The economic realities of the publishing industry are forcing American newspapers to close down foreign bureaus, but at least one man is willing to bet on the viability of international media coverage targeted to US audiences.
New England Cable News President Philip Balboni is leaving the regional news network he founded to establish Global News Network, a Web-based news outlet that will only publish international news geared to US readers.
Balboni, CEO of Global News Network, which raised $7 million in funding for its Web site, argues that the readers are there, even if it's not economically viable for newspapers to serve them.
"Americans have interests that are deep and broad," Balboni says. "[Lack of international coverage is] an enormous shame, considering this vast and important international interest we have in things like commerce and nonprofit [advocacy]."
Balboni says the lack of foreign bureaus is more about supply challenges than demand shortages.
"Newspapers have been devastated by the loss of advertising revenue," he explains. "It's expensive to maintain these bureaus. Few can take on [this] challenge."
The Web site will launch in early 2009 because of operational and fundraising efforts required to get the outlet started. Balboni says the fact that a 2009 launch completely misses the domestic election cycle is a happy coincidence.
"There is a large audience that is anxious and waiting," Balboni notes. "We're going to be a small, new enterprise; we'll have to prove we can develop the content and get loyalty from users."
The network will cover 70 countries when it launches, and attempt to grow to 100 in five years or more. To keep costs down, Balboni will employ freelancers and authors - with a journalism background - to work for cash retainers and, potentially, shares in the company, as opposed to full-time, salaried professionals.
"Maybe [for example], we can tap authors living in Berlin who are journalists and would love the opportunity to supplement their income," Balboni says.
"I think its 100% right that the appetite for international news among Americans will continue to grow," says Billee Howard, EVP and MD of Weber Shandwick's Global Strategic Media Group. "There is a growing appetite by Americans for international news. Things that are important to people don't have to be next door."
While Howard believes the US is ready for more international news, she's less convinced that a new player can deliver that.
"A niche player [must deliver the news] in a way that Americans find authentic," Howard points out, adding that "authenticity is [usually] driven by a known and recognized brand name.
"Look at the fact that the BBC tried to launch a channel here [and is having] slow and steady progress," she adds. "And the BBC is one of the most reputable brands abroad."
WS assisted the BBC America launch, but does not do current work with that company.
For his part, Balboni realizes the difficult journey ahead.
"We need to build a brand that attracts an increasing number of users and that people trust and relate to," Balboni says. "I don't underestimate the challenge of doing that, but the Web is a vast cornucopia of information."
Balboni adds that the company will increase awareness through creating partnerships with news organizations as well as other institutions that have interest in global news.
"We intend to forge alliances with key entities that have a substantial audience, and we intend to do marketing," he says. "We are going to do some high profile reporting that we hope and believe will get Global News positive attention and free media exposure. We're going to do all of the things any new enterprise needs to do."