Journalists, these days, have little reason for cheer. At a time when Romenesko’s updates increasingly read as real-time obituaries for journalists’ careers and craft—and at a time when terms like “slashed budgets,” “fighting for their lives,” and “bloodbath” permeate media reporting, likening newsrooms to war zones with a remarkable absence of irony—defeatism is often the order of the day. Foxholes may have no atheists, but they don’t tend to have optimists, either.
Save for this week, that is, when GlobalPost, the Web-based, international news startup, debuted to much—much, much, much—fanfare. And to much—dare we say?—hope. Indeed, it’s hard to remember a time when an online news organization has, at its outset, gained so much glowing attention from a world-weary media: Innovation! Ambition! New financial model! (New financial model! New financial model!)
Given the breadth of the coverage it’s received, the basic elements of GlobalPost’s story are, by now, familiar: that it was founded by veteran journalists Phil Balboni and Charlie Sennott; that it currently employs seventy freelance correspondents covering nearly fifty countries, seven of them dedicated to transnational, idea-based beats; that these correspondents are supported by fourteen U.S.-based staff members focused on editing and multimedia production; and that the outlet’s three-tiered financial structure relies on advertising, syndication (in print and online), and—this is the biggie—reader subscriptions. (TimesSelect Redux it’s not: the “media transformation” maven Ken Doctor compares GlobalPost’s $199-a-year ($50 for students) subscription fee not to the Times’s failed venture in Web monetization, but rather to the subscription model of MinnPost—a site, he points out, “which has something more than 1,000 members after a year.”)
The subscription service in question, Passport—whose $199 price tag, it’s worth noting, is an “introductory” rate for “charter members”—promises not merely access to “premium content” (podcast-y “conference calls” with correspondents, “newsmaker interviews,” a monthly digital newsletter and a weekly editor’s brief), but also access to the ears of GlobalPost’s editors. Passport members will have a say as to which stories correspondents are assigned: editors will choose their top story ideas, and paying readers will get to vote for their favorites. Those readers will be able, in other words, to take part in crowdsourcing that is editorial, rather than reportorial, in nature. GlobalPost’s is a model driven not only by the core premise that good journalism should be paid for, but also by the hope that the promise of investment on an editorial level will engender investment on a financial one as well.
GlobalPost’s editorial agility—you decide, we report—is echoed in its anatomy. A lack of legacy infrastructure (foreign bureaus, printing presses, print distribution costs, etc.) means that, while “a lot of newsrooms are struggling to retrofit…..[w]e can create this for the web right from the start,” Sennott told NextNewsroom’s Chris O’Brien. And also that individual GlobalPost correspondents—armed with portable video cameras, still cameras, and audio recorders in addition to their pens and notepads—will be able to offer “a sui generis take on the wider world,” as The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly had it. Resources both physical and financial can thus be channeled directly toward GlobalPost’s primary goal: being there, and telling people what it’s like. “It’s a different structure than most traditional media outlets,” Beatblogging (NewAssignment’s beat-focused blog) notes. It’s “a flatter, nimbler structure that should allow the Global Post to add more correspondents where demand is high.”
What that structure will mean to journalism—GlobalPost’s own efforts, and those of the wider media world—remains to be seen: coverage of GlobalPost is, by necessity, consigned to the future tense. The general consensus, however, early on, is that the outlet has a solid business plan…which has, built into it, some obvious X-factors. (The most glaring of these is the audience itself: are there enough people interested in foreign coverage, especially in the U.S., to justify GlobalPost’s existence?) Whether those variables will affect GlobalPost’s final analysis—and with it, to mix a metaphor, the outlet’s bottom line—is itself an unknown.