Web Startup to Offer Foreign News As Papers Cut

By: AP
By: AP

NEW YORK - As budget cuts force many U.S. newspapers to retrench on their foreign coverage, veteran journalist Charles Sennott saw virtually no chance of getting another assignment abroad.

So Sennott left The Boston Globe to start his own news organization, GlobalPost.com. It launches Monday with 65 journalists, including veterans of major news organizations such as CNN, The Washington Post, Time magazine and The Associated Press.

The free Web site, supported by ads, will offer regular dispatches for an American audience to supplement coverage from the AP, Reuters and other news organizations still covering the world. GlobalPost also will sell stories to papers to run in print or online.

"We cannot cover every plane crash or be there for every press conference," Sennott said. "What we can do is have a network of talented writers who live in the places they write and who deliver stories that are comparable to a metro newspaper's columnist, stories that connect the dots, that give you a sense of a place in a relatively short space."

At launch, Boston-based GlobalPost will span nearly 50 countries, including Brazil, Indonesia and other regions that Sennott believes are undercovered in American media. Reporters also will be concentrated in key emerging markets like China and India.

Journalists will generally be paid $1,000 a month as part-time freelancers, meaning they'll likely continue working for other outlets as well. In fact, Sennott has discouraged applicants from leaving full-time jobs.

GlobalPost is providing its recruits with digital video cameras and some travel expenses, but they will work from home, eliminating office costs. In high-cost regions like Iraq and Afghanistan, the company looked for freelancers who already have contracts with larger organizations footing the bill.

Journalists also will receive equity stakes in the privately held company, Global News Enterprises. Those shares vest over five years and collectively could give the journalists ownership of half of the stake that is not held by the company's 14 original investors. Those investors, who have put up $8.2 million, include former Boston Globe Publisher Benjamin Taylor and Paul Sagan, chief executive of Akamai Technologies Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

The launch of GlobalPost comes amid a slowdown in online advertising, the source of more than half of the company's projected revenue. Its chief executive and co-founder, Philip Balboni, said the company expects to operate at a loss for three years as it develops two other key sources of income — sales to newspapers and a $199-a-year subscription for premium content, such as more detailed information on emerging markets.

Balboni, who previously started and ran a cable news network for New England, said GlobalPost signed up its first newspaper this past Monday and expects another soon. He would not identify the papers or discuss fees. He said papers that join will be able to request locally flavored stories that will be exclusive to them.

Sennott's recruits include seasoned journalists who have opted to freelance because of cutbacks at U.S. news organizations.

The team includes Royal Ford, longtime auto writer at the Globe, Jane Arraf, formerly CNN's senior Baghdad correspondent, and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Matthew McAllester, who took a buyout from Newsday after the paper closed foreign bureaus.

Foreign correspondents used to represent a stamp of prestige for big newspapers, but costs of maintaining a single journalist abroad can equate to two or three at home after factoring travel, office and other expenses.

Over the years, the Globe, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other metropolitan dailies have trimmed foreign staffs. The Globe decided to close its three remaining foreign bureaus in 2007; Sennott left 14 months later.

Some newspaper chains like McClatchy Co. share foreign staffs among their papers, while others like Gannett Co. and Sun publisher Tribune Co. have flagship papers providing coverage for smaller ones. The Inquirer now sends reporters abroad for specific assignments, something Editor Bill Marimow acknowledged was no substitute for a permanent presence.

Many papers simply rely on traditional sources like the AP, a 162-year-old news cooperative with more than 1,000 journalists outside the United States.

Although some newspapers have complained about the AP's costs as they undergo job reductions and other cuts, GlobalPost executives doubt any paper would drop it.

John Daniszewski, the AP's managing editor for international news, said GlobalPost won't have the budget or the staff that the AP has "to cover any event on the planet of significance in a very short amount of time."

"We welcome them," he said of GlobalPost. "It's good there are more voices covering and interpreting international news."

GlobalPost is the latest of several niche offerings in news.

The political Web site Politico offers its Washington coverage to other news organizations. CNN is transforming an internal news service into an offering for newspapers this year. The Sports Network site announced Wednesday it will go after cost-conscious papers as well.

Individual papers also have started informal news-sharing partnerships. The Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy, which publishes The Miami Herald and other papers, are in a three-month trial to share foreign coverage. The Sun also began a news exchange this month with The Washington Post, giving the Baltimore paper access to its larger rival's foreign coverage.

John Walcott, who oversees McClatchy's foreign bureaus, said efforts like GlobalPost show promise but come with risks.

"It's often hard to judge the reliability of some reports from abroad," he said.

Robert Ruby, who left the Sun as foreign editor in 2006 as the Baltimore paper began shutting its three remaining foreign bureaus, said papers have cut space for international news along with their staffs, so they might have difficulty finding room for GlobalPost's coverage.

But Marcia Myers, the Sun's deputy managing editor, said having more voices is always better, and she plans to keep an eye on GlobalPost.

Boston Globe officials declined to comment.

GlobalPost's journalists are expected to produce weekly dispatches on political, business, social and cultural developments and regularly update an online reporter's notebook with miscellaneous tidbits. They also will offer photos and video when appropriate.

During major developments, such as the Mumbai terror attacks or the conflict in Gaza, GlobalPost's journalists will be asked to pursue unique angles, said Sennott, who serves as GlobalPost's executive editor.

"We can't ignore it because it's what matters," he said, "but we can cover it differently and we can take it in a different direction."


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