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Fair Observer Aims to Plug Gaps in News Analysis

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Atul Singh (left) and Fabian Neuen are co-founders of Fair Observer, which provides “360 degrees” of news analysis on world events. (Som Sharma photo)
  • SAN LEANDRO, Calif., United States

    Goa-born Atul Singh, co-founder of Fair Observer (www.fairobserver.com), a Web site designed to provide “360 degrees” of news analysis and commentary, believes there are “three glaring gaps” in coverage of world news.

    In the age of “24-hour TV and Twitter,” he told India-West here, “there is too much news and too little analysis.”

    A second problem, he pointed out, is that “too many narratives do not (find) their place in the sun.”

    News coverage, Singh amplified, “is scarily homogenous,” reflecting the “dominant discourse” established by The New York Times and the Economist. “The Economist model works, but what we need is a bottom-up model,” he added.

    The third deficiency in international news coverage, Singh said, is that “even in good analysis, you do not get context…You need to get the back-story. You need to know the geography, the economics,” etc.

    “That is how we got the idea for Fair Observer — to provide a platform where the audience could find the context, get analysis from around the world — a 360 degree perspective.”

    The “we” at Fair Observer is Singh and Malta-born Fabian Neuen, a German citizen who met Singh when he was an exchange student and they collaborated in a business plan exercise in an entrepreneurial class at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

    After seeing they were of like minds and had complementary skill sets, they decided they wanted to work together on a start-up.

    The two continued to keep in touch and brainstorm ideas, even across the Atlantic Ocean after Neuen accepted a top job in Germany, becoming one of the youngest managers worldwide at Siemens AG.

    After Singh came up the idea for Fair Observer (“I come up with the ideas, he implements them,” Singh joked), Neuen resigned in the summer of 2010 to take the entrepreneurial leap.

    The company was initially based in two cities, Munich, Germany, and Washington, D.C., but has since moved its base of operations to Silicon Valley.

    There are currently five staffers and 15 interns and more than 300 contributors to the news and commentary Web site.

    Fair Observer received support from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, which provided free space and access to their network. In addition, an insurance company in Berlin provided a free office and the Cordoba Foundation donated another office in London, U.K.

    Fair Observer’s line-up of staffers, reporters, contributors and advisors is truly impressive, with the India, Europe and Middle East departments and advisors particularly outstanding.

    Advisors for India include former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh; C. Uday Bhaskar, senior fellow at the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi; and Subodh Agrawal, chairman of Euromax Capital.

    “Once we raised funding, we got the best people from around the world,” Singh said. “We have a global multilingual team — They are rare people.”

    “What we do, we do well. What we need to do better is to improve the (coverage) where we don’t have the capacity.”

    Singh confided he comes from an “entrepreneurial background.” His father’s side, he explained, is “tuned to academia” and is “swashbuckling intellectual.”

    His mother’s side, he continued, “made a lot of money” in hardware — making and selling locks and hinges. “On my mother’s side they were compulsive risk-takers,” he said.

    Singh was a Radhakrishnan scholar at Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics and economics. He studied English literature and history at Lucknow University in India.

    The Indian American entrepreneur trained as a lawyer in London and completed his MBA at Wharton, from where he graduated with a triple major in entrepreneurship, finance and strategy.

    In India, Singh founded “A Creative Effort,” a non-profit that worked for social and educational reform. He also served as an officer in Kashmir and Nagaland, where, according to his bio, he was “involved in sensitive special operations in volatile areas.”

    Singh worked as a lawyer in London at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and at White & Case, where he advised on mergers, acquisitions, capital markets. In the U.S., he worked at ClairMail, a San Francisco Bay Area startup in the mobile banking space.

    Neuen, who comes from a “family of public servants,” including his father, who served as a German ambassador, grew up in the Congo and France.

    He has traveled to 50 countries, speaks five languages and is a self-described “global citizen.” Neuen was on the dean's list for his MBA class at INSEAD and attended WHU Koblenz.

    Singh told India-West the immediate goal for Fair Observer is “to get the word out to gain greater traction” and extend the site’s “core community of high-powered people to a larger audience.”

    A second focus, he added, is to work on the technology platform to “improve the Web site and make it more engaging.”

    Thirdly, he hopes to find “the right kind of funding,” from sources who share “our idealism, civic engagement and cosmopolitan and intellectual curiosity.”

    “We have made mistakes, but no one can question our determination,” the Indian American co-founder said. “We just double down our bets and soldier on.”

    “I know it sounds arrogant, but the world needs Fair Observer more than Fair Observer needs the world.”

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