Justin Smith: The End of an Era When News Outlets Based in New York or Washington Dispatched Journalists to Foreign Countries

From a New York Times story by Michael M. Grynbaum headlined “‘The Era of the Foreign Correspondent Is Over’: Justin Smith on His Media Start-Up”:

It will be named for a word that is the same in dozens of languages. It will recruit English-speaking journalists from countries like India and Singapore to cover the news. And according to its co-founder, “The era of the foreign correspondent is over.”

These are among the ideas in store for the new media venture led by Justin Smith, the former chief executive of Bloomberg Media, and Ben Smith, the former editor of BuzzFeed and media columnist for The New York Times, according to remarks by Justin Smith during an online seminar.

The Smiths, who are not related, have been tight-lipped about plans for their new company, which has captured the fascination of the media industry because of its high-profile founders and their ambitious pledge to compete with international outlets like Reuters, The Associated Press and The New York Times.

The Smiths are seeking tens of millions of dollars in funding from prominent investors. This week, they announced the hiring of Gina Chua, a top editor at Reuters who will serve as executive editor.

On Tuesday, Justin Smith offered some new details during an hourlong Zoom interview sponsored by the Harvard Business School Club of New York.

“We’ve chosen a brand that we’re going to be unveiling in a couple of months that is the same word in 25 or 35 different languages,” Mr. Smith said. “It is very intentionally going to be able to live in Asia or Europe or the Middle East or America.”

Mr. Smith did not reveal the name that he had selected. English words that are the same or similar in many other languages include taxi, tea, coffee, chai, sugar, pajama, radio and soup.

Mr. Smith also shared his thoughts about what he called the end of an era when news outlets based in London, New York or Washington dispatched journalists to foreign countries to report on the goings-on there. He asked why foreign readers would not prefer a homegrown English-speaking native to report the news in their region.

“The idea that you send some well-educated young graduate from the Ivy League to Mumbai to tell us about what’s going on in Mumbai in 2022 is sort of insane,” Mr. Smith said.

Instead, he said, he will pursue “very educated, English-language-educated journalists all around the world,” describing an opportunity “for scaling local and regional newsrooms at a lower cost.”

He also argued that many foreign news readers were ill served.

“You maybe went to school in the U.S., you’re pretty well educated, you’re connected to your network and your family all around the world — and the quality of your local media is not amazing,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s either state-censored or, it’s just, the journalism’s not great.”

“So what do you do?” he continued. “You say, OK, well, let me let me pick up The New York Times, or let me pick up The Wall Street Journal, or let me pick up The Washington Post. And what do you get? You get exactly what you’d expect if you read something that had the word New York in it, or something that has the word Washington in it. Or you go to CNN and you get a feed from Atlanta, some regional story from the Midwest, and you’re sitting in Singapore.”

Mr. Smith said that he was reluctant to share too many plans. (“There’s not a huge advantage when you’re starting a new company to be giving away all the specifics.”) But he allowed that he hoped to launch in the United States and “at least one other major international market,” and that a live events business would be integrated. The co-founders are aiming to launch in the second half of this year.

Mr. Smith also said he was intrigued by automated translation of non-English-language news articles. “The quality of translation software for journalism is really quite amazing; it captures subtlety and nuance in a way it did not in previous years,” he said.

At one point, the moderator cited a quote from Ben Smith that the company’s potential market included 200 million educated English speakers “who no one is really treating like an audience.”

“That vague platitude,” Justin Smith joked. He added, “The end-stage vision is that we will serve many, many portions of this audience all across the world.”

Michael M. Grynbaum is a media correspondent covering the intersection of business, culture and politics.


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