Turning the Cafébabel page
After 22 years of participative journalism, Cafébabel will be stopping its production. This doesn't mean we're going to stop reporting on Europe and Europeans. Au contraire! We are sailing to new horizons to reshape the narrative of our continent.
It’s Cafébabel here.
Over the past few months, our entire team of volunteers and staff have worked non-stop, brainstorming discussing and planning the future of our beloved European journalism project. So, let’s cut to the chase. We believe that Cafébabel has come to the end of the road. Although it’s a brilliant idea and concept, the original model no longer works in today's world. So we have undergone a regeneration.
In 2001, several Erasmus students in the French city of Strasbourg had the idea of the century, of creating an online space, (a brand new concept back then),for their generation to meet. At the time, there was no TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or even Myspace. Mobile phones had weird pixelated games, no cameras, and the length of a text message was limited.
Back then – and let’s face it, it is still sort of the case – Europe was seen as being a bit weird and disconnected from reality. So the idea of Cafébabel, with the internet and the new possibilities it offered, was to allow young Europeans, the ‘Erasmus Generation’, to contribute to the European public sphere, and to shape the Europe they wanted.
Cafébabel was a platform which allowed young Europeans to write about their countries, their cities, their trips and the causes they cared deeply about. And as Cafébabel was a European platform, of course it made sense to be in several European languages, ideally all the languages spoken and read in our continent. After all, as Umberto Eco said “Translation is the language of Europe”.
You probably know the rest of the story. Those Erasmus students went back to their hometowns, and the project started to develop in all four corners of the continent. Cafébabel became a symbol of what the European youth was capable of. Soon afterwards a French NGO was born, Babel International, which coordinated local NGOs to co-produce a European magazine, based on participative and citizen journalism.
The dream came true. Dozens of teams of volunteers, writing almost daily in more than nine languages, meeting each other all around the continent, reporting on a generation where crossing borders had become a fact of life. Finally, the project was concretised into a magazine in six languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish.
Twenty years on, Cafébabel has won multiple awards, hosted over 200 events, allowed over 5,000 writers, translators and volunteers to be part of the movement of European participative journalism. We had local groups and alumni across Europe and are probably one of the best kindergartens for European reporters and activists.
Speaking of kindergartens, we are also happy to say that many Babelians found the loves of their lives at Cafébabel!
It’s very hard to pick the best reporting and editorial projects we have produced … We went to the Balkans, Poland and Armenia, explored Mediterranean islands and rural regions reinventing themselves, gave the mic to promising writers from post-communist countries, investigated the darkest hours of the Kosovo conflict, explored Maghreb countries, interviewed young people from Northern-Ireland born after the troubles, showcased local solutions with European lessons, explored European cities outside of the classic city-trips.
How to revamp our purpose
Running a media NGO across borders in a multicultural team was never easy. We were often (very often) short of money and over the last few years, Cafébabel has been functioning in ‘survival mode’.
Why? Mainly, because journalism has changed, in many different ways, Europeans have changed, Europe has also changed.
Young Europeans today are very different from the young people when we started out. They were teenagers during the financial crisis when Europe became a synonym for austerity and social distress. Our national governments are unable to handle the arrival of refugees and exiles with humanity and decency. Brexit also happened, and over the past three years, we’ve been through a pandemic and are now confronted with the war against Ukraine.
This past decade has shown that without culture and empathy across borders, the European project is doomed to fail. So far, demonstrations of empathy have been sporadic, somewhat illusory, and directed by those far removed from the reality on the ground. There is room for the Babel project, but we have been too inward looking and focused on our own survival.
Why we sail away with ereb and Sphera
During the pandemic, we were very worried that we would be forced to shut down. So the team pulled together and over countless zooms meetings discussed what could be done. By a stroke of serendipity, two grant opportunities came up that were too good to miss!
We applied, and in a surprising twist of fate, were selected for both!
The first project, which we started to develop in spring 2021, was the Sphera Network, the first European network of small and medium-sized independent and alternative media. This is the network we always dreamt of and we are working daily to reshape European journalistic collaborations. You can check out what we do on our Youtube page or on Instagram ;-)
The second project is ereb. ereb is the continuity of Cafébabel, the next step. The name comes from a Phoenician word, meaning ‘where the sun sets’ or ‘the other side of the Bosphorus,’ signifying the fact that we are sailing towards new European horizons and embarking on a new adventure. We launched this new publication, as an experiment, in mid-2021.
With ereb, we tried out ways to revamp our crossborder journalism. We commissioned impactful stories and photos, worked with fantastic journalists and photo-reporters to see how we could contribute to a new European narrative. The experiment has been, so far, a success and we were the runners-up of the 2022 European Press Prize and were shortlisted for the 2023 Fetisov Journalism Award
So, please follow our stories, newsletters and (soon) videos, through our new media platform, which is built on the legacy of Cafébabel, and which continues to reconnect the dots and construct a different narrative of Europe. Stay tuned!
Long live Cafébabel!
The entire Babel International team.