On GlobalPost, however, the aim is global engagement partially by way of personal engagement. Bylines are prominent. They’re listed above the text of each article, next to a relatively large headshot of the author in question. Perma-placed to the right of each story’s text is the personal blog of its author. GlobalPost is, by all indications, attempting to engender anew the cultural cachet of the foreign correspondent. And it’s doing so by following the brand-making currents of the Web—building up its correspondents’ stories and celebrating (or, more cynically, capitalizing on) their voices. As Beynon Rees, the Israel correspondent, notes, “Some people will be coming to the site to find out what’s going on in the world today—but because people who aren’t traditional newspaper readers might be coming to the site, they might also be coming to see, ‘What’s that crazy bastard Matt Beynon Rees saying today?’”
This kind of institutionalized branding is one sign of the synergy GlobalPost is trying to effect between its business and editorial sides. Because if there’s one thing the Web has shown us, it’s that the charismatic voice of a single individual can lure large crowds into listening—and even into caring.
In his iconic 1922 book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann wrote of the average American: “He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen,” and “he lives in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.” Lippmann also accused that same average American of being “slow to be aroused and quickly diverted” and “interested only when events have been melodramatized as a conflict.”
Nearly a century later, Lippmann’s indictment still stings. Even in an age whose technological progress has promised unparalleled connectivity with the rest of the world, Americans remain, in many ways, isolated. It’s an isolation partially of our own making—we simply haven’t cared enough to learn about other countries in the same way that they’ve cared to learn about us—but it’s also been inflicted by a journalistic infrastructure that has routinely snubbed foreign coverage, dismissing it as a luxury rather than a necessity. GlobalPost is putting its faith and its future in Americans’ interest in the world beyond our borders, in our desire to know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen. It’s a gamble, but one in dire need of being taken. “The world is dramatically undercovered by the American news media,” Balboni says. “And it’s time to do something about it, goddammit.”