VILNIUS, Lithuania — When Nathan Greenhalgh graduated from Sauk Prairie High School in 2002, he’d already decided he wanted to be a journalist. He just didn’t think it would be
“I started thinking about what I wanted to do because that’d certainly affect where I went to college, and I looked at what my favorite subjects were in school and they were always history and social studies,” Greenhalgh said. “And I looked at, too, as a kind of – I wanted to do something a bit idealistic, to kind of speak truth to power and make the world a better place. I realized I could do that with journalism.”
Six years and a strange confluence of events later, Greehalgh is the editor and founder of the Baltic Reports (www.balticreports.com), an on-line daily newspaper that covers the former-Soviet countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Greenhalgh graduated from DePaul University in 2006 with his journalism degree and began working at the Reedsburg Times Press, a newspaper owned by Capital Newpspapers, which also owns The Eagle.
“But after two years, I was ready to move on and also, the domestic journalism scene is just so tough right now,” Greenhalgh said. “I thought, why not just go abroad? So I saved up. I worked like an animal, I was working every weekend in the Moosejaw Restaurant in the (Wisconsin) Dells.”
Emily Bialkowski, Greenhalgh’s former editor at the Times Press, said she wasn’t surprised when she heard he’d started a newspaper.
“I think his time at the Times Press gave him good credentials, but he always had the ambition and the intelligence to do it,” Bialkowski said of Greenhalgh’s new enterprise.
In August 2008, Greenhalgh sold his car and left without any prospects.
“I didn’t have anything lined up, and I wasn’t planning on ending up in Lithuania,” Greenhalgh said.
He anticipated working in Italy, a country he fell in love with while studying abroad in college, but after two weeks of fighting for freelancing scraps and contending with the collapse of many English-speaking publication’s foreign bureaus, he decided to live in Lithuania where he knew some people and the cost of living was lower.
He arrived just as the worldwide economic downturn began to hit the Baltic states.
“Lithuania is one of the hardest hit countries in the world,” Greenhalgh said. “GDP declined 20 percent last quarter. It’s bad in the U.S., too, but here there’s just no comparison.”
He freelanced as a photographer and reporter for a few English-speaking magazines and the local newspaper, The Baltic Times, but those opportunities soon dried up as well.
“The English language publications here shut down, and The Baltic Times just stopped paying their staff without telling them,” Greenhalgh said.
The Baltic Times’ best staff were disgruntled, Greenhalgh said, and he realized there was a glut of seasoned reporters in the area with no work.
“I just thought, why don’t I create an on-line only news Web site and it will publish daily and I’ll have all these good writers here?” Greenhalgh said. “I know how to design Web sites and I designed it myself. I was honestly able to start the whole thing for, I think it cost me $200 maybe to set it up.”
Since launching the paper Aug. 22, Greenhalgh said he and the six reporters working for him have covered stories from the economic turmoil to a man, currently missing, who has become a folk hero because many people believed he murdered a judge.
So far, the paper isn’t profitable, but its begun to generate revenue.
“My initial plan was I thought we’d be able to get it through advertising,” Greenhalgh said but he soon realized that wasn’t possible because of the economy. “We’re going to have to switch to subscription. All these journalists are basically working for free.”
But he said his entire staff really believes in the paper, and the Web hits have been strong. Besides, while he believes Baltic Reports will be profitable, he didn’t go into journalism to make money.
“This is a part of the world where there’s just a lot of because of the economic situation there’s a lot of turmoil,” Greenhalgh said. “It’s a really difficult time here and people need to know what’s going on.”