“It’s possible to be socially responsible while maintaining high journalistic standards,” muses Alex Lockwood from his temporary post in Italy. “The two aren’t incompatible.”
Lockwood is the content and networking manager for the “online media gateway” called OneWorld International. OneWorld has ten locations around the world, including a Canadian centre. OneWorld sites cover international news – both breaking and in-depth contextual stories. The sites are updated daily by OneWorld editors, who often pick up and edit stories from partner sites. Lockwood estimates that OneWorld employs about fifty or sixty trained editors and journalists around the world. It also has a series of stringers in countries including Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Fifteen hundred partners based in 90 different countries fund OneWorld. The partners are non-profit organizations that share OneWorld’s goal of promoting human rights and sustainable development. Partners contribute financially to OneWorld based on a sliding scale according to the size and income of the organization. Current partners include Greenpeace International, UNICEF and the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Because the service is supported by the partners themselves,” OneWorld Canada’s English content editor, John Hall, explains from a coin-op terminal at the Vancouver airport, “it will be sustainable as long as the partners feel it’s worth supporting.”
Peter Armstrong and Anuradha Vittachi founded OneWorld in the mid-1990s when the Internet was first becoming commonly used. Armstrong was the BBC’s director of human issues programming for over 20 years; Vittachi has worked as a writer and editor for The New Internationalist magazine, and was a producer for the award-winning BBC documentary, After Charity. They were unhappy with mainstream media’s tendency to use the same government and corporate sources over and over, while denying a “fair voice to people who cared about poverty, human rights, and sustainable development.” They saw the Internet as the first medium able to connect citizens around the world and reset the public agenda.
Naturally, the question has arisen whether a news organization with a mission can produce objective journalism. Those involved with OneWorld dismiss such concerns. “Saying we’re not objective is simple,” says OneWorld Canada’s centre manager Chad Lubelsky from his Montreal office. “I could very easily say that The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star are not objective, and I could make a very good case for that.” The Globe’s deputy editor, Sylvia Stead, counters Lubelsky’s claim. “It’s true that every writer and editor is shaped by their own beliefs and experiences, but everyone (at the Globe) also tries to remain as neutral and professional as possible.”
OneWorld board member Judy Rebick has faced similar concerns as publisher of Rabble.ca. “We had a lot of discussion about this when we (Rabble) first started,” she says. “But we had a Chinese wall between the journalistic side and the links side. No one’s ever accused us of not being fair.”
Lockwood points out that OneWorld has always employed trained journalists who know to get both sides of every story. “If you want to go to the philosophical level, nobody can be truly objective. But in terms of applying everyday standards to reporting, we are objective.” He also stresses that the editing is thorough: “Everything is checked and double-checked.”
OneWorld’s editorial guidelines emphasize transparency. It is careful to identify its news sources and clearly label opinion pieces. And it doesn’t hide its mandate. “We’re very clear that we only report on human rights issues,” Lockwood says. OneWorld has a board of trustees that guides the organization’s mission. Rebick represents Canada.
OneWorld aims to infiltrate the mainstream media through syndication. It’s distributed through Yahoo World News. “In the U.K., we try to promote OneWorld content through The Guardian by encouraging them to pick up stories,” says Lockwood. OneWorld staff recognizes the importance of the mainstream media’s ability to shape public opinion, and thus effect social change.
OneWorld Canada is run by Alternatives, a progressive Canadian organization that also sponsors Rabble.ca. Alternatives saw what OneWorld was doing and decided to get involved, and OneWorld was more than happy to oblige. “It was a mutual meeting of minds,” Lockwood says. OneWorld Canada needed an English language cohort, so Lubelsky called up Rebick and suggested Rabble join the team. Rabble is going through a financial crisis right now, and will be downsizing and merging its “In Cahoots”section with OneWorld. “There may be a little less original content for awhile, but we hope that won’t last too long,” Rebick says of Rabble’s cutbacks. Rabble will maintain its Web domain, and the sites will cross-promote each other. “The two sites have very different audiences,” says Lubelsky. “OneWorld appeals to the non-profit sector, NGOs and government agencies, while Rabble appeals more to activists.” Lubelsky and Rebick hope the merger will bring the two audiences together.
Not all OneWorld sites have sponsors like Alternatives. OneWorld International set up centres in Africa and South Asia. One of OneWorld’s goals is to bring more attention to issues facing Africans and South Asians and spotlighting voices typically ignored by the mainstream media. OneWorld International also has television and radio portals.
Bilingualism will be an important aspect of OneWorld Canada. “Not in the sense that everything is translated, but that there is content in English, and content in French,” Lubelsky emphasizes. “There’s not an overwhelming discussion between French and English progressive groups in Canada. We’re going to try to use OneWorld to stimulate discussion.” He also points out the difference in French and Anglo mainstream media. “There’s a reason French Quebeckers poll more socially conscious – French Canadian media is dramatically different. It’s a lot more progressive.”
OneWorld Canada has a staff of four part-time employees: Lubelsky, Hall, a French content editor, and a business manager. It has a variety of correspondents who contribute sporadically, and just under one hundred partners. Hall is optimistic about OneWorld Canada’s future: “As the online product grows, as the partnership pool grows, the audience should grow too. That means more value to both partners and readers, which should spur more growth, and so on.”