GlobalPost Aims to Fill World News “Void”
Important Details: It’s an ironically timed launch. At the time of the greatest global economic downturn since the Great Depression, GlobalPost launched this week, aiming to bring US readers a deeper and wider sense of the world beyond American borders.
The site is the brainchild of Phil Balboni, who founded and ran New England Cable News, a regional news provider. Balboni, now 65, first had the idea for GlobalPost decades ago, but put it to the back of his mind. Now the combined forces of the internet, globalization and daily newspapers forsaking of “foreign correspondents” have made his old idea new again. The result: the GlobalPost site that serves as ground zero for 70 correspondents based around the world, recruited by Executive Editor Charlie Sennott. Sennott, a long-time, award-winning foreign correspondent, took a buyout from the Boston Globe last year. Of those 70 correspondents, about 55 will be based in, and report from, a single country; GlobalPost emphasizes its correspondents’ specific knowledge of individual nations. GlobalPost aims to bring the perspective of American correspondents to US readers, a clear counterpoint to the inroads of the BBC‘s growing influence in reporting international news.
The site offers weekly dispatches from its correspondents, dispatches that reflect the age; some are more blog-like than story-like. Multimedia is a feature, showcased on the home page. In addition, its Global Blogs section showcases the most recent posts of some 350 bloggers, often natives of their countries, and then points to their blogs, in a no-cost, cross-promotional initiative. The overall goal, as expressed by Sennott: “We are consciously setting out to try our best to fill the void left by so many American mainstream newspapers, magazines and television networks who’ve chosen to cut back and in many cases abandon the mission to cover international news”.
As far as business models go, Boston-based GlobalPost is something new. It’s a for-profit company that is soliciting memberships from its readers. Its for-profit status allows the company to incentivise its correspondents — each on a stipend of $1000 per month, suggesting that they are stringers balancing several jobs — with stock options that will vest over five years. Given its noble aspirations to better inform Americans about the rest of the world, GlobalPost also believes that obtaining financial support from readers is a fair — and needed — model. Its “Passport” program offers readers exclusive access to some site features, and to the correspondents themselves. It costs $199 a year, with a $50 price point for students. Balboni says his business model aims to have advertising become the#1 revenue source, followed by membership (hoping to see it achieve 40% of revenue within several years) and then syndication. Its syndication program, offered on a license basis, is now being offered to daily newspapers.
Balboni has raised $8.2 million, with a goal of adding $1.2 million more by the end of 2009, to support the staff of 14 and correspondents.
Implications: In a time of unparalleled cutbacks in journalist staffing, GlobalPost is a reminder that innovation, enabled by internet technology, is alive. Starting with no debt and no cultural legacy burdens, GlobalPost is harnessing the web for virtual editing, production and distribution. It is benefitting from the many cutbacks in international reporting, as major metros around the country have reduced their own bureaus. Out of an age of lemons, it is making lemonade.
However, Outsell believes that making that lemonade a top-shelf product will be tough. GlobalPost faces entrenched competition, from companies including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the BBC, CNN, AP, Reuters, AFP, the Telegraph and the Guardian. Each of those companies, too, understands, the new global news reader opportunity and is working on plans to better grasp it — especially when an economic recovery kicks in.
As a product, GlobalPost must not be just good, but differentiated. As a business, it must actively partner to make its syndication program work, which on a license basis will have a tough go of it in an increasingly ad revenue share-based syndication economy. It must actively find ways to find promotional air, much like Politico has done, on TV, radio and through cross-distribution and cross-promotion. It must embrace the best of contemporary ad technologies to monetize well what should be a lucrative audience.
Still, it serves as a reminder to the entrenched players that smart start-ups may pop up unexpectedly and have the capacity to disrupt. Its model itself is worth studying by established news companies as they review and redesign their own.