Voice—though not bias—is encouraged, and not just in reporters’ blogs, but in their stories, as well. The point of hiring correspondents who live in the countries they’re covering is to avoid parachute journalism, to be sure, but it’s also to publish pieces of writing whose assertions are bolstered by their reporters’ daily experience. “Voice” suggests authenticity, but it requires authority to be truly effective. The logistical challenges faced by parachute correspondents—developing sources; learning which of those sources to trust; navigating, in every sense, new locales—won’t be as common for GlobalPost correspondents who, even when they’re not in their home cities, will be reporting from their home countries. Those correspondents, the thinking goes, will legitimize themselves and their stories—and the way they tell those stories—not just by being there, but by living there.
An American Focus
If living there is a standard for foreign coverage, though, then the obvious question is: why not hire local journalists—the true experts—as your correspondents? Indeed, the most common criticism GlobalPost has received in the run-up to its launch has concerned its unapologetically America-centric approach to foreign affairs. “I still think that in the current climate a more sustainable model for an international news bureau would be one that cultivated local journalists,” Georgia Popplewell, managing director of Global Voices, told PBS’s Brian Glaser in an e-mail. But some countries simply won’t allow their own journalists to report for a site like GlobalPost. “Chinese nationals are not allowed to work as foreign correspondents for foreign news organizations,” Kathleen Mclaughlin, one of GlobalPost’s China correspondents, pointed out in an e-mail. “The sad fact is that local journalists in China (and there are a lot of damn good ones) are constrained by government oversight and censorship, whereas foreign reporters have more freedom and protection.”
Even in countries that have no such constraints, though, Balboni and Sennott are envisioning their outlet’s distinctly American perspective as an asset—and even as a kind of journalistic currency. GlobalPost aims to establish “a new voice in international news,” they write in its mission statement, “a voice that is consciously attentive to an American audience.” As Mclaughlin put it, “American journalists understand Americans—their interests, their worldview, what they care about.”
The American focus represents a marriage of sorts between Purpose and Profit: if a core element of GlobalPost’s business plan is to attract and retain audiences for world news, and if audiences want coverage that is attuned to their sensibilities, then…everyone wins. “The world knows a lot about us, but we don’t know a lot about the world,” Seth Kugel, GlobalPost’s Brazil correspondent, told me. “Americans tend to have a caricatured view of Brazil—and Brazilians know that and feel that and are to some extent frustrated by that.” His goal for his work at GlobalPost, says Kugel, is analogous to the goal he’s had for the travel writing and city reporting he’s done for The New York Times: “to present the complete picture of what this country is like—to Americans and to anyone else around the world.”
That’s a job a local reporter simply can’t do as well as an American, Kugel says—or at least as intuitively. “My friends here in Brazil, in the Brazilian press, are going to be reading my stories,” Kugel says. “And in a lot of cases, they’re going to be saying, ‘That’s not a story. What are you talking about? That’s something we’ve known forever—it’s just basic.’” But to American audiences, the basic facts of Brazilian life can be—are—a story, Kugel believes. He points to a piece he wrote that explores a choice Brazilians are faced with at the gas station every day: whether to fuel their cars with regular gasoline, or with ethanol. “To Brazilians, that’s like choosing between Diet Coke and regular Coke or something,” Kugel says, “but for us, the idea of having to go to a gas station and calculate the prices and decide which kind of fuel to fill your tank with is a foreign thought. It’s such a non-story to Brazilians, but I think it will be a very interesting story to Americans, who think of ethanol cars as a far-off, distant, futuristic thing.”
American journalists also understand the layer of mistrust that has slowly seeped into the spaces between Americans and their media. Many Americans approach even the most straightforwardly narrated news story, Michael Goldfarb points out, with skepticism. He describes a common reaction to his work: “God, that was an interesting story. But, tell me, what was it really like?”
What they mean, Goldfarb says, is: Beyond the basic facts, what was it like to be there and bear witness?
“That,” he says, “is the kind of reporting that we hope to do.”
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