The Rocky Mountain News in Denver has closed, the Seattle Post-Intelligence is only printed online, and The Boston Globe was on the brink of collapse but survived. Even the newspapers that are thriving are cutting back or eliminating their international correspondents to save money. Yet many people realize that what happens in Shanghai, China; Frankfurt, Germany; and Jerusalem affects their lives.
Troubled by the cutbacks in international coverage, Charles M. Sennott, a former Boston Globe foreign correspondent, joined entrepreneur Phil Balboni, who owned New England Cable News, to launch Global Post (www.globalpost.com), an internet news site, in January 2009. Capitalized with $8.5 million, Global Post, which is based in Boston, has 65 correspondents in 45 countries. Its business model is based on three revenue streams: advertising, syndication to newspapers such as the Daily News (New York) and The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), and paid subscribers.
After returning to the states from assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sennott learned that the fiscally challenged Boston Globe eliminated its entire foreign desk, following in the footsteps of Newsday and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sennott saw a business opportunity to "fill international journalism with an American voice and pick up where they left off." He investigated a nonprofit model but thought that Balboni's profit-making model would enable it to last longer.
Global Post describes its mission as "embarking on a bold journey to redefine international news for the digital age." It avoids taking any political viewpoints, liberal or conservative; instead, it hews to "write with a strong voice and to work hard to unearth facts. But we leave opinion on the opinion pages."
Like established newspapers, Global Post must break news stories to create reader interest and buzz. Sennott identified a breakout story by Shahan Mufti, an American writer of Pakistani descent, about laptops that were stolen from American trucks on the U. S. supply routes into Afghanistan, revealing confidential military information. "This black market can undercut the U.S. military presence. We bought a laptop and learned about confidential supply routes," Sennott said. That story was picked up by several other newspapers.
Sennott also singled out an innovative World of Trouble series in which 20 correspondents filed stories about the damages triggered by the economic crisis in 20 different cities. Readers could click on an interactive map and see the human toll of the crisis in each locale. Having correspondents live in the country, understand its culture, and know its nuances enable these stories to be told.
Global Post doesn't only cover straight news; it also tracks cultural and sports trends. One series, El Barrio to the Big Leagues, described the coming of age of a 15-year-old Dominican shortstop who is destined to be a top draft choice in the next major league draft. Global Post's racy streak included coverage of the burlesque scene in Paris and a profile of India's first porn star. It has reporters on numerous beats including climate change, nongovernmental organizations, and commerce.
The lead Global Post story in early spring, "Where American Customers Are too ‘Risky,'" written by Kathleen E. McLaughlin with a Guangzhou, China, dateline, revealed how American customers in China are considered less desirable than other foreign customers. This unconventional angle made the story newsworthy, noted Sennott. But the day the story posted, The New York Times reported on such topics as Sri Lankans who were dying trying to escape the country by raft to India; several Chinese parents who were suing the government for the deaths of their children during the 2008 earthquake; and heroin dens in Kabul, Afghanistan-stories that far overshadowed anything in the Global Post.
On another day, the Global Post highlighted a look into the scandals of Roh Moo-hyun, the former president of South Korea; a story on why the economy of Argentina is facing a serious shortage of coins; a feature on an artist in Colombia, known only by her pseudonym Bastardilla; and commentary by Sennott about what the pope's visit to Jordan really means. Were there no breaking news stories that day? The South Korean story had been covered in other newspapers, the features were rather idiosyncratic, and there was nothing new in Sennott's viewpoint.
Adding to the daily mix is a series of articles from Reuters, the international wire service, which is not found in most major dailies. Recent Reuters' articles on bank stocks and trade deficits did solid jobs of informing readers of international news.
Though many articles haven't elicited feedback from readers, Sennott stressed that the site is open to ideas from librarians and teachers on what their students would like to read or from anyone for suggestions of stories they'd like to see covered.
Unlike newspapers, which have full-time staff devoted to them, Global Post must rely on stringers. Sennott acknowledged that many reporters, such as Jane Arraf, who is based in Baghdad and is a staffer for the Christian Science Monitor, have allegiance to other publications, and they write secondarily for Global Post. Rather than getting leftovers, Sennott explained that reporters are still filing original, newsworthy stories. But perhaps that contributes to the lack of powerful news-breaking stories.
When asked what the dominant tone of Global Post articles is, Sennott compared it to the BBC, which uniquely conveys a British sensibility. Global Post is adopting an American tone that specializes in storytelling, he said. One wonders, though, exactly what an American tone is. Its articles don't seem to carry a consistent voice; it's as if each stringer conveyed a personal take on international news.
Instead of citing The New York Times, The Washington Post, or network news channels as its major competitors, Sennott said Global Post competes against targeted internet sites, not mainstream media. He calls Politico.com, which focuses on politics, and ProPublica.com, which specializes on investigative stories, as major rivals.
What will determine the success of Global Post? Pulitzer Prizes? Millions of readers? Breaking news stories? Sennott replied, "All of the above. Our goal is to come up with a sound business model that recognizes great journalism."
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.