Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GlobalPost.com brings the world a lot closer

Last night, Boston-based web site globalpost.com partnered with WGBH’s Frontline program to document the youth movement that fueled the ouster of Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak. Half the program explored The Muslim Brotherhood, in a far more nuanced way than conventional network coverage. The program, produced by Charlie Sennott, GlobalPost’s managing editor, formerly Boston Globe foreign correspondent and bureau chief, is yet another demonstration of the growing importance this two-year-old web site in providing international news.

During the recent crises in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East, GlobalPost’s coverage has been focused, timely and useful, in effect a primer on what is important is global affairs at any given time. Its on-the-ground video often makes you feel "you are there."

In normal times, there are too many stories for most of us to keep up with to stay well informed about international events, but GlobalPost provides a helpful distillation of international news you can use. Even before the recent demonstrations , GlobalPost provided insightful reviews of trends in Africa and the Middle East, with thumbnail sketches of events from Tunisia to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and Albania along with profiles of the key players.
GlobalPost followed up with daily updates, and Sennott went to Afghanistan to interview General David Petraeus for his perspective on the implications of Egypt for the entire region. On Friday, Feb. 3rd, the web site laid out four scenarios that could play out in Egypt. Last night, in the collaboration with Frontline, we learned still more about what actually happened.

 Globalpost.com has recently launched a redesign of its web site, a user-friendly testament to the increasing success of this web-based source of news from around the globe. Launched three years ago by Phil Balboni, a former program innovator at WCVB-TV5, founding head of New England Cable News and highly respected leader in the media business. (Full disclosure: he hired me in 1979 as chief editorial writer, and I succeeded him in 1982 as editorial director when he became news director.)

With the national networks closing their foreign bureaus and newspaper skimping on global coverage, Balboni rightly surmised that there was a hunger for solid international reporting, and he came up with a model to fill that void. He raised money to start the project from 20 investors, including lead investor Amos Hostetter, the Cablevision founder who recognizes a solid bet when he sees one. His model called for free access to part of the site, paid access for those who want to delve deeper, on-site advertising and syndication. Thus, he now provides global stories to CBS, NPR, and PBS' News Hour.Reporters started out working for a pittance, plus a small equity share in the enterprise. His staff of full-timers is growing, as are the salaries of the core group.

The stories are not just the same stuff you’ll read in the NY Times, Washington Post or the weekly magazines. They go further, but they do it succinctly. GlobalPost offers an intimate style of reportage, which creates a sense of the fabric of the countries from which GlobalPost is reporting.

It emails a collection of weekend reads each Friday, and has recently initiated a weekday “Morning Chatter” email that includes stories you 1)Need to Know, 2)Want to Know, 3)may findDull but Important, 4) a story that may seem Wacky but still bears on some larger truth, and 5) a final “Just because” item, which is always delightful. One recently caught my attention on the increase in the price of truffles to $30 an ounce, leading one farmer to shoot at another suspected of “rustling” truffles from him. This tasty item was of significance to my gustatory interests and my having lived in France many years ago.

I also liked the wacky category story about how one Japanese company instituted a “Beloved Wife” day to teach people how to hug one another. Exercise included a map to indicate correct positioning of the feet.

Another Just Because item: Consider a story about one small farming town in Mexico, off the usual news track, where the entire police force has been eradicated, one by one. A stark depiction of the havoc being wrought in Mexico by drug traffickers.

That same recent Morning Chatter included a story about how the hordes of people returning to the Sudan for the January referendum election were straining food and water supplies. Another story told of how thousands of Facebook users were defending the killing of a Pakistani politician who had dared to criticize the harsh anti-blasphemy laws. In the Dull but Important category was an item about how the price of oil may affect the global economic recovery. As they said, “dull but important.”

Themed stories might deal with a particular topic as seen in places from South Africa to South Korea, Azerbaijan to Spain.  One such series explored the status of gay rights around the world.

GlobalPost is already getting 1.5 million distinct visitors each month. Balboni aspires to between four and five million a month within the next couple of years. And he hopes to be operating in the black by the end of 2012. A tall order, but, if anyone can do it, Phil Balboni can.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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