As New Passport Membership Experience Debuts, Last Minute Jitters About Charging for Access

April 24, 2017

GLOBAL PRESS HQ — In the weeks leading up to the launch of Global Press Passport, our first-ever membership program that offers behind-the-scenes access into our journalism in the least-covered parts of the world, I wrote a first draft of this blog post. In it, I reflected on the word “transparency” and the importance of giving readers “insider access” in today’s news climate.

It was a straightforward piece, and I thought I was ready to move forward with it.

Then, something happened.

We launched Global Press Passport. And suddenly, a majority of what I had written about in my blog, while still relevant, was overshadowed by something else — doubt.

It’s now been a few weeks since Global Press Passport went live. Passport is designed for a U.S.-based audience, in an effort to increase global awareness. Members receive a monthly newsletter with a feature podcast, exclusive blogs and videos and all-new sections, including a series of travel stories, One Hour In, and a food section, Global Press Eats. Members also receive invitations to attend virtual events hosted by our reporters around the world and free and discounted tickets to in-person events in our hub cities.

Passport has another new and defining feature: It’s not free. Members pay $5 per month for exclusive access to the membership experience.

Targeting a single geographic audience is a direct departure for Global Press. For the last 11 years, one of the most unusual aspects of Global Press Journal stories is that they receive a wide following both in the local communities where our reporters are based and among global readers.

As an editor of Passport stories and the host of the new podcast, I of course understood that we would be charging for Passport content, and that it was designed for a targeted audience. I’m a passionate advocate of Global Press’s multi-stream business model and our drive to become a sustainable social enterprise.

But something happened just hours after our web team pushed Passport live.

One of our reporters in Nepal asked me how the sources in her Passport story, a Global Press Eats article about the renewed popularity of a traditional dish, could read the story if they didn’t purchase a membership. I had expected this question to come up, but, in the moment, I didn’t have a solid answer.

That’s when I was overcome by doubt. How would charging for our content affect the global reach of our stories? Would it alienate audiences? When I send Passport stories to my friends and family to read them, how will they feel about paying for access?

I immediately started a conversation with two colleagues who were part of the Passport launch team, Global Press Founder Cristi Hegranes and Development Associate Megan Villanueva. Together, we revisited the mission and goals of Passport. I took a deep breath as I was reminded that our goal, with every piece of content we produce, is to increase access to high-quality information. Then we addressed better messaging strategies to explain Passport to reporters and our local audiences. We also discussed the timeline to implement our earlier ideas about how global readers might eventually buy a subscription for a local reader or how to host Passport separately on country-specific URLs, to provide free local-language access.

My doubts subsided. The whole experience made me understand that part of launching programs, pushing boundaries and creating one-of-a-kind stories is a willingness to constantly reevaluate our work to make sure it aligns with our mission. At the moment, one of our main goals with Passport is to deliver the extraordinary stories written by Global Press reporters to our Western audiences. Why? Because it’s a crucial point in time to develop a more informed, global citizenry.

At Global Press, one of our core values is radical transparency. A journalism organization has a responsibility to be transparent with readers on all issues, large and small. We know that some readers might not agree with the idea of charging for a Passport membership, especially after 11 years of offering free access to our stories on a platform without solicitations. (Global Press Journal intentionally has no ads and donate buttons.) We also know, from the dozens of people who have already signed up, that there is a big appetite for Passport.

I hope members will be inspired to take an active role in the Passport experience. We will offer you the opportunity to ask questions of our reporters and editors, and we want you to get complete answers. We want you to try the recipes on Global Press Eats and to learn about the destinations featured in One Hour In. Most of all, we want our global readers to find new ways to know our world.

Contact us at passport@globalpressjournal.com and tell us something you like about your Passport membership, and something you want to see more of. Or just ask us a question. We’re listening.