topic of discussion.
Translating each story into 6 languages can quickly scale into a very labour-intensive business. The first round of translations is done by DeepL, an artificial intelligence translation tool part of their custom CMS, but humans take over. Forum currently has around 30 employees – half of whom are international editors who translate and curate stories every day.
“We have two editors from each country. They are qualified journalists who translate the pieces, copyedit them. They also select the articles. That’s why they have to be journalists, not just translators,” Ostwald explains.
As Forum plans to introduce more languages in the future, this will become even more important. “With every new country, we have one further layer of complexity. It’s going to be a challenge,” Ostwald admits.
The newcomer media is currently backed by Bonum, a German social impact VC. To keep this complex structure running, however, Forum plans to introduce a metered paywall in the first quarter of 2021.
The subscription fee will be 4 euros per month, but readers will be encouraged to pay more if they want to support the growth of the project. Right now curated stories are accessible to everyone who is registered on the website.
A subscription model is also important to Forum as the team tries to build a core community around the project. Right now there are a couple of thousands of people registered, but the team aims to boost this number to tens of thousands of paying subscribers in the coming years.
The so-called Erasmus generation – young, educated people interested in EU affairs, are the key target audience of the project, according to Ostwald. Yet the Forum team wants to get beyond Europhiles and engage all sorts of Europeans to its platform.
This will certainly be important if Forum is to break beyond the Brussels-politics-focused audiences of established competitors like Politico Europe or EUobserver.
“A lot of good European projects ended up being for the bubble,” says Ostwald, emphasizing Forum’s broader ambitions. They plan to launch several new non-text formats this year that would appeal to a wider audience.
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