News agency to go beyond statistics to tell the third-world story

''People in the rich world must come to realize that people of the poor world are not mere statistics, but individuals and families who struggle to survive, aspire to education and useful work, and seek the blessings of life as it might be if things just got a little better.''

So says Peter Bird Martin, a former Time magazine editor and correspondent, who now lives and works here in Hanover. And to that end he is planning to launch, sometime next year, an international, nonprofit, syndicated news agency, the South-North News Service. Its mission will be to provide feature and analytical stories about developing nations to newspapers in the United States, Britain, and other industrialized nations.

Mr. Martin, who has over the years attended many international conferences on the cultural gap between the world's rich and poor nations, feels ''an awful lot of money has been spent analyzing and talking about the problem, with little being accomplished.'' He looks upon the news service as ''an eminently practical'' means for alleviating international conflict and promoting mutual understanding among the people of various lands.

Mr. Martin serves as executive director of two well-established organizations devoted to promoting international understanding: the Institute of Current World Affairs and the Universities Field Staff International Inc.

Since 1925 the Institute of Current World Affairs has provided fellowships to young scholars, journalists, and other professionals to live and study abroad. The Universities Field Staff, founded by a consortium of universities and colleges in 1951, sponsors seminars on world affairs and supports a group of American and English scholars who live in and write about the countries they are experts on.

Conceiving a news service as another way to foster international understanding came naturally to Martin because, before assuming his current post in 1978, he worked for Time and Money magazines for more than 20 years. He served as one of the founding editors of Money magazine, and from that experience knows full well the problems of launching a news organization.

News people who have heard about the South-North News Service applaud Martin's goal but remain skeptical whether American newspapers will give it strong support.

Brian Dickinson, editor of the Providence Journal's editorial page, is an enthusiastic booster of the budding news agency, but he thinks it faces ''a real challenge'' in producing stories that will appeal to American readers.

''The problem is figuring out how to make such stories relevant to newspaper readers who have less and less time to read abstract material,'' he says. ''A way will have to be found to tell what is going on in Zaire or wherever in such a way that it will be meaningful to the American reader.''

But Martin believes his news service can reach American newspaper readers by stressing the human dimension - describing the effect of wars and political events on individual lives.

Martin intends to employ two types of correspondents for his news service. World Institute fellows and Universities Field Staff scholars will provide in-depth background pieces. Native writers from some 50 countries will furnish human-interest stories.

Journalists from developing countries have historically found editors of the American press unwilling to buy their stories.

''It is not that American editors don't want to publish third-world stories, '' Martin says. ''Rather, they suspect third-world journalists as being political propagandists or regard them as poor writers.''

Martin plans to help third-world writers improve their skills by awarding three 2-year fellowships each year to the best third-world correspondents.

The recipients will spend their first year living in Hanover, taking courses at Dartmouth College and working closely with the agency's editors.

The second year the fellows will travel throughout the US, visiting and studying at other colleges and universities.

Once the fellows return to their native lands, they will be expected to work for the agency for one year and then recruit another local writer to take their place. Martin envisions that the agency's best fellows will have an impact in their countries, in politics as well as in journalism. ''I hope the best of them will become abrasive forces for some good,'' he says. ''They will become burs under the saddles of their societies.''

Martin refuses to start up the news agency until it is adequately capitalized. He has projected the first four years of operating expenses at a total cost of $711,000. He began soliciting support from private foundations last fall and to date has received $570,000 from such sources as the MacArthur Foundation and the Exxon Education Foundation.

He estimates that the agency can break even eventually if 134 newspapers become subscribers.

Once started, the South-North News Agency will transmit two stories a day to its clients.

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