Building a New News Organization for the World
by Ron Pruett
I like to feature innovative people, concepts and companies that are using Drupal. I’m particularly fascinated by industries in a significant state of flux that are being changed and challenged by unique models and individuals. The news industry, and media in general, is an example of one of these broad vertical sectors. There are smart disruptors wisely coupling technology and capital to create the next generation of news and information leaders. One example of such an organization is the Global Post, which is based on the Boston waterfront. www.globalpost.com
As stated by the company, “The GlobalPost Mission is to provide original international reporting rooted in integrity, accuracy, independence and powerful storytelling that informs, entertains and fills the void created by diminished foreign coverage by American media.”
Philip Balboni, the President, CEO and Co-Founder of the Global Post, is a well-respected pioneer in the national media scene. Recently, I met with Phil and Rick Byrne, the Director of Communications and Marketing, to learn more about their mission and how technology is helping them achieve it. Below are their collective responses.
Could you tell us about the history of the GlobalPost?
GlobalPost is an international news organization that delivers original reporting from credentialed journalists around the globe. We offer in-depth reporting, breaking news, and perspective on the changing global picture that affects us all by combining traditional journalistic values and the power of new media at a destination web site that readers find fascinating and entertaining. We are a for-profit enterprise that launched in January 2009 and, as most media outlets have reduced their coverage of international news, our mission is to bring high-quality reporting about the important issues facing the globe to an American audience. We have been fortunate in these early years to have been awarded some of the most prestigious awards in journalism including the Peabody Award and the Edward R. Murrow award.
That’s impressive. Who is your main audience?
Our target audience is news consumers. Our demographics show that we have been lucky to attract a highly educated, affluent audience who are influencers.
How’s the competitive landscape today?
As a news organization that reports on issues that are relevant to a national audience, we have some highly regarded and successful entities in our competitive space, including The New York Times, The Economist, and The Atlantic. However, GlobalPost does something so specialized by focusing on international news, we have a fair amount of the playing field to ourselves on the journalism side. When it comes to our competition for digital advertising dollars, we are in the mix with large and small news sites, aggregators, portals, etc., but we have a particularly good story to tell. With so much high-quality, original content and an attractive audience, GlobalPost is uniquely positioned against the competition.
What various types of site and mobile or other technology do you use and why?
Flexibility of content delivery is so important to our success. In order to be able to iterate quickly and present various content types – written, video, multi-media – we rely on a CMS that is built using Drupal. The modular nature of the system along with the ability to tweak not only our UI, but to make it easy for our editors and producers to publish content is key to our success. On the mobile side, we have just created really elegant iPhone and iPad apps and have a mobile site that is very conducive to content discovery.
Do you consider your use of technology to be a competitive necessity today?
In this extraordinarily fast changing environment, good technology is a key to success. Site speed, social sharing, content presentation, and our ability to iterate succeed or fail based on the quality of the technology that powers those functions.
Who internally makes your technology choices?
We have a small management team so the big decisions are often made by the group, since each area has priorities and tech needs. We are most often led by our technology director and rely on him to keep us informed and recommend relevant technologies that are being employed at the leading edge of our industry.
Do you have examples of how readers use technology/your site?
If you do almost anything on GlobalPost, then you are engaging with technology. Whether it’s sharing, commenting, logging-in, becoming a member, watching a video, or interacting with a rich-media advertisement, our visitors are touching multiple platforms, provided by multiple entities which are working together to create a seamless experience. It’s a complicated symphony that is creating a unique experience customized to each user.
Are there any players in your arena/sector that you admire or benchmark as smart users of technology?
We are often amazed by The Huffington Post – a site we’ve partnered with from our launch – and the speed at which it iterates. They make it look effortless, but anyone working in this business knows it is a really high-wire act to stay ahead of the curve.
How did you start using Drupal and why did you select Drupal?
GlobalPost was built on Drupal from the start. We like its flexibility and extensibility and we knew that it could handle the traffic load as we grew. We also liked the strong and passionate Drupal user community in Boston and have worked with its members to complete several projects. We have done very diverse and complex projects using Drupal and have probably pushed the limits of what a CMS is intended for, but with that said, I cannot imagine using any other platform.
How do you see your site/offerings evolving over the near and medium terms?
Predicting what will happen in this business is a little like forecasting the weather, but in the short term we are working hard to make our site as socially optimized as possible and we will be experimenting with new advertising technologies both on our site and our mobile platforms. In the long term, we’re staying focused on creating the highest quality journalism possible and exploring the best ways to monetize our audience.
Is there any advice you could offer our readers who may be facing similar issues with their businesses?
We would be happy to share best practices and lessons learned with anyone in the digital journalism world who would like to be in touch with us. We believe deeply in collaboration and in sharing as much helpful information as we can. More generally, our advice would be to narrow your focus to just what you can do best, to make constant innovation a mantra, to constantly strive to improve your distinctiveness in whatever market you compete in, and to do whatever you can to ensure that you have enough capital to invest in the R&D and the technology essential to your business.
Thank you Phil and Rick for spending time with me and sharing your story. I encourage you all to check out the Drupal-driven GlobalPost. www.globalpost.com