One of my first questions when I began this blog was “What can globalpost.com provide that the international sections of The New York Times or Boston Globe can’t?” Obviously, that’s a large question, which I’ll try to answer with more span and depth as time passes. But, to start, I’ll discuss the first major change I noticed when I explored the site for the first time – I began to think globally.
At the moment, both the Times and the Globe websites are highlighting the protests in Egypt, but this wouldn’t normally be the case. The Times menu bar places the World section first, probably revealing how important the paper is for those who care about international coverage, whereas Boston.com doesn’t have a link on their ribbon to world coverage (if you scroll down, there’s a link to “Nation and World” coverage. It took some searching to find).
The first five options on the globalpost.com ribbon are four of the seven continents (North and South America are lumped together), plus the Middle East. (Australia and Antarctica are excluded. I checked, and there were several recent articles covering Australia, so they still cover the continent. Impressively, there was also a byline from Cape Royds, Antarctica). They don’t appear ordered in any logical way, Africa coming first followed by Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. A skeptic might suggest they wanted to reverse the usual pecking order by placing African news first and American news last (there is no link to U.S. coverage, although this section does cover Canada and Mexico), but this skeptic has no proof.
So, what does this mean? For all its interactivity, a site’s user is still constrained by the content on the page. I go to a site with a general idea that I enjoy it’s material, but once I’m there I have to pick among the options they provide. Most people sort of graze on online content, clicking around and seeing what’s up (there’s a reason they’re called “browsers”). Given the aimlessness of most users, it seems that accessibility would be an important factor in what they end up reading.
As I mentioned before, Boston.com doesn’t have an international section on the banner. I had to use the search function on my browser to find it, meaning that only a world news junkie would bother to find out that, say, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Ky’s opposition group, the “National League for Democracy,” had launched it’s first website in Myanmar in anticipation of the opening of the country’s first parliament in 22 years. Of course, you could check globalpost.com every day, and still miss that news, but you would be more likely to run into a similar tidbit if you browsed the site regularly.
One response to that, of course, is who cares? Why do I need to know that? Once again, I hope to explore that very question as this blog continues, but for now I’ll discuss what happened to me when I clicked a random online video they published about reactions in Rome to Silvio Berlusconi’s latest sex scandal involving alleged sex parties referred to as Bunga Bunga (here’s an explanation of the term). The video interviews several Italians about their reactions, which range from disgust to amusement. Afterwards, I felt like Italy was a complicated place full of different human beings, much like the United States, and I had a bit of insight into the types of personalities that make up the country. The piece seemed to fit a niche in between the hard-core political work of foreign bureaus in major newspapers and the lighter, usually rose-tinted and apolitical, work of travel writers.
In the end, the story made the international feel surprisingly local. Time will tell how that affects my world-view, but I’m interested to find out, and hope you’ll join me for the ride.