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Onboard the world's first media ship
Future News 133
With an all-in-one mobile newsroom, events space and production hub, it’s surprising nobody has come up with the idea of a media ship before. We’ve seen similar ventures set sail in the past, with the likes of Radio Caroline evading British government censors in the 1960s by broadcasting from international waters.
But German author and entrepreneur Gabor Steingart, formerly of Handelsblatt and Der Spiegel, has put his own modern twist on the concept, launching the smart-looking Pioneer One in 2020 as part of his Berlin-based Media Pioneer Publishing group, which was founded in 2018.
Unlike the tatty vessels used by pirate radio stations, Pioneer One was purpose built by family-owned Lux-Werft und Schifffahrt as a workplace for journalists.
The ship, which looks similar to the Uber river cruisers on London’s Thames, has 200 square metres of space, including broadcasting facilities, a dining area, newsroom section and even a small bar – no doubt seen as an essential addition for any hack.
The vessel is moored on the River Spree, typically in the centre of the German capital’s government district, including the The Office of the Federal President, the Federal Chancellery and the Parliament (The Reichstag Building).
On the editorial side, Pioneer promises high-quality and independent journalism, focusing on politics, technology, world affairs and economics/finance. Steingart's daily Morning Briefing newsletter boasts more than 200,000 subscribers, while Pioneer’s podcast network has over one million listeners per week and the outlet has more than 30 journalists producing content.
With a monthly membership fee of €25 ($25.50) per month, the business model is reminiscent of the UK’s Tortoise Media, especially as it presents readers as ‘co-editors’. Equally, Pioneer has its own newsletters, podcasts and community events, occasionally navigating Germany's waterways to travel to other cities like Hamburg.
German media giant Axel Springer has a 36% shareholding in the venture, while Pioneer’s managers have a 54% stake. The start-up previously opened an investment round to the public which closed in 2021.
Beyond Germany, a similar venture could presumably be replicated in other river-friendly locations. London’s Thames, by way of example, runs past both the political centre of Westminster and the financial hubs of The City of London and Canary Wharf.
Travelling to other locations beyond the capital would be difficult since the UK’s waterways are much narrower than Germany’s. But a barge at the forthcoming Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, which has more miles of canals than Venice, could prove popular.
A newsroom on Washington DC’s Potomac River seems extremely unlikely, but it should be noted that Politico is just a stone’s throw from the historic waterway.
Perhaps the Ottawa River, which runs next to Canada’s Houses of Parliament, has more promise? The waterway travels eastwards to Montreal, where things get rather chilly in the winter.
Either way, because of its multiple revenue streams, relative comfort and mobility, it is doubtful that Pioneer One will be the last media ship to rule the waves. In fact, the Pioneer team have already released a preview of their next vessel, the Pioneer Two.
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