A former B2B publisher CEO is trying to plug the widening gap in newspapers’ overseas news reportage, with a new site powered by South-East Asian bloggers.
James Craven stepped down after five years at the helm of Bristol-based GDS International, a publisher of agriculture, healthcare and other magazines, 12 weeks ago to form Hybrid News, whose first publication, AsianCorrespondent.com, a kind of HuffPo or OhMyNews for the continent, is already garnering attention in the region.
Craven’s “hybrid” idea mixes syndicated AP news with commentary from 35 of the region’s most interesting bloggers, from 13 countries.
“We’ve been scouring the blogosphere for a dozen weeks, since I left GDS, looking for the right contributors, figuring out what kind of traffic they have,” Craven said. “If it’s a fit, we make them a commercial offer, paying them a set monthly fee.”
Writers include Manila-based Paul Farol and Tonyo Cruz, all of whom have been asked to give up their old sites for the AsianCorrespondent.com cause. But writers retain shared rights over their works. “They’re allowed to sell it and use it wherever they like as long as they credit AsianCorrespondent.com,” Craven added.
It sounds like a cross between OhMyNews, a humble blog network and Huffington Post. But Craven’s logic is clear, bemoaning newspapers’ cuts to their overseas bureaus in the current malaise. “The victim is quality investigative journalism and foreign correspondents,” he said.
“I’m interested in covering stories outside of the US – particularly the lack of exposure to stories like the Manila floods or the consistent tsunamis that have been lapping the shores of Asia, killing people. We’ve got a dozen bloggers who have had high waters outside their front door and organise blog-based Red Cross – that’s a really important story that hasn’t been told; it doesn’t sell as many papers as Britney Spears.”
And, while Craven is “dazzled” by how HuffPo has built an audience the size of the NYT’s in a fraction of the time, he also complains “it lives and breathes on venture capital, they’re reliant on the chivalry of their bloggers”. Of course, whilst HuffPo depends on some bloggers who write just for the visibility, it, too has a paid editorial staff. AsianCorrespondent.com’s remuneration levels aren’t clear (though contributors are considered freelancers) and its initial design won’t win any design awards – but then, neither will HuffPo’s.
It’s just three days old, but Craven is ambitious and claims to have clocked up 30,000 unique users since Monday. He says an AfricanCorrespondent.com or MiddleEastCorrespondent.com could be launched if the debut site proves successful. Such expansion could suggest a network of syndicated foreign correspondence that could fill newspapers’ editorial gaps – a Breakingviews-type wire for overseas opinion. But Craven says creating destination sites, platforms for advertising, takes precedence over syndication.
“We are going to Fortune 1,000 companies and a couple of the leading ad agencies. and approaching them on rich media display,” he says. “There’s a huge number of US organisations that are trying to target different pockets of Asia but are finding it difficult.”
Already, he says, he’s opened a New York sales office with a staff of six, with a London office to follow, co-ordinated from Bristol.