To mark the relaunch of the Editors Weblog, the World Editors Forum is running a special series entitled "Doing More with Less." The series highlights major trends that editors-in-chief are using to steer their newsrooms through the difficult economic climate. The third of the series takes a look at the new online-only international news service launching today, GlobalPost.
Amidst reductions in international reporting at newspapers across the US and Europe, GlobalPost, an American online-only international news service whose number of overseas correspondents is second only to the AP, launches today. The Editors Weblog spoke to President, CEO and co-founder of GlobalPost Philip Balboni and Senior Editor and Regional Editor for Africa Andrew Meldrum about the project, and asked the AP's John Daniszewski for his thoughts on a new news organisation that could potentially rival the Associated Press.
Filling the international gap
Balboni was passionate about his motives for founding the organisation: to fill a crucial gap in international reporting accessible to the American people. "I have seen the steady diminishment of foreign reporting in television and radio," he explained, added that this "has just been stunning." And he stressed his belief that "even the great American institutions that remain with a meaningful foreign staff are in jeopardy because of this devastating downturn in the economic underpinning of newspapers." Meldrum echoed his sentiments: "in the US, so much international news is being cut."
Daniszewski, AP Managing Editor for International News, was confident that the AP was providing "a comprehensive international news coverage," and that there was not a lack of information out there for people who were determined to find it out. He was positive about the creation of a new service, however: "it's really good to have those eyes, ears and notebooks out there, and I am sure they have a lot to contribute."
Complementing the AP and newspapers
Balboni insisted that GlobalPost intends to be a supplement to a newswire service, rather than a competitor. Balboni explained that the sort of "distinctive story-telling" that GlobalPost offers is very different to that of the AP, Reuters or AFP. "As a wire reporter, you chase the story of the day and there is a tremendous need for that, but it has become a commodity and you can find these stories everywhere." And indeed, GlobalPost will also aggregate the top news agency stories of the day on its site. Its original reporting, though, will be different: "what we are focussed upon is the context behind the headlines," generally stories that will not be widely reported in English. Daniszewski was insistent that he does not see GlobalPost as a competitor to the AP because in terms of scale the AP is far larger. Rather he considers it a complementary service that will contribute to the "great need for the world to be informed."
"We hope to help newspapers, not hurt them"
Balboni also emphasized his hope to "help newspapers, not hurt them." He explained that GlobalPost is a "partner for newspapers," as part of its business model is to syndicate content to newspapers all over the world. "We want to give them the opportunity to have high quality original reporting which they can print or publish online," he added. He added that in the Web 2.0 world, it is less useful to put your content in a "walled garden, you have to let it be free to go where users want to find it."
The 60 to 70 correspondents are essentially stringers, filing one piece a week. As Meldrum described it, "this is designed to be a string that any correspondent could add to the other work that they are doing." However, GlobalPost is making a significant commitment to correspondents, offering a guaranteed monthly salary and shares in the company, and hopes that its reporters will "feel that they are invested in our success," explained Balboni. The correspondent group includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, among a mixture of experienced, accomplished journalists and those who are at an earlier stage in their careers.
The correspondents will be on the whole country-based, meaning that they know the language and are familiar with the history and current affairs. The idea, Balboni explained, is that readers will have "the opportunity to follow developments from someone you can come to know and trust." Daniszewski thinks GlobalPost is trying to return to the old model of a foreign correspondent, "that sort of authoritative, contextualized, interpretative voice, who adds different perspectives that people bring to a story with their own personalities." As "traditional newspaper correspondents out there are now acting more and more like a wire service," Daniszewski believes, there is a gap to be filled by people who can produce a more in-depth, time-consuming story.
The five regional editors are working full time, or "more than full time," as Meldrum put it. There are regional editors for Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America, and a team of half a dozen senior editors based at the HQ in Boston. Seven beat correspondents will have a truly global scope, reporting on issues such as health, climate change and technology worldwide.
"Journalists know best"
"The goal is for this not to be a top-down model, but a bottom-up model," Balboni clarified, as correspondents "know best about what the interesting and important stories are." Meldrum remarked that "it's much like a traditional foreign desk," with correspondents pitching stories, editors approving them and then editing once they are sent in. The content management system used means that correspondents are able to follow the story process "right from conception to completion."
Interactive multimedia from abroad
"These days a freelance journalist is always going to be multi-skilled" asserted Meldrum, and "we are all on a learning curve." Correspondents have all been issued with Flip Cams - video cameras the size of a mobile phone - which they are encouraged to use whenever possible, whether to produce narrated pieces or natural sound shots that will supplement their story. Photos are also expected to feature significantly on the site, taken both by correspondents and by other photographers who will contribute.
Reader comments will be allowed on articles throughout the site. "We want it to be as interactive as possible," Meldrum commented, explaining that they plan to respond to readers and adapt to how readers want to use the site.
Partnering with the best
According to Balboni, it is "imperative" for a new venture to form relationships with other news providers. And GlobalPost is already doing this, having established a partnership with the Huffington Post whereby some of GlobalPost's content is available on the Huffington Post's new world section. Correspondents are also appearing on 'World Focus', a night news programme on US television channel PBS, for a Q&A session with the TV anchor about whatever story they have covered that day. Balboni said that the organisation is also exploring similar opportunities with radio and in commercial television.
Entrepreneurship drives online-only journalism
Balboni was enthusiastic about the potential of an online only publication. One of the main advantages is the "incredible distribution platform at a very modest expense." The Internet solves the problem of how to reach the audience. He believes that there are "incredible opportunities as well if you can be entrepreneurial enough to create a new model, and if you can fulfil a need." By operating online-only and keeping distribution costs low, GlobalPost hopes to be able to produce a higher quality of product.
The other crucial point, he explained, is that serious news consumers are now looking mainly online to find their news. He worries that newspapers have been "dumbed down" in an attempt to attract more readers, pushing many people online. It is not just about chasing numbers of viewers, and GlobalPost expects to have a "very high quality user population" of intelligent, well-educated people.
Stamping "Passports" to profitability
"Paid online content will be the salvation of journalism if it can be worked out"
Balboni expects the site to become profitable in three years, and it will be funded via syndication, advertising and paid premium content. He expressed his conviction that paid online content "will be the salvation of journalism if it can be worked out." GlobalPost's premium content aspect to the site will be called 'Passport' and will be available for an annual fee. The Passport area of the site will include a service called Foreign Desk, which will allow subscribers to write suggestions for stories that they would like to see.
The foreign news solution?
There is a gap in the market for this sort of well-investigated, foreign news, and as long as GlobalPost can find enough readers who are interested enough in the world around them this site has much potential. The passion of the people behind it for international news is indubitable, and the model that they have chosen is forward-thinking and may well work. Being online only allows it to have a vast scope and reach with comparatively few resources. It will be particularly interesting to see how successful the paid content model is, and whether this can, as Balboni hopes, save journalism.