UITLANDER is a platform for high-quality, international stories about and by Belgians living abroad, made for the Belgian home audience.
The Flemish Journalism Fund (FJF) was the innovation incubator of Journalismfund.eu, supported by the government of Flanders (the northern, Dutch speaking part of Belgium). Throughout 2019 and 2020 the FJF supported 11 projects that innovated and diversified journalism in Flanders. This is one of them.
In its own words, the platform aims to be “an antidote to the bite-sized foreign news bits provided by major news sources. We work from local knowledge to create international stories.”
“International news is usually brought to us by news corporations and large press agencies, sometimes filtered by correspondents. There is no organization that ensures synergy between the knowledge of emigrants and our established media. We wanted to fill in that gap,” explain UITLANDER’s founders, journalists Robbe Vandegehuchte and Arno Van Rensbergen of Find Muck Productions.
UITLANDER brings new stories at regular intervals from as many different voices as possible: digital nomads, volunteers, students, entrepreneurs, scientists, academics, consular staff, NGO employees, athletes, dreamers, labourers, restaurant personnel, and so on. There is room for all kinds of subjects, hard or soft news, opinion and analysis.
A selection of the stories is also published on the World Blog of MO* and the magazine Vlamingen in de Wereld. For each story, the project teams up with additional partners to help disseminate it: news media organizations, associations, NGOs, and, of course, the emigrants themselves.
In their own words
Robbe Vandegehuchte explains UITLANDER in his own words:
What exactly did the project involve?
Uitlander is a platform for high-quality, international stories about/by Belgians living abroad, made for the Belgian home audience.
The themes are diverse in order to reach a large audience. The format can vary, and the contributions can be opinionated, historic or current. The main goal is to bring our viewers news from foreign countries.
For each Uitlander story, we involve new ad-hoc partners. To maximize our reach, we use modern social media strategies and work with various partners.
What about the project are you the most satisfied with?
I’m most satisfied with the variety of countries and continents represented, the wide range of subjects, and the overall quality of the pieces we’ve produced. We’re really particular, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of language and form. We are also very satisfied with the design of the website and the many wonderful collaborations we’ve had. We continue to recruit new partners. The pieces that Arno and I put a lot of time into are generally the ones that score better.
What went less smoothly than expected, or what would you have done differently?
The idea that we could make contributions for free in collaboration with our foreign correspondents and then sell them to the Flemish media was less feasible than we expected. In the end, our alternative strategy, with our own strong brand and various long-term collaborations, actually proved to be a much better as a business model.
It’s logical that these concepts needed to be adjusted. Selling to Belgian media wasn’t ideal because it put us up against professional freelancers who usually have their own publication network. A piece created by a non-professional journalist is rarely of interest to the established media, which is why we work with strategic partners who share and distribute our content. When the global pandemic hit, it was even more difficult to sell our stories that were independent of current affairs to the established media. Nevertheless, we continue to work actively with an ad hoc partner for each contribution.
Another challenge—one that we expected—was to track down, guide and motivate the Uitlander contributors. We found that, oftentimes, the same methods don’t work with all contributors. Some need more guidance (e.g. in terms of content or writing) than others. You have to make adjustments along the way and keep a close eye on things.
What will be the impact of this project once the subsidy period has ended? Will it continue to exist, or has it contributed or changed anything in your company or organisation?
Our company is Uitlander. And we will certainly continue to exist. There are sure to be many exciting stories in the months ahead, and Uitlander has already built up an impressive CV. That will certainly appeal to potential contributors in the future.
What do you think is the most important thing we can learn from this project for journalism in Flanders?
That there is indeed a growing market for these kinds of stories. And that there is a lot of untapped potential for Dutch-speaking storytellers living abroad who, with guidance, can deliver excellent content.