All news can be global and local, declares the website of new start-up WorldCrunch, whose mission is to provide English translations of news articles from around the world. "What we're looking for is to provide a global view of the world," co-founder Jeff Israely told the Editors Weblog, explaining that global news should always be relevant in a local sense also.
Israely and his business partner Irene Toporkoff, both based in Paris, have just launched an alpha version of the WorldCrunch website, inviting interested users to sign up via email.
What is it?
The goal is to bring together a selection of articles from around the world, maybe 20 to 30 a day, carefully chosen by knowledgeable journalists, that will deepen the Anglophone public's knowledge of global affairs. It will be a general news site, covering topics from politics and economics to culture and entertainment, the only criteria being that stories have value for a global reader.
This value, Israely said, could come from the fact that they are exclusive, particularly timely, very deeply-reported, or simply because they provide a fascinating perspective. How Obama's recent visit to Indonesia was covered by the Indonesian or Chinese media, for example, could provide an intriguing contrast to English-language coverage.
What papers around the world are saying about Anglophones might well be popular, Israely said, noting that this is of particular interest to readers of Courrier International, a French weekly magazine that provides a similar thing in print, focused on particular themes. An Italian weekly, Internazionale, provides the same kind of offering for Italian readers.
The articles will not necessarily be directly translated, but will be tweaked for the global reader to provide the necessary explanations. While it remains imperative to have human expertise, translation has become faster and less expensive due to advances in technology, Israely noted, which is helpful in the challenge to provide content swiftly.
It will be necessary to have eyes and ears in each area covered, Israely said, but mentioned the possibility of a crowd-sourcing element at some point in the future.
Partnering with traditional media
Clearly, partnerships with the publications who can provide the content are essential for such an initiative to work. Israely said that discussions so far have been positive, and stressed that WorldCrunch provides a potentially significant opportunity for publications to see their content read by new audiences, and create a new revenue stream with no investment in new resources. "We think we've got a smart way to help papers get their content out there," he said.
Israely, former Time correspondent in Rome then Paris, described the feeling of liberation he felt when he decided to take part in the new landscape of the news media. (He explains the process of launching a start up in a series of posts on Nieman Lab.) "The opportunities in the news business will be in creating new things." He sees his project as "a kind of bridge between traditional and new media:" it is helping old media move into a new arena.
WorldCrunch could play an important role in promoting the importance of good quality journalism, Israely added. "We need to find ways to remind readers that we still have the model for covering and informing the world."
He stressed the importance of seeking the right business model as well as having the journalistic imperative. He is open to the idea that WorldCrunch's model might develop and evolve to include revenue from readers, advertising and syndication. "I don't believe that information wants to be free," he said, but said that whether World Crunch ends up free or paid or a mix of the two is ultimately up to the market.
What is the future of foreign news coverage?
There has been increasing concern about reductions in the number of foreign correspondents as news organisations face financial challenges and cannot afford to maintain bureaux abroad. A recent study by the Media Standards Trust in the UK noticed a significant drop in the number of foreign stories appearing in several UK papers between 1979 and today, both a result of fewer correspondents and an increasingly UK-centric approach to news. Coverage of international politics has fallen the most dramatically, the study found.
In the US, such concern prompted the creation of Global Post, an online-only news outlet that also syndicates its content, produced by freelance correspondents around the world who are required to have lived and worked in the country they cover for a certain period of time. The goal is to plug holes in the amount of international reporting available in the US and the initiative represents faith in the model of the foreign correspondent. Undoubtedly, however, the role of the foreign correspondent is changing.
"I'm convinced that foreign reporting is not going to disappear," Israely said, noting that as the world gets smaller, news from afar indeed becomes more and more relevant. "Global stories are local because the world matters," he said: news from abroad appeals to a level of general curiosity that cuts across class and level of education.
From a journalistic point of view, the service that WorldCrunch hopes to provide is admirable: offering readers access to more content about issues which they might otherwise not be familiar with and offering newspapers access to a wider audience. It may well be optimistic to hope that foreign news will be more popular than a niche product, especially if it is paid-for. However, if WorldCrunch can be innovative in its offerings and find an effective business model, maybe it can break out of the niche. And even if not, it will hopefully contribute a valuable offering to the international news scene, particularly in light of reductions in coverage.