First came Tortoise Media in 2019, now comes Squirrel News, another animalis-named news outlet but this time of the furry variety. Launched in Berlin by long-standing journalist Jonathan Widder, Squirrel News is a curated app on iTunes and Google Play for solutions-focused news.
The idea behind it is straightforward – Squirrel News collects the most important solutions-focused news, interviews and videos from across the media landscape and curates them into compact, digestible issues three times per week. The content is curated rather than bespoke, with each article giving the context of each story before linking to the original article itself.
With much of today’s rolling news output focused on intractable problems, deep seated societal issues and shocking emotional drama, the psychological impact of persistent negativity is becoming all too clear to medical professionals, especially in terms of increased anxiety, depression and stress disorders. This media paradigm of negativity and increasing sensationalism is something Squirrel News aims to address.
Talking to WNIP, Squirrel News Founder Jonathan Widder says, “Today’s digital media world presents people with two fundamental challenges: information overload and the prevalence of news with a negative focus and no prospect of a solution.”
Widder continues, “The never-ending stream of news and reports about catastrophes, conflicts and scandals leads many readers and viewers to experience a feeling of stress, fear, hopelessness and frustration as well as a distorted and excessively negative perception of reality. Squirrel News aims to address this and inform people on existing and possible solutions to many of the challenges facing humanity today.”
Available in German and English, Squirrel News has two Berlin-based editorial teams working in parallel to produce editions with current, solutions-focused articles from the respective language area. In the future, the team also plans to offer editions in other languages.
Free for readers, and operated entirely without ads, the news app is funded by a non-profit association Constructive News e.V., founded in autumn 2019. The project is financed primarily by small donations made by readers, allowing Squirrel News to remain free and independent from investors, sponsors, advertisers, and large foundations.
The publisher’s greatest strength, however, is its small army of volunteers who continue to devote technical expertise, financial assistance and resources to help the publisher remain innovative, flexible, as well as financially robust.
Squirrel News has echoes of Positive News Publishing, the successful UK publisher founded by Seán Dagan Wood in 1993. Positive News was the first media organization in the world to offer community shares globally through crowdfunding and remains a popular quarterly magazine with its core readership of 10,000 readers.
One key difference, however, is that Positive News writes its own stories – when asked whether Squirrel News will create its own content rather than merely curate news, Widder says, “First of all, we’re going to focus on curating stories from other outlets, as this is a more efficient use of our limited resources. A curated news service also appears to have greater added value for our readership, but in the longer term we’d also clearly like to write stories ourselves.”
The main difference between ourselves and Positive News is that we curate news from other sources, which allows us to create a more comprehensive overview and to offer more stories (or links) in our app, although we are clearly smaller and have less resources.Jonathan Widder, Squirrel News
As for future plans, Squirrel News will launch podcasts in German and English over the coming weeks, once again focusing on positive, solutions-focused stories. The publisher also aims to drive app downloads and build its base of active users by an “order of magnitude” over the coming months.
With negative news proliferating amidst more divided societies, Squirrel News might well be an idea whose time has arrived as people yearn for more positivity in their lives – there are lessons here for the wider news industry.