Media Moguls Discuss New Ventures in Global Reporting

April 1, 2009 Updated: April 2, 2009

NEW YORK—A distinguished group of media entrepreneurs led a lively discussion on the future of international news on Monday. The panel event, hosted by the Overseas Press Club of America, included representatives from the online international news Web site GlobalPost, the daily news program World Focus, and the quarterly journalism magazine Dispatches.

In light of recent upheavals in the media industry, the panelists focused on gains made by their organizations and hopeful developments in media collaboration.

“This is not a wake,” said the event’s moderator David Andelman while making introductions. Andelman is the editor of World Policy Journal. “This is not the death of international reporting, but a new beginning.”

Part of that new beginning includes innovation, collaboration, and a stalwart belief in good old-fashioned news gathering from the ground.

“I truly think if we’re going to do foreign reporting it’s necessary to be entrepreneurial,” said Charles Sennott, executive editor and vice president of GlobalPost, which he helped found.

Only in its second month, GlobalPost is an entirely online international news source aimed at an American audience. It has 65 foreign correspondents throughout the world who file four stories a month from locales where they live and work. Sennott, who was formerly a foreign correspondent with the Boston Globe, sees the downsizing of the international media as a space for new opportunities.

“I think it’s a revolutionary time,” said Sennott. “It’s a time of great ferment and change.”

At World Focus, which airs its programming locally through the PBS affiliate Channel 13, they have had success focusing on collaboration.

“I think people have realized creative situations are needed,” said Marc Rosenwasser, executive producer of World Focus and 25-year veteran major network television producer.

World Focus has about 273,000 viewers and operates on a modest budget of $8 million a year, but the key to its success is collaboration. The program features nightly broadcasts of breaking news and reports from 80 nations, drawing heavily on contributions from television, print, radio, and online news organizations.

“My friends at ABC and CBS are stuck in old models that are really expensive,” said Rosenwasser, who adds that World Focus is finding ways to do the same quality work for less money. “They’re using satellite feeds, we’re using File Transfer Protocols.”

Smaller, specialized organizations are also innovating to keep a strong foothold in the public conversation that journalism often creates.

“We’re trying to occupy this shrinking space of ‘smart journalism,’” said Keith Richburg, a contributing writer to Dispatches magazine. Richburg, who is the New York bureau chief of The Washington Post, said Dispatches was created by journalists in the spirit of analyzing and understanding important issues. Every edition for the quarterly magazine is centered around a theme. The upcoming issue will focus on poverty.

The event also drew a distinguished crowd, including audience members from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The New York Times, the Ford Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and others.

Many audience members questioned the financial viability and sustainability of new media models in a time of downsizing, budget cuts, and layoffs.

Charles Sennott of the GlobalPost thinks that part of the survival of the news business comes from keeping the audience engaged, even if that just means speaking in a familiar accent.

“The BBC is excellent—the Guardian, the Economist,” said Sennott, rattling off British media organizations. “But as an American I am so tired of getting my international news with a British accent. We are trying to find an American voice for international news—we want to find a way to tell international news in a way that Americans can understand.”