If you’re the type of person who skips past the international section in the newspaper because it just isn’t relevant to you, maybe you should have a look at Latitude News.
The fledgling operation, which was launched in November, doesn’t look particularly different from any news site on the Web at first glance. The intriguing philosophy that underlies it, however, says a lot about how the Internet has crafted a global village.
Latitude News’ focus is mainly on international events, but it approaches them with an eye toward the U.S. audience. A piece on the recovering business climate in Poland is framed in terms of the reverse diaspora it has sparked among Poles in the U.S., who are now returning home in droves. It was one of the few outlets to report on Brazilian aerospace company Embraer’s entry into the U.S. market for what has historically been an American stronghold: corporate jets.
These kinds of stories might have run in any U.S. newspaper, but Latitude news founder Maria Balinska wants them to be a staple of a new service that takes a novel look at international events.
“There are lots of people in the U.S. for whom it’s not a stretch to go to the BBC or The Guardian,” she said in an interview. “What’s missing is a bridge between their experiences and what those outlets are reporting on.”
In other words, one of the reasons most Americans care so little about overseas news is that they see no relevance to their own lives. The mission of Latitude News is to find those threads and draw them out so that Americans can understand how international events affect them. “People are put off by things that seem very far away,” she said. “Our view is that if there isn’t a local angle, we shouldn’t do it.”
The idea for Latitude News sprang from Balinska’s multi-cultural childhood and peripatetic career as a journalist working in Europe. She had lived in five countries and attended 10 schools by the age of 18. As a journalist working on the European continent and for the BBC she became fascinated with the international stories that captured the attention of British readers. “People were very interested in individual storytelling and in comparisons,” she said. “They wanted to understand what they could learn from the French health system or what mountains of garbage in Germany meant to them.” She explains some of the research and thinking that led to Latitude News here.
Balinska returned to the U.S. on a Nieman Fellowship two years ago and took advantage of an International Women’s Media Foundation grant to get the venture off the ground. She’s been able to hire a small full-time staff and has some freelance dollars to spend. “We’re looking for people who have a global perspective but who can scratch the surface of American communities and find links and parallels,” she said.
Storytelling is a core feature of the service. In contrast to the often detached perspective readers see in international news coverage, Latitude News strives to find people whose experiences illustrate the local impact of faraway events.
For example, the staff is currently trying to reach victims of the Syrian diaspora who have fled to the U.S. to see if activists living here may later emerge as leaders back in Syria. A story on the Greek debt crisis is told from the perspective of three Greek citizens who are learning to cope with an economy in a tailspin.
Balinska won’t say how much funding the venture has raised or when it will become self-sustaining. The site is still rough around the edges (clicking on one of the featured stories on the home page today returned a 404 error) and working on a unique voice, but it’s yet another example of how journalists are stepping in to fill the vacuum left by traditional news organizations with innovative experiments.