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Passing the torch

openDemocracy's Editor-in-Chief is stepping down this summer to pursue new challenges. Here he writes about his two years at the helm of oD.

Magnus Nome
29 April 2014

Melancholy seeps in as I'm typing these words: at the end of June this year I will be stepping down as Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy.

The reason behind my departure is personal-geographical; my significant other and I are relocating to Oslo, and while oD is truly global I believe the person at the helm of it needs to be living close to its London headquarters.

oD is a creature of contradictions that serve it well - federal but with a strong brand, established but never afraid of new ideas, publishing activists and migrants as happily as it does professors and politicians, relentlessly pluralist and putting out quantities of quality on a shoestring budget, almost all with Creative Commons licensing so it can spread even further.

It's the kind of rare mutation that survive not despite, but because of, the ways it is different, and that could lead the way for others. Building on its proud history and unafraid to change with the times, openDemocracy carries part of the genetic code of tomorrow's media.

The challenges of our time, from catastrophic climate change to continued discrimination and rising inequality, are not met with anywhere near the haste and effort they require of us. There are voices that cry for action, but we appear to be conditioned to allow them be drowned out by the background noise of the insignificant, the uncomplicated, what grants us instant gratification – however fleeting that instant is, and whatever the price we pay for it. Journalism is going through a crisis too, if a slow burning one, or you may call it a transformation if you are amongst the can-do optimists among us. In any case you can chalk up oD in the column for hopefulness.

Where Anthony Barnett and his co-founders conceived and created oD in 2001, and Tony Curzon Price (E-i-C 2007-2012) made it into a true creature of the internet age and introduced the concept of independent sections, I hope to have strengthened its immune system, increasing its chances of surviving and thriving in a harsh media world through its teenage years and beyond. Many of the most important changes over the last couple of years have been under the hood; unsexy but crucial improvements in finance routines, fundraising, organisational structure and operational principles.

Nobody does quite what openDemocracy does, at least not anywhere near as well. My successor will have the challenge of funding and developing it, and the tremendous privilege it is to join its journey and lead the way. While it is a rare gem of intelligent writing and deliberative debate today, what has been built up over the last thirteen years has loaded it with potential to be much more and to reach even greater numbers than the well over 300,000 monthly visitors it currently sees (more than it has ever had.)

In my tenure as editor-in-chief we've seen and written on tragedy in Syria and chaos in Ukraine; Edward Snowden's revelations of the true extent of surveillance and the intensifying of the battle for a free internet; ever more examples of how deadly greed can be for those who have almost nothing, from devastating weather events to the building collapse killing 1,134 garment workers in Bangladesh; the aftermath of the Arab spring (and its impact on women) and the continuing consequences of the financial crisis; Thatcher, Chavez, García Márquez and Mandela have left us; and with South Sudan one new country has come into existence (as have an oD section: Transformation).

Our writing continues to wield more influence than that of most mediums our size. Not only is oD writing on reading lists of universities, schools and colleges around the world, we are followed by many journalists in 'household name media' and rarely does a day goes by without some of these emailing us requesting to be put in touch with our authors. Not following the media agenda benefits even those who do, or even set it; oDR's exposé of Yanukovych' corruption was picked up by outlets from The Independent to Fox News (after the Euromaiden activists had directed their gaze in that direction of course, oDR having followed Ukraine's woes closely long before that), Clare Sambrook's investigative journalism on privatisation's darkest sides have been widely read and referenced too, and Paul Rogers' weekly openSecurity column on geopolitics, security and climate is republished by many and followed by thousands who appreciate his supremely lucid and knowledgeable writing.

In the internet age of sharing popular pieces in outfits such as this can reach just as many people as the media giants, proven recently by OurKingdom editor Adam Ramsey's article on prospective Scottish independence, read by over 150,000 people within days.

It's been two eventful years for oD (and for me), the storms we've weathered, most significantly the funding crisis culminating with a successful funding drive in early 2013, would have broken a less dedicated crew. I’m deeply proud of what we’ve achieved together. Rosemary Bechler is the hardest working editor I've ever encountered, publisher Andrew Hyde is constantly and tirelessly making sure things work (and that the rest of us understand how to use them) and the section editors are heroes who not only edit, commission and write on the most important issues of our time, but also raise the money necessary for their own budgets. With these, and Jess Thomas on board as Head of Operations, my successor has a brilliant team.

The advice of the board of directors and its chair David Elstein have been invaluable to me, and without the fundraising guidance of Anthony – oD founder and first man to consider the thought of me as its editor-in-chief, having read my piece on the US media coverage of the Norwegian massacre in 2011 – I could never have raised the funds necessary for oD's continued existence.

Still, the most important support I ever got was from my wife Nelly, who joined me on this adventure and never wavered. I am a very lucky man.

From July I'm no longer Editor-in-Chief, but I will stay on as Commissioning editor and member of the board, and of course: supporter and reader. I'm sure my not-as-of-yet identified successor's time will be no less interesting, and wish her the best of luck in one of the most rewarding (if sometimes frustrating) positions in international journalism.

Love and reason,
Magnus

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