Foreign Affairs  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   April/May 2008

Foreign Affairs   

As established news organizations cut back on international reporting, a new Web site aims to cover the world.

By Kevin Rector
     


Millionaire friends and waterfront property are involved, but we're not talking lavish American affairs la Gatsby.

We're talking foreign affairs la Philip Balboni and Global News Enterprises, expected to launch in early 2009 as the first U.S.-based Web site dedicated entirely to foreign news.

With planned headquarters in the historic Pilot House on Lewis Wharf in Boston and backing from millionaire investors keen on being part of a profitable venture into the otherwise shrinking business of foreign coverage, Global News will rely on dozens of reporters in almost 70 countries worldwide to provide in-depth enterprise stories on issues affecting a globalizing world.

Balboni, 65, founder and former president of New England Cable News, the nation's largest regional television news network, says he began brainstorming the idea two years ago and began fundraising in June. Although he wouldn't give an exact number, Balboni, who left NECN March 14 to serve as Global News' president and CEO, says investments in the project are "in the ballpark" of $8 million.

"The reaction that I have gotten, without exception, without a single exception, has been incredibly excited, positive, supportive. People get it. The time is right for this," Balboni says. "We want to demonstrate that the Internet can spawn, nurture and support independent journalism of distinction."

Global News correspondents won't be full-time employees, and will include journalists working abroad for other publications and wire services as well as freelancers. Balboni's not sure how many editors he'll be hiring. Some of the work will be offered free, and some will be premium content available with a subscription fee. Global News will rely on wire services like the Associated Press to provide breaking stories, and its correspondents will be offered ownership interest in the company as part of their compensation, Balboni says.

"We need to make them invested in our mission and our success, and we need to give them a reason to believe that they will benefit financially," he says. "It's an age-old trade secret: People who feel invested in something are willing to do their very best for it."

The commercial nature of Global News distinguishes it from other recently launched news Web sites, many of which are funded by foundations and other nonprofits (see "Nonprofit News," February/March). But according to Balboni, Global News will try to "form alliances" with such organizations in order to create the best international coverage possible.

Balboni says Global News will not compete with big papers offering international news like the New York Times and the Washington Post. "We will be a new brand. We have to prove ourselves," he says. "We have to differentiate ourselves and provide content you can't find elsewhere."

In recent years, American news organizations have cut back sharply on their foreign news operations, largely ceding the territory to a handful of newspapers, McClatchy and the Associated Press (see "Covering the World," December/ January). Balboni sees an opportunity to help fill the void, which is particularly important in an increasingly interconnected world.

"There are really two incredible forces, when you think about this, that we have the opportunity to combine," he says. "One is the power of globalization, which is so incredible and is changing everything... The second is the Internet, which is just an extraordinary, liberating force, and yet there is so little independent journalism on the Net."

Which, in Balboni's view, makes this a perfect time for his new initiative. "Wherever I look in this I find challenge and opportunity and excitement... It can be done, it needs to be done and, God willing, we will prove it with Global News."

Kevin Rector

Rector (krector@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.

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