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Cafe Babel: The European Cit-J Media
Bringing Europeans together online, in seven languages
Claire Ulrich (briconcela)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-10 13:01 (KST)   
Cafe Babel central editing quarters, in Paris, watch over 20 local offices across Europe
©2007 Claire Ulrich
In 2000, Italian students Adriano Farano and Nicola Dell'Arciprete were spending a year in Strasbourg, France, on a European Erasmus university exchange program, Strasbourg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)is where the European Parliament congregate. The two friends studied political sciences. But what made them passionate about Europe are the fellow Europeans they met during their year as Erasmus alumni. European trade laws are boring, but sharing a flat with students from every corner of the continent never is.

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Coming from Italy, where political debates are explosive, Adriano and Nicola both longed for a civilized forum where young Europeans could further this enlightening experience of "the year abroad," describe their respective country and discuss current affairs across borders, in their own language.

They knew nothing about citizen journalism at the time. But a citizen media is exactly what they launched, with the fabled two basic ingredient of this new trade: passion and lack of money. No capital risker, even high on drugs, would have financed a quality newspaper about Europe, much less circulated it across 25 European countries.

They founded a non profit company to launch the Cafe Babel Web site, in 2001, with European Community funding. Why Cafe Babel? "Cafe Babel sound like an oxymoron," admits Adriano. "A cafe is where people meet. Babel is what separated them. But according to alternative translations of the Bible, Babel is not God's curse, it's a blessing. Languages are a gift, they allowed Man to disperse and diversify where uniformity causes death."

Welcome to my cafe: Adriano Farano, co-founder and manager of Cafe Babel
©2007 Claire Ulrich
On their Web site, Adriano and Nicola invited like-minded Europeans to contribute in three different ways: writing news and opinion pieces on their respective countries or European current affairs in their native language; translating other contributors' pieces, and organizing local Cafe Babel events and conferences in their respective country. Very ambitious: Dutch and Greek people have absolutely nothing in common, except a passport stamped with "European Community" in gold letters, and now, a common currency, the euro. To top it all, the founders insisted on a "quality only" editorial policy from their amateur reporters. Against all odds, it worked.

Six years later, Cafe Babel has around 1,000 active writers and translators. The content is published in seven languages. Yes, seven: French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Catalan (spoken in the Spanish province of Catalunia). Unique visitors total 400,000 per month (2 million page-views) contradict a wide spread rumor that European affairs makes everyone yawn. The non profit organization is financed by private and public foundations with a yearly budget of 300 000 euros in 2006.

A capture of the English edition home page
This wonder of trans-continental and multilingual citizen journalism across 20 cities -- where Cafe Babel maintains local correspondents -- requires very sound coordination. The "hub" of Cafe Babel is in Paris. In a corner of an historical building lent by the City of Paris, eight young full-time staffers drive this tiny multinational from their desktops. They are German, Irish, Spanish, Italian, French... You name it. Another part-time staffer works in Brussels (Belgium), and a full-time Polish editor has taken over the very successful Polish edition in Warsaw. Poland is now a full fledged member of Europe and the interest of Polish readers for European affairs is intense.

What about the readers? Twenty percent are students, 10 percent university or research staff, 6 percent journalists, and the rest are... just Europeans.

Still, six years after Cafe Babel launched, Adriano doesn't see himself as a citizen journalism entrepreneur. "The participative nature of Cafe Babel is a mean, not an end. We just cannot afford to hire professional journalists and translators all across Europe."

Nevertheless, he is now sure that quality is an essential ingredient in the success and staying-power of a collaborative media. Hence the need for professional editing, moderating and promoting.

The Cafe Babel logo
It's interesting to learn that the most successful section of the site is "Cities": A collection of articles about European capitals. In a very "Babel-gone-Web 2.0" way, articles about Prague are written by Spanish, Vietnamese, and South European contributors, often journalists who contributes regularly to the site. They are sent on location in foreign capitals by Cafe Babel, to cross-breed perspectives, in one of their many experiments in multiculturalism the site sponsors. Their articles have been translated in seven languages... who knows? Maybe an English-speaking Danish au-pair in Portugal or a French expatriate interning in Dublin. It probably feels absolutely natural to them. Cafe Babel has obviously taped into a new, easy and seamless way to be a European, and this is the real achievement

Q&A With Cafe Babel

Please tell us about your site. How did the site get started, and what are its goals?

Cafebabel.com is the first European citizen media in Europe. It is translated into 7 languages -- English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Catalan and Polish -- and relies on a network of over 1,000 collaborators -- authors and translators -- in all around Europe.

Cafebabel.com was created in 2001 by a group of Erasmus students and has quickly evolved into a professional association employing 9 1/2 full time staff members.

The objective of cafebabel.com is to create the first pan European media, analyzing current affairs from a European perspective. It aims at promoting the emergence of a European public opinion, by allowing all citizens to debate and speak their minds!

In June 2007, cafebabel.com counts 400,000 visitors per months and 2 million pages viewed. It has 30,000 subscribers to its newsletters.

What sets your site apart from traditional media outlets such as The New York Times?

Cafebabel.com is analysing current affairs from a resolutely European perspective, contrary to traditional European newspaper.

Thanks to its unique network, it is able to provide with original stories that you can't find on other media.

Has your site been called the first citizen journalism site in your country or region?

It is the first European citizen journalism site

How has citizen journalism matured and gained mainstream acceptance since your site launched?

Citizen journalism is getting more and more accepted as a alternative and useful source of information in Europe.

Please explain how the editorial process at your site works. How can citizen journalists post articles on the site? Does your editorial staff work with citizen reporters in the field who pitch story ideas and then get paid if they are accepted?

The editorial team based in Paris sends call for articles to the networks of registered citizen journalists. Prior to publication, each article is discussed, fact checked and edited by a professional editor based in Paris.

Citizen journalists are not paid for their contributions.

How does your newsroom ensure and maintain a high degree of fairness, balance and accuracy from your citizen reporters?

Prior to publication, each article is discussed, fact checked and edited by a professional editor based in Paris.

What do you consider some of the main principles, or tenets, that form the basis of citizen journalism?

Original angle, verified information, journalistic style

Do you consider independence an important hallmark of citizen journalism? If so, what does independence entail?

Independence is fundamental to ensure impartiality.

How does your site maintain its editorial integrity instead of being a vehicle for its founder's point of view?

The Web site as an editorial line which is determined by the editorial team.

Does transparency play a role in citizen journalism? How does your site use transparency?

Of course we are "transparent," we have nothing to hide...

When it comes to accuracy, what is the track record of citizen reporters of your site?

Each citizen journalist is registered in our databases.

Does your site screen for inaccuracies and fact check the work of its citizen reporters?

Prior to publication, each article is discussed, fact checked and edited by a professional editor based in Paris.

In case of inaccuracy, the article is immediately updated.

Are the contributors of your site allowed to include subjectivity and point of view in their work, or is "objectivity" the desired focus?

Subjectivity is valued in cafebabel.com, as long as it is clearly stated. Our main focus lies with in depth analysis, were the border between subjectivity and objectivity tends to blur

What is the business model of your site?

Cafebabel.com is a not-for-profit organization relying on public and private subsidies. Advertisements represent a marginal source of income. Reading cafebabel.com, accessing to the archives, or subscribing to the newsletter is totally free.
/ C. Ulrich
How important will bloggers be in journalism's future?  (2007-06-07 ~ 2007-07-20)
Not at all
I don't know
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Claire Ulrich

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