Journalistic Hybrid Has Globe as Its Beat

World Paper's network gathers news for `host' magazines and newspapers worldwide

THE World Paper, put together by a small editorial staff in a suite of offices at Boston's World Trade Center, is neither newspaper nor magazine, but a journalistic hybrid that defies the old categories.

It doesn't claim to cover the news as defined by today's headlines or 6 o'clock broadcasts. Instead, the World Paper zeroes in monthly on two subjects that affect people, governments, and businesses across a spectrum of countries. The ``paper'' is a 16-page tabloid insert carried either intact or in biweekly sections by 24 host publications scattered across the globe. It also has a small number of direct subscribers.

The lead story for the December issue illustrates the World Paper's editorial inclinations. Its headline is ``Military Capitalism.'' The articles packaged under that banner deal with the phenomenon of officers and soldiers finding new ways to make a living as cold war tensions and military spending recede. Articles are from contributors in Latin America, Russia, China, and Africa.

World Paper editor Daniel Passent calls the topic ``typical for us - a trend or tendency not yet widely covered by the press.'' It's an idea that editors here wanted to get into print as quickly as their two-month lead time permitted. The Far Eastern Economic Review recently carried a story about the Chinese Army's move into factory, and even hotel, management, Mr. Passent notes. Their own treatment of the subject, he says, is much broader.

The other subject featured in December's issue is the global trade in agricultural products. It examines the tension between international agribusiness concerns and local farmers, and the tendency of multinational firms to move acquisition capital when they are blocked from moving commodities.

A third theme had been in the running: How television shows around the world, particularly mass-audience soap operas, are used for social engineering - to advocate new roles for women, for instance, or smaller families. That subject will probably appear in January. A global view of issues

Before taking the editor's post at the World Paper three years ago, Passent spent a quarter-century as an editor and writer for Polityka, a top Polish newsweekly, and he still contributes columns there. Crocker Snow Jr., World Paper's president and editor in chief, was a foreign correspondent and columnist for the Boston Globe before opting, in 1978, for the impractical-sounding task of helping start up a publication devoted to giving readers a global perspective on issues.

``It was a staggeringly bold thing to do,'' Mr. Snow reminisces, ``a silly thing, some would say.'' At first, he says, ``We saw ourselves as the Parade magazine of the world,'' going into large metropolitan dailies everywhere.

That didn't work for two reasons, Snow says. First, the World Paper relies on host publications to print the insert, and the cost of doing so for big metropolitan dailies was relatively steep. Second, says Snow, ``The level of discourse in our paper was above what the average reader of mass-circulation papers could absorb.''

The strategy shifted toward smaller-circulation journals with ``high-profile'' readerships in what Snow calls ``international gateway cities,'' usually national capitals. The host publications, magazines as well as newspapers, now span four continents, with heavy concentrations in Asia and Latin America. They often have a business orientation.

``We deliver a ready, high-quality editorial product for no fee - except for the cost of printing it,'' says Passent. This makes the World Paper an attractive prospect for editors in places like Eastern Europe. They are starved for international coverage but lack the resources to do their own coverage. ``It's a considerable savings for them,'' he says. The World Paper currently has three outlets in Eastern Europe: Moscow; Poznani, Poland; and Sofia, Bulgaria.

One stream of World Paper copy comes from 18 ``associate editors,'' journalists like Silviu Brucan in Romania, Ozama El-Sherif in Jordan, and Hodding Carter in the United States. Passent also draws on a list of more than 100 past contributors from every corner of the globe. Conferences boost income

Income is also important: Investments from private shareholders are one source of funds. Snow says the original four shareholders, all Americans, have grown to 78, many of them from overseas.

Advertising sales also generate income (a full-page ad in the World Paper goes for a little over $36,000). But advertising is ``a hard sell,'' says Eliza Brown, the company's account executive. Ad buyers want audited circulation figures, she explains, and many World Paper host newspapers and magazines don't have those figures.

The question of how to make money with the World Paper has been a difficult one, Snow says. In the last few years, however, it has been answered by a stronger emphasis on the World Paper's associated business entity, World Times, which since 1987 has organized conferences and dinners sponsored by corporations with an interest in the themes explored at the gatherings. Thanks largely to the conferences, the company turned a profit for the first time last year.

The conferences, called ``international inquiries,'' sprang from the recognition that ``our biggest asset is our network - our friends and associates,'' says Hannah Grove, marketing manager for World Times. The World Times staff, led by Snow, assembles groups of writers, intellectuals, and experts. Such a group gathered recently in Boston for a conference on ``Global Matriculation,'' the process of preparing people to take part in the evolving international economy. The corporate sponsors, Hitachi Foundation and Xerox, each put up $25,000.

Corporate clients of World Times are also offered a two-year ``World Marketing'' contract, which gives them advertising in the World Paper and a range of other services, including co-sponsorship of four international inquiries. This costs $350,000. Delta Airlines and AT&T are among those who have signed up. (Part of the fee can be in barter, such as airline tickets.)

The courting of big corporate sponsors inevitably raises questions about business-side encroachment on editorial decisions. Snow says that World Paper's editorial independence is rigorously maintained. Passent says he has never met with any of the corporate clients of World Times. The editor admits, however, that the business world accounts for much of World Paper's readership, as well as its revenue. Hence, subjects of interest to international business people are going to be of interest to World Paper as well.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.