It raises a lot of interesting questions, but the most intriguing aspect of GlobalPost is its paid journalism venture called Passport Custom Research. The Web site markets the service thusly: “a focused, timely, and cost-effective solution to your international business research needs. We deploy our global network of credentialed journalists to find authoritative answers to your urgent questions. The result is greater business certainty, at a speed and cost that beats the competition.”
Perhaps most daringly, GlobalPost charges private clients thousands of dollars to commission specific reports for their own reading. In one instance, the investment analysis firm Riedel Research wanted information on credit card use in China. David Riedel, a GlobalPost reader who is president of the company, said he recently signed up his firm to pay for 10 such reports next year.
That use of journalists’ energy might raise eyebrows among purists. Sennott and Balboni say they have created safeguards to protect the integrity of their reporters and their news outlets. First, they do not tell the reporters the identity of the client. Second, the pieces are intended to report, not advocate. Third, while clients have exclusive rights for several weeks, GlobalPost ultimately retains the right to publish any material it uncovers. And fourth, under the terms of the contract, it can always return the money and publish immediately if the news is hot enough.
Executives say they simply have to find new ways to pay for original reporting by driving up Web traffic and creating new streams of revenue.
“We think that kind of unbiased, fair, balanced, well-researched information has unique value,” says Sennott. “America needs more eyes on the world.”
And Sennott and his colleagues say they very much hope they have hit upon the way to pay for those eyes to stay focused on events in distant lands.
It’ll be interesting to see if this type of thing takes off. Personally, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with journalism commissioned by outside groups, as long as the safeguards described by Sennot are upheld. But it does raise some serious questions.
Does this type of thing fly in the face of the independence principle or is it possible to do commissioned journalism and still stay true to those core values?