Five Years of The Battleground

Letter From the Editor

Five years is a century these days. Particularly online, where it’s getting harder by the day to remember what I published last week, let alone in 2019.

Anti-Gaza war protest. Salone del Libro, Torino.

Nothing moves faster than the news cycle, and memory is a luxury.

This is one of the reasons I co-founded The Battleground. I’d spent a decade working for big news media and knew there was a need to slow down to do better journalism.

Not just any kind of journalism, but long-form analysis, street photography, eBooks and field recordings. In other words, equally hard work but light years from agency reporting.

The problem was how to present it. The last thing we wanted was to create a magazine modelled after Apple’s iTunes Store, mixing old and new news formats.

Instead, we evolved something closer to Anglo-American politics and culture publications in a European context. The approach still worked; it just needed broadening.

“I don’t know why online mags don’t put out eBooks and release feature films and records,” a San Francisco literary agent told me over hummus in Berlin in 2014.

“All the resources are there now,” she said.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” I responded. “It’s just a question of it becoming easier to do,” which wasn’t the case then.

Fast forward a decade later, and The Battleground has done most of that. We’ve published hundreds of essays, thousands of photographs, three eBooks and four records.

By the end of 2024, we will have completed three more books and at least one more album, if not two. In 2025, we plan to start work on new podcast and photo platforms for independent journalists.

My work is familiar to our team. We’re all experimenting with our roles in business, editorial, communications and technology, and we’ve learned to be patient with ourselves.

The hardest part is figuring out how work like this matches funders. For example, while what we do is highly journalistic, foundations prefer to finance investigative journalism.

If you look through EU grant calls from foundations, you’ll see that they’re often aimed at subsidising cross-border collaborations between local newsrooms and fighting fake news.

Or building up journalistic capacity and resilience in Central and Eastern Europe, where state capture of media platforms is a big problem.

The difficulty, for a platform like ours, is that we work in less prioritised regions.

Our core team is split between Southern Europe — Italy and Spain — and Brussels, with contributors primarily in Germany, the UK, and the US.

Even though we’re patronised by lay audiences—we’re read in 60 countries, and our biggest demographic is between 18 and 35—this isn’t a standard profile for our market, either.

Although there are deserving media where we live, they’re not considered as important. Europe’s south can be a black hole to the north, and Brussels is about the European Union.

We don’t cater to a post-Soviet readership or publish for sponsors, NGOs, or the EU institutions, which is the primary audience for agency and investigative journalism.

We know that world well because most of our team worked in it before launching The Battleground. Our goal was to reach a bigger, less specialised readership.

So, on our fifth anniversary, we’re making the case for supporting media like ours, which, while as topical as traditional news platforms, is focused more on narratives than breaking stories.

What we publish may be more complex than a 400-word piece of policy reporting. But there’s a public need for work like ours; our audience bears that out.

Not just any public, but a European one that wants more depth and creativity from political media and values disciplines like photojournalism as much as news writing.

That’s a tall remit, to be sure. The trick is to think outside the box and publish differently while maintaining our interest in politics.

This is what distinguishes us and explains why what we do is just as journalistic as the work produced by much larger media like AFP, Politico, and Reuters.

There is no right way to do journalism; one genre is no less credible than the other. The problem is figuring that out, and that’s where The Battleground comes in.

Part of our mission is to broaden the envelope, experiment and routinise new ways of working while recovering older forms of journalism lost in the digital transition, like documentary audio recordings.

It’s all part of our dedication to democracy and the fightback against nationalism, which demands we rethink everything we do as journalists to preserve and improve upon our freedoms.

If you can’t reimagine how you work and what you communicate, you might as well retire. That worldview sets The Battleground apart and is why we’ve persevered.

Here’s to the next five years of doing this even better.

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Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.