Nine months. We’d been at this project for nine months, beginning with a few sketches on a whiteboard about how we might design a Web site for international news in the digital age. Back then it was just Phil Balboni and me in our Boston offices, surrounded by empty cubicles. First came the “wireframes,” the Web-development equivalent to a sonogram, a fuzzy glimpse of life but pretty hard to decipher. Then the final design and branding, which was a burst of fun and creativity before the grueling, detailed labor of final Web development.
All through these shifting seasons I worked the phone across time zones and traveled around the world, recruiting sixty-five foreign correspondents to write for us. Then we assembled a team of editors for the newsroom—a small, start-up-sized newsroom—and by November it was suddenly fully staffed with about fifteen people.
And now the moment had arrived for GlobalPost.com to be delivered onto the Web. It was Saturday, January 10, another late night in the grinding, over-caffeinated days before our January 12 launch. I was staring out the window at a snowstorm, large flakes swirling in the darkness and descending into the black waters of Boston Harbor. I had not slept more than a few hours a day for a week. The air was pregnant with expectation and possibility and most of all vigilance.
I was on the phone with our Web developer, Jason Oliver, as he clicked away on his keyboard in his office in Wisconsin. He was redirecting our beta URL over to receive our domain name, GlobalPost.com, an act that would begin a process of “propagating” the site onto the servers and making it possible for the public to come and see what we had created. With a final clatter of programming code at precisely 11:11 p.m., Oliver pronounced in the steady, dry voice of a technical engineer, “It’s done. I hit the button. We’re live. Congratulations.” With a keystroke, our Web site was lighting up on our hosting site and flowing across all of the continents. And what struck me most was the hushed silence of it all.
The digital files that contained the stories our correspondents had reported and so beautifully written, and we had so carefully edited, were reduced to zeros and ones and racing through a labyrinth of computer networks. The process of this “propagation” was an algorithm of technology nearly as mysterious to me as birth.
Nine months earlier, on a rainy April afternoon, I had left The Boston Globe, where I had worked for fourteen years. It was my hometown paper and the place where I had wanted to work from about the age of thirteen, when I first started reading the paper. It was the era of the legendary editor Tom Winship, who built a team of great reporters and strong voices that included George Frazier, Peter Gammons, Curtis Wilkie, Ellen Goodman, David Nyhan, Walter V. Robinson, and Mike Barnicle. It was the end of a great ride in newspapers that had lasted twenty-two years.
My path had been fairly traditional. I started out at The Record in Hackensack, New Jersey, covering planning-board meetings and two-bit mobsters. I had my shot at the Big Apple in 1988, writing for the New York Post for all of ten months and then jumping over to the Daily News, starting with cops and courts. Two years later, I covered the Persian Gulf War, my first big foreign assignment, though the paper went on strike just as the war got under way, and I filed for the strike paper. Afterward, I went back to street reporting, and was in lower Manhattan in 1993 when a huge explosion rocked the World Trade Center, the first glimpse of a plot that would be brought to fruition eight years later. In 1993, this was a local news story, not “foreign reporting.” It was a Daily News story. It was about New York but had a Middle East angle. City Editor Bill Boyle dispatched me to follow the trails of suspects in Egypt, the Sudan, the West Bank, and Pakistan.
I didn’t know it, but that was also the start of a fifteen-year body of work on Middle Eastern religious extremism and terrorism. I had experimented with the adrenaline addiction that is foreign reporting during the gulf war, but after chasing suspects all over the Middle East, I was completely hooked. The five-part series I had hoped for was cut considerably, however; New York shrugged off the bombing as the work of a bunch of loser taxi drivers. It was hard to see at the time that this was nascent Al Qaeda.