Delivering the world

By ADAM REILLY  |  December 18, 2008

Foreign news, American-style
GlobalPost's launch isn't the only new development that could bolster foreign reporting's long-term prospects. Earlier this month, the Christian Science Monitor and the McClatchy Company announced that they'd be sharing foreign news on a trial basis — as a way for both parties to ramp up their foreign coverage without breaking the bank. And a few weeks ago, CNN responded to widespread newspaper dissatisfaction with AP's pricing structure by announcing the launch of CNN Wire, its own lower-cost alternative. Given CNN's global reach, its venture could make it easier for more outlets to afford more content generated abroad.

What sets GlobalPost apart, however, is that its sole focus is foreign news — and that, in addition to being a brand-new, Web-based organization, both its business model and editorial philosophy are unique.

Take the latter point first. According to Sennott, the executive editor, GlobalPost will recreate a reporting sensibility that has (he claims) faded away as foreign coverage has become the province of a few elite media outlets.

"What's missing for Americans who want to know about the world is voice," says Sennott. "We have the New York Times, which is a very important voice, but it carries the mantle of history everywhere it goes. They've got top reporters and beautiful writers, but I think you'd agree that the Times' voice is a little bit hallowed.

"The liberating thing about being a Globe foreign correspondent was that we weren't beholden to the mantle of history," he adds. "We could just go out there and find a great story to tell our readers. That's the spirit we want to create in GlobalPost. I don't care if you weren't on the three-person list to get exclusive access to the foreign minister; we want you to be on the ground in Pakistan, trying to get into the North-West Province instead."

In Sennott's telling, the search for what he terms "ground truth" is both populist (he cites Jimmy Breslin's legendary New York Herald Tribune column on JFK's gravedigger as a model) and distinctly American. Here, GlobalPost's editorial philosophy and business model start to converge — because GlobalPost isn't just promising an American storytelling sensibility to its partners. It's also offering a prototypically American incentive to its correspondents, by collectively giving them — in addition to a thousand bucks a month — a 48-percent share in the company.

"Getting people to feel invested in the success of the venture is extremely important," says Balboni. "It's just human nature that, if you're connected to something in a deeper way, and particularly if you have an ownership interest, you're going to care more about it and you're going to try harder."

There's also a customer-service-y twist to GlobalPost's pitch, since its editors and reporters will take requests. If, for example, a Michigan newspaper wants a piece on how the South Korean auto industry is trying to capitalize on Detroit's current woes, that paper can tell GlobalPost what it's looking for, and GlobalPost will go get it.

"We're very optimistic we can build this into something that's great for papers, even in their current difficult times, because it's very modestly priced," says Balboni. "We've got a very strong proposal out to papers. And we're getting a very good response."

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