GlobalPost takes stock of “The Great Divide”

Boston-based GlobalPost has gone live with a major new project. “The Great Divide: Exploring Income Inequality” examines the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States and compares it with other countries.

The project contains plenty of data and interactive features to drive home its findings and to make it possible for users to learn about where they live. For instance, I discovered that income distribution in Greater Boston is about the same as it is in Ecuador.

The video above documents life in gritty Bridgeport, Conn., and how it compares with Greenwich, its wealthy counterpart 15 miles southwest on I-95. Those communities, in turn, are used to demonstrate a similar divide between rich and poor neighborhoods in Bangkok.

The project, funded by the Ford Foundation, is the product of six months of work, according to an announcement from Charles Sennott, executive editor and co-founder of GlobalPost. He writes:

Our hope is that by drawing these comparisons, we might hold a mirror up for our audience to see just how wide the gap between poor and rich has become in America. As our reporting teams have discovered, inequality comes at a great social cost and we hope this series will reveal why this issue should matter to us all.

The series is a serious, in-depth examination of one of the most important issues of our time. It also shows how a philanthropic organization like the Ford Foundation can help fund public-interest journalism at a time when for-profit news organizations are struggling.

Checking in with GlobalPost

Boston-based GlobalPost is one of my favorite new-journalism projects, and I don’t write about it as often as I should. With people of the Arab world revolting against their oppressors, it’s more important than ever. And it recently unveiled a great-looking redesign.

I could say a lot more, but for now, let me turn it over to Marjorie Arons-Barron, who’s taken an in-depth look at the project and the people behind it: New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott.

Three local projects keep an eye on Egypt

Not the first time I’ve said this, but whenever a big international story develops, you can’t go wrong checking in on three news organizations with Boston roots that specialize in foreign coverage.

The most venerable is the Christian Science Monitor, whose commitment to serious journalism extend back more than a century. Now mostly online, the Boston-based news site has correspondents on the ground in Egypt and other stations in the Middle East. Here is a telling passage by Kristen Chick, who’s been covering the protests:

Reinforced, the crowd marched onto the bridge, gathering around two troop carriers the police had been forced to leave behind, along with several of their members. A crowd surrounded the policemen angrily, but some protesters pushed them back.

“This is a peaceful protest,” they yelled. “Don’t hurt them!”

A young policeman walked past, sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of a protester.

“It’s OK, you are our brother, you are with us now,” said the protester.

Reporting from Israel, the Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick finds that the Israeli government is anxiously watching what is unfolding in Arab states all around them.

You can follow the Monitor’s coverage of Middle East protests here.

Also well worth following is GlobalPost, the international news agency started by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Charles Sennott. GlobalPost reporter Jon Jensen supplements his work with a video report (above).

In an attempt to get ahead of the story, Hugh Macleod considers whether Syria’s repressive regime could be the next to tumble. His conclusion: no, because President Bashar al-Assad has taken steps to spare his people from the grinding poverty that afflicts Egyptians.

You can follow GlobalPost’s coverage of the unfolding Middle East story here.

The most unconventional of the three is Global Voices Online, begun at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center a half-dozen years ago and dedicated to rounding up and synthesizing citizen journalism of all kinds.

Before the Twitter crackdown, Global Voices’ Ivan Sigal posted a fascinating compilation of tweets, blog posts and videos, including a harrowing scene of protesters falling off a water truck. And here is a comment from something called the Angry Arab News Service, in a piece written by Global Voices’ Amira Al Hussaini, reacting to yesterday’s speech by Egyptian President (at least as of this writing) Hosni Mubarak:

Mubarak is speaking live. He is digging a bigger hole for himself. He is insulting the protesters. HE said that he has been sympathetic to the poor all his life. Is that why billionaires surround you, you dictator?

Global Voices has put together a special section called Egypt Protests 2011.

Undercover in Yemen

There’s a fascinating story in GlobalPost today about a Vermont native named Theo Padnos, who moved to Yemen, pretended to have converted to Islam, and studied among radical Muslims for some period of time. Padnos explains:

I wanted to know about the Quran. I wanted to know about spiritual experience in Islam. I wanted to travel across the nation. I wanted to do all the things that the converts wanted to do. I just did not believe in the god and the prophet and all that stuff.

Among Padnos’ fellow students was Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly Carlos Bledsoe, who later killed a soldier and wounded another at a U.S. military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., last June.

To be sure, Padnos’ tale is an unlikely one. So I was especially impressed with the efforts GlobalPost and reporter David Case undertook to verify it.

Chile and earthquake fatigue

I hope I’m not just channeling my own dysfunction, but it seems to me that interest in the Chilean earthquake is pretty limited. There’s plenty of coverage out there. But this is not a story people are talking about, especially in comparison to the Haitian earthquake. The reasons are pretty obvious:

  • Haiti is close to the United States, and Chile is on the other side of the world. Related to that is the fact that Haitian-Americans are a large minority group. Chilean-Americans are not.
  • Media consumers are suffering from earthquake fatigue.
  • Even though the Chilean earthquake was much more powerful, it appears that the death toll and the suffering will be far less than was the case in Haiti.

With that, a few ever-so-slightly non-mainstream sources for you to look at: If you’re not accustomed to heading for the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog after something like this, well you should be. The New York Times is gathering user-submitted photos. Global Voices Online — which is holding its annual conference in Santiago, Chile, in May — has posted two blog round-ups, here and here. And Boston-based GlobalPost has uploaded a number of stories and photos from the scene and the surrounding area.

And let’s not leave out Boston’s Christian Science Monitor, a leading non-profit source of international news. A story on why Chile seemed so well-prepared, for instance, yields this gem:

Chileans are well versed in what to do during earthquakes, with drills part of every child’s schooling. “Just in case” attitudes, which might seem obsessive in other parts of the world, are the norm here. One woman says she turns off the gas valve every time she leaves the house, just in case a quake strikes when she is out.

New directions for “The NewsHour”

Every so often I punch up “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” from the Comcast On Demand menu. Fifteen minutes later, in a catatonic stupor, I fumble for the remote and choose something else. There is absolutely no need for a serious newscast to be that boring. NPR has hit on a formula that’s intelligent but also keeps things moving. So, presumably, can PBS.

So I was encouraged to read Elizabeth Jensen’s story in today’s New York Times about efforts to remake the newscast — efforts being supported, and even led, by Lehrer, the septuagenarian anchor. Among other things, the renewed program (to be renamed “The PBS NewsHour”), which debuts Dec. 7, will feature tighter integration with its online incarnation and weekly contributions from Boston-based GlobalPost.

Sounds promising.

A possible breakthrough for GlobalPost

David Carr’s report in the New York Times that Boston-based GlobalPost will partner with CBS News strikes me as a potentially significant development.

It’s unclear from Carr’s story exactly how much use CBS intends to make of GlobalPost’s journalism. But this could be just the boost that Phil Balboni, Charlie Sennott and company need to keep GlobalPost moving forward.

Particularly eye-catching were a couple of numbers. GlobalPost is reportedly attracting 400,000 unique visitors per month, which appears to impress Carr, but which strikes me as dangerously low — even if it’s as good as could be expected for a new project. (For purposes of comparison, the Boston Globe’s Web site,, attracts between 4 million and 5 million unique visitors each month.)

Even worse, only a few hundred people have signed up for premium (paid) membership.

Anyone who’s perused the site, though, knows that GlobalPost’s journalism is both engaging and substantive. With network news divisions cutting their international reporting to the bone, GlobalPost has a real opportunity.

The stories behind the Taliban story

With the election in Afghanistan just days away, GlobalPost, the Boston-based international news service, has weighed in with a first-rate multimedia presentation on the Taliban.

Reported by executive editor Charles Sennott and photographed mainly by Seamus Murphy, the package includes text, videos, a slideshow, a historical timeline, a Google map, and podcasts posted to the public radio program “The World.”

For Sennott, a former reporter for the Boston Globe, the project is something of a reprise. In 2006, Sennott was one of the principal journalists who helped put together a package on the war against terrorism, published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. His “Reporter’s Notebook” of multimedia dispatches from Afghanistan and Pakistan was something of a pioneering effort.

In the GlobalPost series, Sennott draws on his long experience in the region, interviewing sources he first met years ago. And he offers some nuance that leaves you feeling uneasy.

Take, for instance, Sally and Don Goodrich, a Vermont couple whose son, Peter, was killed in one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center. The Goodriches rebuilt their lives by founding a girls school in Afghanistan, in an area that has since been overrun by the Taliban. Not long ago they were presented evidence by U.S. military officials showing that some of their closest Afghan friends were Taliban collaborators. Sennott writes:

Sally described the scene that day, saying, “I am getting up from the table, leaning forward and I said, ‘These men gave me back my life.’ And [Army Brigadier General Michael] Ryan leaned toward me and he said, ‘And they are taking the lives of my men.'”

Powerful stuff.

“Life, Death and the Taliban” is grounded in the news but not dependent on it. As a result, it’s a resource that is likely to be as valuable three or six months from now as it is today. More than anything, it explains the human dimension behind an incredibly complex story.

Greenway @ GlobalPost

The Boston Globe today announces that longtime foreign correspondent David Greenway’s column has been cut from weekly to monthly. That prompts Bill H. to ask if there’s anywhere else he can get his Greenway fix.

The answer: Yes, indeed. Greenway is a regular contributor to GlobalPost, the Boston-based start-up that covers international news.

A local take on global coverage

Three of the most interesting experiments in online coverage of international affairs are based right here in Greater Boston.

Global Voices Online, launched several years ago at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, at Harvard Law School, is a site at which journalists cull and curate bloggers from around the world.

GlobalPost, a new project started by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott, is assembling a worldwide network of correspondents and developing a variety of free and paid models.

And of course there’s the venerable Christian Science Monitor, which recently dropped its daily print edition. (It unveiled a weekly print magazine this week, but the emphasis is on the Web site.) There’s a Globe connection with the Monitor as well: the current editor, John Yemma, is a Globe alumnus.

Even as we lament the ongoing collapse of the newspaper business as we’ve known it, there are reasons to be optimistic about the survival of journalism. I thought I would take a look at how each is covering the anti-communist protests in Moldova, which have captured some worldwide attention because of the role played by social networks, especially Twitter.

Though none of the three is as comprehensive as what my former Boston Phoenix colleague Ellen Barry has been providing for the New York Times this week, each has been covering the story in unique ways.

This Global Voices post, a round-up of blog commentary by Veronica Khokhlova, along with two previous posts to which she links, shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of citizen journalism: the bloggers are good at giving you a flavor of what’s happening, but you get little idea of why it’s happening. I imagine this would mainly be of interest to people with a deep understanding of Moldova.

Indeed, folks at Global Voices will tell you that some of their most dedicated readers tend to be journalists and academics. Khokhlova’s post is not something I would want to wade into without at least having followed some of the mainstream coverage first.

I like the photo, which I found by following one of Khokhlova’s links, not because it’s great photojournalism — it isn’t — but precisely because it’s so mundane. I think it gives a better feel for what it must be like to be in the middle of a protest than a more dramatic shot would provide. Then again, isn’t giving you a true picture what journalism is supposed to do?

I’m also struck by the observation that if Moldovan young people had used a social-networking tool other than current media darling Twitter, the protests might not have received as much attention from the West.

At GlobalPost we find a 13-photo slideshow by Robert A. Reeder that takes us from a celebratory concert staged by the communist government, through protests and violence, and finally to a shot of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who has ordered a crackdown and blamed the government of Romania.

Reeder’s pictures, along with the photo captions, give you enough of a flavor that you come away feeling as if you know something about what’s going on. But, as with the Global Voices post, this is supplementary material, not a substitute for a well-wrought news report.

Finally, the Monitor, on its Global News blog, presents a post by Fred Weir that is characteristic of Monitor journalism: it’s short but surprisingly deep, offering just enough news and lots of perspective and analysis. It carries a Moscow dateline, and lacks the up-close feel of the Times coverage. But it may be all that a curious, intelligent general reader needs to know.

Weir’s post went up on Wednesday, so the Monitor hasn’t been as timely on the Moldova story as the Times’ Barry has. But judging from Barry’s story in today’s paper, not a whole lot has gone on since then.

All in all, an impressive performance. If you start with the Monitor, then check out Global Voices and GlobalPost, you’ll come away pretty well-informed about a remote corner of Europe.

Photo taken from the blog Kosmopolito, linked from Global Voices Online, whose content is made available through a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.