This is the third installment of an IJNet interview series that takes an in depth look at the operations of various online news platforms, shedding light on the future of global media as envisioned by thought-leaders around the world. To read last week's piece, on Allvoices, click here.
Media house cutbacks and closures in America and around the world in recent times have led journalism commentators and industry professionals to rethink their news making structures, and the receding tide of foreign correspondents stationed abroad is leaving a void in international reporting that needs to be filled with increasing urgency.
Launched online on January 12, GlobalPost combines innovation with tradition in its business model. Its competitive edge lies in its mission to "redefine international news for the digital age" by upholding the values of traditional journalism: integrity, accuracy, independence and powerful storytelling.
Last week, IJNet writer Zul Maidy interviewed Philip S. Balboni, president and CEO of GlobalPost. Balboni is also the founder and president for 16 years of New England Cable News (NECN), the nation's largest and most celebrated regional news network, for 16 years.
According to the GlobalPost Web site, Balboni is a pioneer in the development of 24-hour local cable news, and has built one of the most distinguished and successful records in journalism in the United States, serving in numerous national organizations. The Web site lists Balboni and Charles M. Sennott, award winning journalist and author with a distinguished career in international reporting, as founders of the organization.
Could you describe how GlobalPost came into being?
After working as a reporter for United Press International (UPI) in the late 1960s, I won a fellowship in international reporting to [Columbia University's] Graduate School of Journalism. It was while I was at Columbia that I developed a plan for a new international news service, and I spent the year after graduation moving it forward because even then I recognized the general lack of high-quality foreign reporting in the American press.
My career eventually moved into television news but I never lost my love of international news or the dream of building a new journalism organization to fill the void in coverage of the world. And so in the spring of 2006, I began in earnest on the business plan for GlobalPost as a destination news site. By this point, the state of international reporting was dramatically worse than it had been in the early 1970s and the opportunity to fill that void had become even more attractive as both a business and an editorial proposition.
As more and more news organizations pulled back from the mission of covering the world, I was confident that not only was there an opening in the marketplace for GlobalPost, but that there was a growing need for high quality international news as part of the American conversation of democracy.
How many correspondents do you have? What are the criteria for correspondents?
At the present time, we have approximately 65 correspondents in some 46 countries, and we continue to add new correspondents. What we have found over the past year of building GlobalPost is that the caliber of the people who want to write for us is exceptional and the talent pool continues to grow wider and deeper.
As our financial resources grow, we will continue to hire more correspondents to expand our network both geographically and in special coverage areas. We choose our correspondents by the quality of their work and their experience reporting in the country they cover. We now have a database of many hundreds of journalists that gives GlobalPost the capability to report stories in every corner of the world.
Do you still maintain a staff of 14, or has that grown since its launch?
We have a staff of 16 here at our headquarters in Boston. We have just added another full-time Assistant Editor to help us expand our editing capabilities and to give our senior editors more time for planning. We expect to hold at this level for some time.
Can correspondents consider themselves employees of GlobalPost? What incentives does Global Post offer to them?
Our correspondents are not employees of GlobalPost. They are, however, under long-term contract to us and are guaranteed a fixed amount of monthly compensation. They also receive a grant of shares in the company. We see GlobalPost as an opportunity for them to have a cornerstone in a portfolio of work and the chance to be a part owner of a growing organization that values high quality reporting.
What is the extent of your responsibility over the safety of correspondents? Do you ever come across cases in which you have to withhold their identity, whereabouts?
Our responsibility for the safety of our correspondents is in guiding them in the best way to stay out of harm's way. We never send our correspondents into a combat zone without the most careful discussion and it is always the correspondent's choice to do this. We withhold the identities of our correspondents in Zimbabwe because of restrictions on the press there.
Does Global Post offer any kind of training to new or developing journalists around the world?
We have not conducted any training, but we do deliver a detailed field manual to them written by our Executive Editor Charles Sennott, who has had a long career as a foreign correspondent.
Many new multimedia platforms seem to adopt the citizen journalist model. Global Post is moving in the other direction, making use of foreign correspondents instead of citizen journalists. Can you share with us your reasoning behind this strategy?
While we see a place for citizen journalism in the landscape, our vision was for a site where professional journalists could bring their training, experience, and insight to bear on important global issues and events. The editorial process, cultivating sources and understanding complex political, business and cultural landscapes, leads to reporting that illuminates the truth. Our goal was to create an innovative new media organization that was deeply rooted in the highest principles of journalism, because we believe that carefully crafted reporting gives us the ability to have significant impact. We believe that as the web matures more and more people are seeking authoritative information from the sites they visit and that is what GlobalPost offers on the international front.
Is it right to think of Global Post as a Washington Post or New York Times but without print and ink and paper? On top of that, how is it different from traditional news media?
GlobalPost is rooted in many of the best traditions of "traditional news media," and we are all readers and fans of the fine work done by the Washington Post and the New York Times, among others. However, we are creating a new brand that is purely online and that is where we believe the majority of serious news consumers are headed. We have none of the burdensome cost structures of the legacy media companies. On the other hand, we have no brand to leverage and must gain awareness, visibility and credibility in order to create a successful enterprise. We believe that GlobalPost, Politico and others to come are creating the new forms of journalism that will define much of the future of news.
How is the blog editorial section going? How do you distinguish between the work of a blogger and that of a correspondent?
We have identified and brought into our site nearly 300 of the best bloggers from nearly all of the countries in which we have a correspondent. Their latest post appears in its entirely on GlobalPost but comments go back to the bloggers' own site, so we think it is a nicely reciprocal relationship. We also have an opinion section called Worldview which is headed by H.D.S. Greenway, one of the nation's most respected foreign reporters and interpreters of world events. His insights and analysis along with a growing body of other contributors offers insight and context to our on-the-ground reporting from our correspondents.
We clearly delineate our bloggers' contributions from the rest of our editorial content because we want our users to know when they are reading the work of a credentialed journalist. We love the voices our bloggers bring to the mix, but journalism is at the core of our brand. Our correspondents also have their own blogs, which we call Reporter's Notebooks, that give them a forum to let readers see what it is like to be a working journalist in the field.
How do you feel the news media landscape will change in the future? How do you envision your role in that respect?
This is a transformative moment in the history of journalism and the news media. It is a time of upheaval and, for many, a time of great distress and uncertainty. As always happens in revolutionary times, there will be losers and there will be winners. We believe that a big part of the future of news is online and that there are significant opportunities to build purely online franchises. I think many of the existing media entities will survive this period but it is likely that many will be diminished. I think we are beginning to see signs that quality content is establishing new foundations of value that will pay great dividends in the future. This is difficult to see now but if you look closely, the signs are there. Beyond these few thoughts the rest would be merely speculation.
To find out more about GlobalPost.com, click here.
For more information about Philip S. Balboni, click here.