GlobalPost’s Charles Sennott: a progress report

GlobalPost’s vice president, Charles Sennott, stopped by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism yesterday to talk to journalism students. Sennott, who describes himself as a reluctant entrepreneur, gave an interim report on the company. Although the international news website was launched during the recession in January 2009, Sennott said it is expanding. Here are a few quotes from his talk:

The business:

“We began building this at a time when the economy was going down. The challenges are extraordinary to make a digital news operation online, particularly a foreign news operation, to make it work with the business model.

“We began as a for-profit. We’re growing, we’re expanding and we’re going forward with the business model in a way where the investors can see the progress.

Now we’re augmenting that business model with [foundation] funding. One of the things we’ve talked about recently is how can we become a self-sustaining international news organization, yet also go for some foundation funding to do more in-depth investigative reporting, because we can’t really afford to do that in a big way based on the model we have. So my job in the last year has been to really build up the foundation-supported side of GlobalPost.”

The foundations:

“If you go on GlobalPost, and you go on special reports—those are funded by Ford Foundation, by Kaiser Foundation, by the Galloway Foundation and other foundations and individuals who are starting to support the idea that GlobalPost has this team.

“We have a CEO who is a businessman, and I think those of us who love field reporting and journalism—you don’t want us in charge of the checkbook. We have approximately 20 investors who are extraordinary people. One of the investors is the Taylor family. The Taylor family owned The Boston Globe. They’re the guys who hired me. The Taylor family built the Globe over 120 years. In the digital age it can’t take that long. We’re going to have to move a lot faster. But I do like having investors who see the horizon and see this is a long-term build.

“We are really clear with anyone who funds us we have full editorial control. We’re very strict about that, that we are fully in control of everything we do and that we can be independents in that we will bring our standards to it and if you don’t want to fund it under those guidelines then we won’t accept the money.”

On being an entrepreneur:

“This is an unbelievably exciting time to be going into journalism. The good ol’ days came with [the problems of] working for the man. You often had a terrible editor. You had people who had commercial interests really driving the journalism. There were problems; there were issues. Even at a great newspaper you still had to deal with all the things that can come with that.

“Learn some of those skills, how to come up with a plan to start a blog, start a website, to go in a direction that you want to go and how can you make this your own business. Selling is a really good thing if you want to get your message out.

“There’s a phrase called the reluctant entrepreneur, and that’s someone who doesn’t see himself as an entrepreneur. But he loves baking bread and the bakery he used to work for has gone out of business and been bought for a chain and it doesn’t have the same standards that this bread baker had. But he loves working with bread, being in a bakery, and he’s going to start their own thing. That is called a reluctant entrepreneur and that is very much how I see myself.

“I don’t want to run a business. I want to go cover the revolution in Egypt. But that wasn’t happening anymore, so as a reluctant entrepreneur, I decided I had to do something about that and I have to be part of building something.”

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Olivia Smith is an intern at CJR. Tags: , ,