How GlobalAtlanta.com covers international news with a local perspective
Trevor Williams is the managing editor for Global Atlanta, an online news site that covers international news related to Atlanta. It bills itself as the only news service dedicated to covering how Atlanta connects with the global economy.
Williams, a University of Georgia graduate, has been managing editor since January 2015.
Global Atlanta, which started as a newspaper, now publishes a weekly email newsletter that tracks how local companies are engaging with the global economy and how foreign enterprises are fueling Atlanta’s rise as an international business center.
Its website includes an international calendar that is a comprehensive source for the latest academic, business and cultural events around the city. Its website also lists consulate and trade offices in Atlanta.
Williams spoke by email with Talking Biz News about Global Atlanta’s niche. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did the idea of Global Atlanta come about?
Global Atlanta publisher Phil Bolton had worked on local newspapers in Middle Georgia during the 1970s and ‘80s before joining banking and financial news outlets in Atlanta. He worked in Paris for two years, then returned to a city with ambitions that were bigger than its global standing really warranted.
Against all odds, Atlanta’s audacious effort to host the Centennial Olympic Games had paid off, and the world was in flux after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Atlanta provided the chance for the perfect long-term case study about how openness to the world could change a city for the better. There was no publication out there that combined Bolton’s desire to be rooted in a local community with his fascination with the world, so he created one. After a few issues of the printed Global Business Reporter, he moved it to a fax, which morphed in the late 1990s into the email newsletter and website that we have today.
What types of stories does the site cover?
Generally, we cover how the city connects with the world, how events and trends in the global economy affect us locally. We also look at how local people and companies are making an impact in faraway markets or navigating the complexities of cross-border business.
The quintessential Global Atlanta story has both local and international elements, preferably with the two closely interwoven. We’ve always prioritized action, constantly asking ourselves what the reader can do with this information when they click away from our website.
Our bread and butter includes stories about foreign investments in Georgia and local companies heading abroad for opportunity. We’re undoubtedly a business publication, but we widen the lens considerably, knowing that nothing exists in a vacuum. Culture helps a city form a brand and draw more investment. Education shapes the local workforce. A city’s diplomatic offices provide vital connections that smooth the way for companies. Policy changes affect day-to-day decisions. Immigration creates diversity that can be used in outreach. Our content provides both the information and the relationships that prepare readers to understand their world better and seize opportunities.
Why do you think other media in Atlanta aren’t covering these stories?
I think it mainly has to do with economic models and the short attention span of the general public. Mainstream publications have more general-interest readers, and their business models rely on accumulating as many of them as possible, so they need content with a broader appeal. In other words, stories on trade policy don’t generally sell — unless they’re related to job losses at local companies. And most people just aren’t that interested in what, say, the Indian consulate is doing in their city.
Even as we try to broaden our appeal and show the unwitting Atlantan how global engagement affects them, we nonetheless cater to a very specialized niche of business leaders for whom it’s vital to their daily life. They need these connections and information to exist in their business world.
Who are the site’s readers?
Broadly, anyone interested in Atlanta’s rise as a global city. Specifically, executives and business leaders, economic development agencies aiming to position themselves for foreign investment or help their local companies connect with the world, locally based diplomats, manufacturers and exporters, service providers like lawyers and accountants, educators.
How does the site generate revenue?
We sell annual sponsorships that incorporate online banner advertising, ad placement in email newsletters, direct emails and in-person event services (both promotion of a company’s event and consulting on the content of the event itself). We also sell these a la carte, and we create special reports/events that incorporate a variety of the above.
We recently introduced internationally oriented job postings and currently are building out our own events business, which exists as a minor revenue stream currently. All content is free and will stay that way, but we’re considering a premium membership/subscription that would generate some revenue from our readership as well.
How big is your staff and how many stories a week do you publish?
We publish about 10 stories a week. We have four full-time staff (not all editorial) and occasionally hire out freelance pieces.
How and when do you decide to travel abroad to report stories?
Sometimes we follow local delegations abroad and report on what local officials are doing, but generally we go to the places where our personal interests, local impact and our advertising partnerships align. Delta Air Lines has been a long-time sponsor, most recently backing our Latin America coverage. That led to a spate of reporting trips that we are currently parlaying into a series of events/reports on Atlanta’s ties with the Western Hemisphere. Sometimes we envision the story before choosing the destination, as was the case when I went to Mexico last year to report on its competition with the Southeast U.S. automotive and aerospace industries. But sometimes we pick a destination first, knowing that we can always find Georgia connections, even in a place like Mongolia.
As someone who studied Chinese language, I’ve carved out a niche in Asian affairs and have begun creating reports on Georgia’s investment relationships with longtime partner countries like Japan, as well as emerging partners like China and India, whose firms are really just starting to look outward, to Georgia’s benefit. These are based on first-hand travels. Phil, our publisher, travels often to Europe.
We also travel to stay fresh on what’s happening around the world and to ensure our perspectives don’t become too U.S.-centric. That’s essential to what we do. In 2012, we visited Haiti to learn about what Atlanta nonprofits were doing post-earthquake. In 2013, we went to Turkey to look at the Gezi Park protests and what that meant for the U.S.-Turkey relationship, including Turkish manufacturers who had set up operations in the Southeast U.S. In 2014, we went to Panama to understand better how the canal expansion would impact the Savannah ports and how Georgia Tech had built a relationship with the country’s elites, many of them alumni. I could go on, but this is the basic idea.
What do you see as the importance of this type of content?
A few things: Foreign bureaus have been slashed in most newspapers, and major cities like Atlanta are left without locally literate reporters interpreting events in key parts of the world. And the recent election cycle showed better than ever how big our deficit of global understanding is in the U.S., especially on issues like international trade.
By reporting locally, we eliminate a significant hurdle to people’s interest in global affairs: relevance. If it’s easy enough to point to how something affects you or your job, it makes more sense to try to and understand it. Usually it takes something negative — layoffs, a new administration railing against trade, or cross-cultural controversy — to stoke reporting about these issues.
Central to our publication is the idea that we should understand and appreciate our global connections before they become a problem, and actually consider that they might be a benefit in many cases — even worth celebrating. It would seem that the proliferation of media outlets would make it easier to make sense of the world. But in practice the 24-hour news cycle simply turns up the volume on fewer stories, making it easy to lose nuance in the chase for ratings or web traffic. We try to swim against that current.
What is your web traffic like recently, and is it growing?
I’d rather not get into specifics, but it’s stable and fluctuates based on the amount of content we produce and which pieces hit a nerve with the online audience. We track it closely, but for us it’s more about critical mass than massive growth. More vital to us is our email newsletter list, which is more than 10,500 at the moment. This is what we consider our circulation. We’re looking at ways to grow this substantially. Our biggest advantage and hurdle is the fact that our content is so focused.
The site has different “topics” and “regions” for tabs. Which ones are the most popular and why?
In terms of web traffic, the broader regions (Africa, Asia, etc) perform better than the countries, which is likely because more stories are tied to regions than particular countries, and each page links to an accompanying region from within the story. That means someone interested in Africa will likely click Africa when reading an African story.
Business and diplomacy are by far the most-read topics. Anything we do on Germany is well-read. As an overall type of content, event listings are huge for us.
But a big innovation for us is that these categories are also tied to accompanying email newsletters that we’ve built based on audience interest. For instance, we have about 1,000 people receiving our monthly newsletter summarizing our China reporting, 700 for India, and so on. Both Education and Economic Development are over 1,000 as well. Some 8,000 people get our events updates every Monday.
Using the RSS-to-email function in MailChimp, our email provider, we’ve been able to generate more than 20 newsletters per month with minimal effort. This “recycling” of existing content is essential in the online world, where readers often skim and could miss a story in the main newsletter that would interest them.
The evidence is there based on open rates and clickthroughs that these specialized lists are highly effective. The key for us is not to cannibalize the main newsletter audience as we go.