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Two wars, one global economic crisis and an ongoing concern about terrorism might reasonably add up to a desire to know what's going on in the world. But these things are happening when news organizations are slashing budgets, and especially foreign coverage.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, one small outfit is trying to buck the trend with a new model for foreign reporting.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: I'm standing on a blustery morning beside a marina with a native New Englander named Charles Sennott.
Mr. CHARLES SENNOTT (Executive editor, GlobalPost): So this is out on Boston Harbor. And it is really a magical spot to have a news organization with a view like this where you can actually see the place where America was first connected to the world. This is where the clipper ships first went to China and back.
FOLKENFLIK: Sennott covered wars and conflict in 15 countries for the New York Daily News and the Boston Globe. But like many papers, the Globe no longer has a foreign staff, and now he's the executive editor and chief evangelist for GlobalPost, an online, for-profit news outlet less than a year old. The company has 16 full-time employees in Boston and relies on a network of more than 70 part-time correspondents and contributors in 50 countries.
Mr. SENNOTT: We think there is a need for a news organization that has an American voice, not a voice that is nationalistic or jingoistic, but a voice that understands that Americans want to know about the world, need to know about the world and we're going to take them there in a way using what we call ground truth, which is really just about being there.
FOLKENFLIK: They've done in depth reports about the working conditions of people in developing countries who assemble iPhones, an eyewitness account of a terrorist bombing in Kabul, and the tale of the discovery of crates of whiskey left in Antarctica a century ago by the explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Former foreign correspondents from CNN, Newsweek, the New York Times and NPR are among those who are writing for GlobalPost. Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews is foreign editor of CBS News.
Ms. INGRID CIPRIAN-MATTHEWS (Foreign Editor, CBS News): It's a unique Web site, if you will. They've got quite an impressive pool of freelance journalists, and so we saw it just as an opportunity to expand our reach.
FOLKENFLIK: GlobalPost stories now run on the CBS Web site, but a larger paid partnership emerged. A GlobalPost reporter in Brazil helped coordinate the network's coverage when a French airliner went down. In September, a CBS story on the diversion of federal funds in Afghanistan was constructed around its new partner's story.
Ms. NANCY CORDES (Correspondent, CBS): The international news organization GlobalPost quoted several unnamed contractors, who said 20 percent of their budgets or more go to pay off the Taliban.
FOLKENFLIK: Small steps and a bit of extra money for GlobalPost. Small pay for its correspondents, too, $1,000 each per month to produce four articles. So they better have other better-paying gigs.
John Daniszewski is a senior managing editor at The Associated Press.
Mr. JOHN DANISZEWSKI (Senior managing editor, The Associated Press): I would rate it at this stage a noble experiment.
FOLKENFLIK: Daniszewski argues those part-time reporters aren't currently providing coverage closely enough linked to hard news to build readership.
Mr. DANISZEWSKI: They're weak, because they're a little scattered and they don't really have the resources, because, you know, let's face it, gathering news is a pretty expensive proposition. And they can't hope to be comprehensive.
FOLKENFLIK: GlobalPost offers most articles online for free and charges advertisers to reach readers. It claims 600,000 unique visitors a month. It struck deals with a surprising range of sites to include links to its stories, including Reuters, AOL, the Huffington Post and BillOReilly.com. But GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni says he's seeking to build new revenues.
Mr. PHIL BALBONI (Chief Executive Officer, GlobalPost): We need - in the online world, even though it began 100 percent free and remains substantially free, we need to find ways to make a transition to a contribution by people.
FOLKENFLIK: A group of news outlets, including the New York Daily News, a French language news agency and a South China Morning Post pay to republish GlobalPost stories. Readers who pay a membership fee can talk to reporters in weekly conference calls. And private clients pay thousands of dollars to commission specific reports. As, for example, when an investment analysis firm wanted information on credit card use in China.
It's all a work in progress, Charlie Sennott says.
Mr. SENNOTT: And somewhere between Afghanistan and Antarctica, between the Taliban and whiskey is the formula that you're looking for to drive traffic on the Web. It's alchemy. We don't know how to do this, but we are having a lot of fun trying to figure out the mix.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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