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the future of global journalism

Wednesday 10 February, 2010

I attended this luncheon presentation COVERING THE GLOBE: THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISM organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  It featured Christine Spolar, a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune (all of whom have left those positions with the ‘Trib) & now a Senior Editor @ the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.  After a short presentation/talk, most of our time was spent in Q&A.  Here’s what I pulled from the conversation:

  • Foreign news is still relevant-many readers don’t know basic facts, geographies, etc.
  • The Huffington Post is effective-they were actively reading Twitter feeds during the elections in Iran
  • Tom Hundley, formerly of the Tribune, & Thomas Mucha, formerly of Crain’s Chicago Business, have landed @ Globalpost, a start-up news organization which asks writers to contribute 4 stories per month for $1000, on which most cannot survive, so they freelance.  Its alliance with CBS is a big help, although CBS then fired 100 people.  Mark Scheffler from globalpost attended & admitted they are utilizing a superstringer model.  They are still struggling to find the right business model.  Christine said all news media are start-ups today.
  • The ProPublica model with foundation support is a possibility.  Partnerships are key.
  • The Chicago Tribune had a commitment to covering the Balkans because so many immigrants moved to Chicago from there.  The Trib required 1 story every 6 days, but later gave writers only 3 days, so many details were missed.
  • Young inexperienced writers write good stories, but don’t have the experience to contribute meaningful analysis.  Opportunities to gather that experience is lacking.
  • Italy has lots of stories that need to be uncovered, even beyond what’s covered in local papers.  What was originally written as “Women not allowed as gondoliers in Venice,” turned into a story about the families which own those licenses & those for water taxis, ultimately controlling all transportation there.  The mafia was involved as well.  There was much below the surface.
  • In Latin America, journalists need to speak the local language or all they can write about is fluff.
  • American newspapers are hiring foreign journalists in-country.
  • It’s dangerous to cover war zones & really can’t be covered by stringers. What happens if they get hurt?
  • Competition among foreign journalists is a good thing.  The Chicago Tribune wanted to cover the same geographies as the New York Times so they could prove the Times wrong. It’s important to have a variety of voices.  Everyone was in South Africa when Mandela was released.  Now there are few posts with staff.  Foreign news becomes homogenized.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a good job of covering what local companies are doing internationally.
  • Rupert Murdoch is expanding his empire & could be a model for the future.

Learning about the rest of the world is vitally important to me & that local media are increasingly turning their focus to exclusively local topics ticks me off.  There is no place where I can go to find out what local companies are doing internationally anymore.  If I seek it out, I can find (“pull”) it, but I can no longer read a local paper or magazine & have that info “pushed” to me.  There is a risk in being informed only about what’s going on in your immediate neighborhood.  That’s what creates such insular & parochial points of view.  I realize there are other sources for international news & information, but the local angle on international news is missing.  The context for local firms is lacking & that’s dangerous.

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