How the internet is saving our culture

Tip O'Neill, the former Speaker of America's House of Representatives, famously said that all politics is local. But while such parochial wisdom might work for politics, it certainly doesn't make sense for new media in a digital age of the global network. One man who certainly doesn't share O'Neill's focus on the local is Philip Balboni, the CEO of GlobalPost, a very promising international news website launched earlier this month.

A veteran of the television- and print-news business who began his career in 1967 as a foreign correspondent, Balboni has always had what he calls a "great passion" for international journalism. He traces this love back to the dawn of a November day in 1965 when, as a commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Armored Division, he first saw the coastline of Vietnam from the deck of an American ship.

"There was this amazing, beautiful, exotic country. It was the first foreign country I'd ever seen," Balboni admits, when he speaks to me from his office in Boston, Massachusetts. "That moment, which I can still close my eyes and see, followed by my experience there during the war, instilled in me a love of international journalism, as well as a recognition that Americans weren't well served by the traditional media coverage of the globe, and there was a huge need to learn more about the world."

Almost 45 years after his youthful epiphany off the Vietnamese coast, Balboni has finally realised his dream. Launched on 12 January, GlobalPost is an online international news source that might represent the future of the newspaper. Rather than assembling an expensive full-time staff of foreign correspondents, Balboni and his executive editor, the former Boston Globe and National Public Radio foreign correspondent Charles Sennott, have invented an innovative new business model to acquire and publish high-quality foreign news. They've recruited 65 professional, often prize-winning journalists based in countries as diverse as Turkey, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica and, of course Vietnam who, in exchange for GlobalPost stock and a monthly stipend of $1,000, will write at least one 600-800-word magazine-style piece per week which, Balboni told me, would provide "deep and broad exposure" to the world.

Backed by $8.2m raised from individual investors, GlobalPost employs 14 full-time people in an operation that essentially mimics the foreign-news operation of a traditional newspaper at a fraction of its cost. The site, which is free to consumers, has three sources of revenue: advertising sales, syndication, and a value-added content area called "Passport", to be launched on 1 March. Unlike most new-media entrepreneurs, the experienced Balboni is ambivalent about basing his business on ad sales. "A healthy business," he says, shouldn't rely on realising "much more than half" its revenue from advertising.

GlobalPost seems to have triggered the idealistic young lieutenant again in Balboni. Unashamedly thrilled that his two week-old website has already attracted 90,000 visitors from 177 different countries, this 40-year veteran of TV and print media clearly is on a mission to educate Americans about the complexity of the world. One can but salute such grown-up seriousness in an internet age of mostly infantile dross.