With the January launch of GlobalPost (www.globalpost.com), internet journalism has taken another major step forward. GlobalPost is a for-profit venture founded by two seasoned veterans. Phil Balboni, GlobalPost’s president and CEO, has held management posts at New England Cable News, Hearst Corp., and other news outlets. He was instrumental in establishing the News in the Future Consortium at the MIT Media Lab in Boston. Charles Sennott, the startup’s executive editor and vice president, is an experienced news bureau chief and an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of reporting experience.
Intending to provide "reporting on world issues and events that are important to the national dialogue and to improving the conversation of our democracy in an increasingly interconnected world," GlobalPost is built on "three pillars of financial support": Online advertising, syndication of their reports to traditional media sources for publication, or through paid memberships in a program called "Passport."
GlobalPost has assembled an all-star lineup of 65 award-winning journalists located in 45 countries, with special attention given to covering "those geographic areas that have been historically under-reported by the American news media." These correspondents are also shareholders in GlobalPost, working together to create a new journalistic medium to counteract the "unprecedented combination of forces: the transformational power of technology and the internet, the dramatic erosion in the economic underpinnings of the traditional media, and a steady migration of the most devoted consumers of news as well as younger people to new content platforms, most importantly the web."
GlobalPost’s stories offer traditional newspapers efficient, professional coverage of regional or global events at a far more reasonable cost than having to pay their own staff to travel to these locations. Due to declining revenue streams, major print and broadcast news media have slashed budgets for overseas staff. Reportedly, only The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times currently have full-time staff in foreign ports of call. ABC has creatively partnered with the BBC to provide its coverage of global events. GlobalPost is offering another option.
CEO Balboni has said that his initiative is not targeting citizen journalism as much as "redefining news for the digital age," offering a service to fill gaps in current media coverage for foreign affairs. Although each of the current internet-based news operations have their own goals and audiences, they share the development and use of new and innovative business models to support the creation and distribution of news information in a world that is only becoming more and more connected.
The GlobalPost is just one of many recent journalistic startups that are on the cutting edge of 21st-century journalism. Most of the other efforts are focused more on what is being called civic journalism, democratic journalism, or participatory journalism. All share some common qualities with the GlobalPost: the use of the internet as a publishing medium and the use of Web 2.0 social networking tools to better engage and involve readers.
From Brick-and-Mortar to Seamless Coverage
With the rise of the Chicago Tribune in 1849, The New York Times in 1851, and other major papers, institutionalized news organizations were formed. Depending on professional staffs, corporate management, and evolving systems of delivery—from the doorstep to the street stands—these institutions have continued, largely unchanged for 150 years. However, in the past 5 years we have begun to see the erosion of not only advertising revenues but of great papers themselves—from The Christian Science Monitor to daily papers across the globe. (See the NewsBreak "The Christian Science Monitor Moves to a Web-Based Model—Is This the Future of News?" http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=51495.)
Key Attributes of 21st-Century Journalism
Many Americans have replaced their daily print newspaper subscriptions with either cable news options or internet-based news aggregators. Today there are nine internet-based news organizations actively operating in the U.S. (see the table). Although each of these internet-based news organizations has its own goals, audiences, and organization, together they share many of the same attributes that seem to define the emerging 21st-century journalism:
1. Internet as the Publishing Platform. The internet is a far cheaper, readily accessible medium for information transfer, providing increased opportunities for interaction with readers and the ability to update stories in seconds.
2. Highly Idealistic. There is an excitement and energy that is palpable is even the mission statements for these new organizations: "Creating a distinctive new news medium," "our Beacon shines with quality reporting," and "this is the largest, best-led, and best-funded investigative journalism operation in the United States." To quote from the ProPublica mission statement: "Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’ We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them."
3. Attracting High-Quality Journalists. The staffs of these startups are professionals with years of experience as journalists, editors, and media managers. They bring talent and respect to these operations as well as the skills to make a quick, positive impression on both readers and investors.
4. Encouraging Citizen Journalism. By actively involving the public in the process of gathering news and expressing opinion, these startups parallel early efforts in our country’s democracy. As expressed by the GlobalPost, an important goal is to improve "the conversation of our democracy in an increasingly interconnected world."
5. Future Journalism Will be Radically Different. All have been built on the premise that journalism of the past 150 years—print-based, brick-and-mortar, corporate businesses—is dying. The future, which will be radically different, is now in the formative stages.
6. Most Are Nonprofit Organizations. For financial support, most of these new journalist sites rely on foundation or other grants, membership contributions, donations, or selling features to traditional media. Crosscut.com and GlobalPost are the two exceptions, being established as traditional corporations.
7. Journalism Standards Remain High. The founders and staff of these organizations are seasoned journalists whose webpages make clear their independence and their unwavering dedication to the First Amendment and traditional journalistic standards.
8. Sites Act as Pioneers in the Unfolding New Media World. Just as European explorers moved across the globe to seek out opportunities and new worlds, these startups see themselves as on the cutting edge of a new journalism. As the New Haven Independent states: "We believe that democracy starts at home, with smart, thorough, in-depth local news reporting and broad citizen debate about local issues. Thanks to the internet, journalists and news-deprived citizens need no longer be hostages to out-of-state media conglomerates. We can reclaim our communities."
9. Back-to-the-Basics Approach. Rather than focusing on pay schemes and other organizational issues, the emphasis is largely external, focusing on issues, readers, and building readership through trust. Their mottos could be summarized as: Produce quality and readers will come.
10. Integration of Web 2.0 Features. Comments and other user interaction are built into each of these websites. Some locally focused sites strongly encourage citizen journalists to participate. As the GlobalPost’s mission states: "We invite you to be part of that community and to provide feedback on our coverage and actively engage in the site as a participant."
Here Today—What About Tomorrow?
These new information sources are clearly important sources of information that will need to be captured in online databases and other indexes. Without some bibliographic/archival resolution to these new, internet-based systems, history will lose out and their value to information professions will be highly diminished.
LexisNexis’ global media relations manager David Kurt believes that the company is prepared for this, having already incorporating web-based information into its databases: "A substantial portion of the more than 22,000 news sources available through LexisNexis services are currently from web-based sources." We can hope that other database vendors will increase their efforts to follow web developments since, at least for news coverage, the web seems to be developing into the world’s 21st-century newspaper.