The story of Crossroads
April 10, 2011 1 Comment
The news this week of the discontinuation of Crossroads, the English language web magazine published by the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht came as a shock to its many readers and contributors. The publication, which attracted 12,000 unique visitors every month, has been closed, due to end of funding. The decision has affected me too, because I was involved in it since its first issue ten years ago.
In the beginning
Crossroads was first launched as a quarterly print newsletter in December 2001. It was an initiative of Raymonde Griswold, the director of the European Journalism Centre (EJC) at the time, who saw the opportunity and the need for an English-language journalistic medium for the international community in Maastricht.
Crossroads, July 2001
Griswold secured funding from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and recruited an editorial team to produce the newsletter. We worked with tight deadlines and felt like true reporters. We had regular brainstorm meetings to discuss relevant topics for articles and critically looked back on our work after each issue. I found these sessions with the editorial team very constructive and enjoyed them a lot.
From print to web
In the end of 2005, the funding allocated to Crossroads was considerably reduced and the EJC could no longer afford the printing and distribution costs that came with the print format. Even the team of writers, editors and graphic designer was no longer sustainable. The only way to continue was to go digital and Crossroads was reborn in March 2006 as a web magazine.
In the meantime Wilfried Rütten had become the new director of the EJC and I was given carte blanche to run Crossroads’ new adventure on the net.
My job changed radically: from writer, I became a multitasking editor. My work consisted in finding new contributors, giving them guidance in the writing process whenever necessary and publishing their finished work on the magazine.
Living up to its name
I was worried at first, because the number of online visitors was initially very low and the call for writers I had placed on the homepage of the magazine did not immediately yield any results. But after about a month, I received the first article submission and then another one. The number of visitors started growing steadily and I was struck by the fact that the web magazine was also attracting many readers from the rest of the Netherlands and even from abroad.
Looking back, I realise that the digital move played an essential role in making Crossroads truly live up to its name. The magazine promptly became an open platform where people from various backgrounds and sectors of society could get together and exchange experiences and tips about life in the Maastricht region.
Crossroads web magazine, launched in March 2006
Readers and contributors
Judging by the feedback I receive every week in my mailbox, Crossroads is experienced as a much valued resource, not only by the international community but also by many Dutch readers and organisations who want to reach out to this important but often isolated group.
The magazine also serves as a source of information to anyone in the world who feels connected in one way or another to Maastricht and the surrounding area, such as former residents in the area, or people who are considering a move to South Limburg or who are interested in specific historical or cultural attractions of the region.
The value of the reports, testimonials, tips and reviews published on Crossroads lies in the fact that they are authentic stories written by fellow global minded contributors, mostly foreign residents and students, but often enough Dutch nationals as well.
Most of my work consisted in editing the articles that came in every week. The – sometimes intensive – email correspondence that took place around every submission before it was ready for publication helped me establish close and rewarding relationships with many writers.
Most of them are foreign students or expats from countries as varied as Italy, the UK, the US, Germany, Romania, Hungary, Spain, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Canada, Mauritius, South Africa, who are now living in the Maastricht region, whether temporarily or permanently.
I would regularly receive requests from writers in other parts of the Netherlands (Rotterdam, The Hague, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Venlo…) or abroad, in Germany, the US and even Australia. I welcomed them all, because in my view they too could be meaningful to our readers.
Ideas for articles were endless. I was occasionally asked to propose relevant topics, but most of the time writers came up with their own suggestions and I enjoyed being surprised time and again by the diversity of their interests.
On a personal level, I am following the advice of Jeff Jarvis, the American journalist and author of the What would Google do? bestselling guidebook: “Do what you do best and link to the rest” by continuing my professional relationship with the European Journalist Centre, as editor of the EJC.net website and manager of the EJC Online Journalism Community.
As for Crossroads, it already went through a similar crisis once in the past and was able to reinvent itself in a new and stronger format. I hope that this will happen again. Several ideas are emerging. Maybe Crossroads will reappear as a crowdfunding platform, as some people are suggesting. Maybe it will be taken over by other local initiatives. It could even transform into a new medium altogether and be reborn for example as an online television channel, like the www.thexpat.tv launched in The Hague last week.
The European Journalism Centre is located on the top floor of Centre Céramique
For the international community in the Maastricht region, I hope that someone will come forward with a good and sustainable idea to fill in the void created by Crossroads’ suspension.
Should the European Journalism Centre and I no longer be part of the new adventure, I sincerely wish that Crossroads’ assets – guarantee of independence, journalistic coaching and guidance, financial compensation to writers, not to mention the endorsement of an authoritative and well respected institute such as the EJC – will not be lost in the process.
By Sueli Brodin
Maastricht Minutiae: Farewell Crossroads
Jean-Paul Toonen’s blog: A Fatal Choice