By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Why Latitude News deserves your support

Maria Balinska

Americans are notoriously uninterested in international news, and Maria Balinska thinks it’s because they don’t understand how it relates to their lives. Her Cambridge-based start-up, Latitude News, is aimed at bridging that gap.

“People are put off by things that seem very far away,” she told Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch shortly after her site launched in late 2011. “Our view is that if there isn’t a local angle, we shouldn’t do it.”

Now Balinska is ready to take the next step. The former BBC correspondent and Nieman Fellow has launched a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a weekly half-hour podcast, “The Local Global Mashup Show,” hosted by journalist Dan Moulthrop. The show would build on a monthly project begun last August with PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, as reported by Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

As of this morning, she had raised $20,839. But if she doesn’t meet her $44,250 goal by Feb. 15, she has to give it back. It’s an interesting, worthwhile project, and I’m going to donate as soon as I post this.

Not long after Latitude News launched, Northeastern University journalism student Brenda Maguire produced a multimedia story about the site for my Reinventing the News class. It’s well worth having a look. Balinska told Maguire that her goal was to pursue news along three tracks:

“So many of the issues that we deal with as human beings actually are shared,” Balinska said in her interview with Maguire.

The Latitude News site is clean and attractive, and doesn’t overwhelm you with quantity. Instead, you’ll find high-quality, often off-beat stories on topics such as how parental controls developed in the United States are being used to monitor activists in repressive Arab countries; an extralegal marriage between two gay men in China and how it played out on social media; and the story of a lucky man in Britain who stumbled across whale vomit valued at nearly $70,000 while walking along the beach. Latitude News’ stories combine original reporting, commentary and aggregation.

With all but the largest news organizations closing foreign bureaus and cutting back on international coverage, Greater Boston has proved to be a hotbed of experimentation in how to make up for that shortfall. The fledgling online-only news site GlobalPost and the venerable online-mostly Christian Science Monitor cover international news seriously and in quite a bit of depth. Global Voices Online, started at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tracks and compiles citizen media around the world.

You can add Latitude News to that mix. We’ve never needed to understand the world around us more than we do today.

Correction: I originally described Latitude News as a nonprofit. In fact, it is a limited liability corporation.

Photo (cc) by Brenda Maguire and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Aaron Read

    I’ve chatted with Maria a bit here and there, and in general I would agree that Latitude News deserves support.

    I am a little disappointed to learn they are not a non-profit, though. It would seem their logical home would be the public radio network, and being a for-profit LLC is somewhat at odds to that. Also means donations are not tax-deductible (although I don’t know how/if that comes into play with Kickstarter).

    Certainly public radio could use more of an ethos of making international news relevant to local audiences. PRI’s “The World” tries mightily and is a good show, but seems to fall flat on this score more often than I’d like. And localizing to the US is not something the BBC World Service, understandably, really does.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron, I haven’t asked Maria, but maybe she’ll weigh in here. If I had to guess, it’s because the IRS has made it very difficult for news organizations to attain nonprofit status in recent years. It croaked the Chicago News Cooperative, for example.

  2. Maria is one of the most impressive Americans I have met. I think the reason that Latitude News is a socially driven for profit company is the same reason we are. They want to be sustainable so that they do not have to go to donors all the time.

    Maria is doing great work and, as the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Fair Observer, I do not have words enough to praise her. She has my full support.

  3. Thanks for the thumbs up, Aaron.
    As for our corporate status, I did consider 501(c)(3) – my previous career (BBC) is in public service broadcasting so that’s in many ways my comfort zone. But in the end went with LLC. It’s less onerous on various levels (including IRS, as Dan says). Also – didn’t have much luck with foundations when I went to talk with them at the beginning of the project. In fact, the only grant I got – from the International Women’s Media Foundation – was explicitly for for-profit enterprises. I’ve come to the view that it’s definitely worth trying to build for-profit models for quality journalism. But of course that doesn’t mean that in the future we wouldn’t be open to a non-profit set up.
    BTW, for the purposes of Kickstarter, it doesn’t matter whether your company is non-for-profit or for-profit.

  4. Latitude News provides two attributes that are hard to find: quality and perspective. I can’t think of a good reason NOT to support this distinctive news entity. jack driscoll

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