Global Press Visionary, Cristi Hegranes, on the Need for Consequence Driven Reporting

About This Episode

In this episode, Global Press Founder, Cristi Hegranes, shines a powerful light on solutions to institutional, ingrained problems that underly today’s news media. She outlines key differences between action driven reporting and its more informative, impactful alternative: consequence driven reporting. Learn why trained local journalists, equipped to provide precise narratives that accurately inform listeners, represent a pathway to truly educating people in a non biased way, about important global issues.

About Cristi Hegranes

Cristi Hegranes is the CEO of Global Press and the Publisher of Global Press Journal. Cristi founded Global Press in 2006 to create a new form of ethical, accurate global news. Cristi now leads the business side of the organization, which is committed to keeping editorial processes 100 percent independent. Cristi is an expert in local journalist security. She created the industry-leading Global Press Duty of Care program to provide for the physical, emotional, digital and legal security of its journalists. She is also the lead author of the Global Press Style Guide, which exists to promote greater precision and dignity in international journalism. Cristi is the recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists Journalism Innovation Prize, the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism and numerous other journalism and social entrepreneurship accolades. Cristi lives in Washington D.C. with her son Henry and their mischievous English Bulldog, Louise.

Transcript

Vanessa:

Hello, I’m Vanessa Wakeman, your host of the Social Change Diaries and thank you for tuning in for season five where we’re discussing the next normal. My guest today is Cristi Hegranes. Cristi is the CEO of Global Press and the publisher of Global Press Journal.

Vanessa:

She founded Global Press in 2006 to create a new form of ethical, accurate global news. When Cristi and I first spoke, I believe it was toward the end of February, early March, right when the pandemic was beginning and we weren’t quite sure what it was going to be, and so a lot of our conversation is focused more generally around journalism and how Cristi is able to go into communities and really find the stories and her secret sauce for doing that, answered what’s missing in some of our mainstream media outlets and some of her thoughts about what needs to change and just really sort of thoughtful insights about the media landscape overall.

Vanessa:

We held onto that interview and then Cristi and I spoke a couple of weeks ago to add a couple of questions relative to the pandemic and what’s going on in the country right now and just see if there were any places where there was any additional information that she could share based on what she’s seeing and what she thinks needs to change, and so you’re hearing one person at two different points of 2020. I hope you enjoy this conversation.

Vanessa:

Hi Cristi. It is wonderful to have you here with us on the Social Change Diaries. Welcome.

Cristi:

Thank you so much for having me.

Vanessa:

Cristi, tell me a little bit about yourself. I love it when people are able to share directly with our listeners who they are and what they’re working on.

Cristi:

Sure. My name is Cristi Hegranes. I am the CEO and founder of Global Press. Global Press is a revolutionary international journalism organization that trains and employs local female journalists in the world’s least covered places to produce dignified and precise coverage of their community. Global Press is a multi division social enterprise that consists of three different divisions. First is Global Press Institute. This is our training arm.

Cristi:

Global Press Institute goes to parts of the world and intentionally looks for local women to take part in our rigorous 16 week training program. At the end of that 16 weeks, we employ 100% of our training graduates who go on to work for Global Press Journal, our award winning multilingual news publication.

Cristi:

Finally, we have Global Press News Services, which produces mission aligned products and services for values and lives news organizations and businesses who are also interested in dignified and precise communication. Global Press has been around for 14 years. We’ve trained and employed more than 250 female journalists from Mexico to Mongolia and we are just getting started.

Vanessa:

I love that. I have my own thoughts about this, but tell me why you are focusing on women journalists only?

Cristi:

Yeah. It’s a common question and to be honest, the diversity model at Global Press has often been criticized. Our reporters are 100% female and 99% people of color. Oftentimes we get the critique of oh, well, how is that better than newsrooms that are mostly white or mostly male. Unfortunately across the journalism space, we’ve been stuck in these circular and unproductive conversations about newsroom diversity for decades now and I really believe those conversations are unproductive because journalism approaches diversity just incorrectly.

Cristi:

We know that diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t work, but what we have to understand is how and why diversity matters for journalists even more keenly than it does for other professions. It’s because diversity means access. Why is it a problem that the New York Times, ProPublica, NPR and so many other major newsrooms remain 70% white. People who work there are sent out into the communities where they don’t have access. They go out to get stories from places they don’t understand, from people who don’t trust them.

Cristi:

When Global Press launches a news bureau in a new country, we’re intentionally recruiting local journalists, people who have faced significant barriers to entry into the craft of journalism. Generally those barriers to entry are for reasons that include gender, race, age, tribe, caste, socioeconomic status, educational background, religion, so many more. We’re intentionally recruiting those people to put them through our intensive training program and then hire them to work for Global Press Journal where their job becomes to produce long-term comprehensive coverage of their communities.

Cristi:

English is not a requirement for Global Press so our reporters are producing news in local language and in English, and they’re really uniquely leveraging the principle practice of journalism plus their unique access to the communities to bring us those really, really diverse narratives about their communities and women are uniquely suited to do that, particularly because they are traditionally not part of media systems in the countries where we work.

Vanessa:

Yeah. Cristi thinking about what you just said, I know Global Press works internationally, but are there any examples of the Global Press model in the U.S. that you see or places where you feel like it could be beneficial? A lot of our client base and a lot of our listeners are based in the U.S. and many of them are working on very urgent social issues and they are sometimes frustrated by the lack of coverage and as you mentioned, representation or fair representation of these issues.

Vanessa:

Just wondering, do you see any of the Global Press model in the U.S. or any place where sort of like a similar framework is working or where it may be most needed? I would love to have your thoughts on that.

Cristi:

I don’t see any real direct comparisons, but what we do know is that a U.S. based audience is very ready for this model. I can tell you 14 years ago so many people thought this as the premise for Global Press was insane. The idea that local women in places like Democratic Republic of the Congo and rural Mexico and Sri Lanka were equipped to be world class journalists and the storytellers of record for their communities was fast dismissed.

Cristi:

Unfortunately, people went to this very like 1980s national geographic definition of what women in these places was all about it. It was like, oh, no, no, no, no, no. Like we could never trust them. We absolutely need this 60-year-old white man to fly in and tell us about that place because a local woman would never be credible or capable, but today we’re really seeing that that’s changing. Thanks in part to some of the movement we’ve seen in Hollywood and other spaces where this notion of people having the agency to tell their own stories and really this idea that who the storyteller is matters is growing and that’s what diversity is all about.

Cristi:

I think one of the most exciting things happening at Global Press right now is that leaders in the United States are our fastest growing audience by a factor of three. Historically in our 14 years, our primary audience has been in our coverage countries but in the last three years, we have seen American readers really standing up to say, hey, you know what? I want a more comprehensive view of the world. I don’t just want the action driven 24 hour news cycle that tells me all of the things to be afraid of in all of the places in the world that are dangerous and the people that are bad. I want to understand the context. I want the social, historical, cultural, political context that only a local journalist can bring me.

Cristi:

I think that model is extremely capable of working in the U.S. Right? We essentially see the same thing during presidential elections, where reporters from New York, Washington, D.C. They travel to the middle of the country as though they are traveling to the middle of the Congo. I really think that we are in a moment where readers are demanding higher quality, more context and better access to stories and knowing the consequence of stories. At Global Press we focus on consequence driven stories rather than just action driven stories. [inaudible 00:09:01] that’s a big part of why our U.S. based leadership is growing so quickly now.

Vanessa:

Cristi, can you elaborate on consequence journalism?

Cristi:

Yes. I mean, the 24 hour news cycle puts us in a place where it’s action driven all the time. Right? A thing happened, a thing happened, a thing happened, and then another thing happened and then two minutes later a thing happens and as consumers, we never fully have the opportunity to say a week later, a month later, “Hey, remember that thing that happened?” So what? At Global Press, we intentionally stay out of the 24 hour news cycle, we are not a breaking news organization.

Cristi:

Our reporters are specifically trained to provide consequence driven coverage, where we will say, “Hey, remember that thing that’s happened.” Let’s talk about why it happened, how it happened, what’s going to make it happen again, or prevent it from happening again, or what was the consequence on this specific population of people to really help readers better understand the world and their places in it, which is what we believe is truly what journalism is all about.

Cristi:

There is layer one journalism, which is what’s the weather going to be like today and like, what are the top five headlines, but really for journalism to serve as purpose in society, we have to get beyond that solely action driven narrative to really take the time to deeply and accurately investigate consequences.

Vanessa:

I love that idea. The thing that came up to me as you were speaking was this challenge we’re having right now in the media around fake news, like the idea of consequence driven media to me feels like a direct solution to some of that, because people want… One, we as the consumer have more time to think about it and sort of sift and analyze like, “Hmm, that story sort of doesn’t make sense.”

Vanessa:

It may be not be able to sort of refer to other reference points as opposed to, as you said, the action driven is like… it’s all news all the time, and so just wondering the level of accuracy that you find in your model, I’m guessing is much higher than what we are being challenged with today in our U.S. based news cycle. Would that be a correct assessment?

Cristi:

Yeah, absolutely. For two reasons. One is because we make the very clear determination at Global Press that the clock is not our boss, right? We’re not competing with a bunch of other news organizations to get the story out by 5:02, because if it’s 5:03, then we’re not going to be first, and that’s a lot of where inaccuracy come from. The political polarization media today is also where a lot of the inaccuracy has come from. I think that one of the things that makes us very unique is over the last 14 years Global Press has succeeded in developing a reputation as a politically neutral news organization while operating in some of the most politically polarized places on earth.

Cristi:

I often say that I’m the luckiest publisher in the business right now because the circuits of U.S. politics actually rarely features prominently in our coverage. We get a little bit of a pass there. We certainly have our fair share of crazy politics and politicians in our coverage countries, but the thing that I think is really key to understand is media literacy is at an all time low, particularly with American readers right now, right? And because of that the public isn’t holding journalism institutions to high standards, right?

Cristi:

Too often readers are just content with stories that simply reinforce their preexisting worldviews regardless of accuracy, right? This information makes me comfortable because I believe that already, therefore I’m not going to interrogate it for accuracy or for precision, and that’s a problem because that type of journalism is lucrative. People are more likely to be loyal to news outlets that do reflect their preexisting values. I think it’s critical that journalists really work to reclaim their role in society as precise apolitical ambassadors of facts, right?

Cristi:

All these conversations we have about truth in journalism I think are actually quite dangerous. Journalists are not responsible for defining the truth. They’re responsible for providing information that is so precise, so evidence filled, so fact checked, so accurate that that information helps people better understand the world and their places in it so that citizens are better capable of really defining their own truth for how they want to live their lives and the choices they want to make.

Vanessa:

A lot of things that I’ve read about journalism and putting my PR hat on and thinking about it. We talk a lot about the arc of the story and storytelling. Based on what you just said, like where does storytelling sit in that. Do you feel like journalists have a responsibility for storytelling to paint the picture, or if they are sort of facts based or focusing on the accuracy of it.

Vanessa:

Like how do they keep readers engaged in a way while also upholding the sort of journalistic integrity that you spoke about? Like is there a place for the storytelling, the thing that sort of draw someone in and so thinking about this idea of if we’re challenging people to not only read from the outlets that they trust or sort of have the same opinions or similar opinions, but wanting to expand. Where does storytelling fit into that?

Cristi:

It has to be front and center and not at all considered to be mutually exclusive with accuracy. One of the questions I get asked all the time is, Global Press intentionally opens new bureaus in places that global readers by definition don’t pay a lot of attention to. Right? How do I grab your attention today. When we’re recording this America is in coronavirus fever, in the middle of a contentious Democratic primary election. How do I grab your attention with a story about Mongolia today, a place that you probably think you don’t care about or worse, a place like Democratic Republic of Congo, a place that has been so labeled with a singular narrative that you already think you know what the story is going to be about. It’s probably going to be about like more corruption or something like that.

Cristi:

Storytelling is essential. At Global Press our reporters are experts in getting the narrative of local people and then weaving them into the day’s news cycle in a way that makes them relevant, accurate, dignified, and precise so that people can really say, oh it’s really interesting. I learned something today about how people in Haiti are solving a problem, but actually my community struggles with a similar problem as well, so that journalism becomes a tool for global understanding, connectedness, solution sharing, and we can’t do that if we’re just using data visualizations and short 500 word stories. We have to really read in a narrative and one of the things we specialize in here is really helping people understand how the world is so connected.

Cristi:

So many of the global narratives that we get today are… they’re about fear and division. At Global Press stories really focus on connectedness and the ways in which circumstances in the world may be slightly contextually different, but ultimately the roots are the same.

Vanessa:

I want to shift gears a little bit now to talk about nonprofits and social change and mission driven organizations. How do they get their voices heard? How do they sort of put front and center some of the social issues that they are working on in a crowded news cycle and when there’s so much going on. How do they get to tell their stories? And I know that because you take this local approach, I feel like you would be the perfect person to give advice on this.

Cristi:

Well, the world in 2020 is tough, right? We’re in a noisy world. We’re in a weird election season. We’ve got a weird global pandemic happening. It is even noisier than usual. I think for nonprofits, that’s a challenge for a couple of reasons, because there’s always like a path of least resistance version and then there’s like playing the long game version of how to sort of solve this problem.

Cristi:

I think one of the keys is not to compromise your values or change the way you communicate as the world around you gets noisier. If anything, I think this is a moment for nonprofit news organizations, any type of nonprofit organization to really embrace the challenging moment as an opportunity to speak more clearly to better articulate your vision, even if that means that you’re speaking to a smaller audience so that we’re not just raising the decibel level. We’re actually providing value to the conversation because that is what people will pivot towards, right? Even if we’re in a moment where people are just like obsessed with refreshing headlines because they want to know how many cases of coronavirus have happened in their city. People will pivot to a point where they want to understand it better, and they want to find values align organizations and communicators.

Cristi:

It’s tough for other reasons too for nonprofits right now. U.S. elections, global crises. They really also monopolize donor money and attention, which will certainly create hardships for nonprofits this year, particularly internationally focused organization. We saw this in 2016 and 2017 that in many ways it seemed like when Trump said America first, the philanthropic community really listened and they pulled a lot of funds from international portfolios in favor of U.S. centered work.

Cristi:

Nonprofits, particularly internationally focused nonprofits have a big challenge ahead of them for the next year or so, particularly with the market challenges and other things that will undoubtedly affect philanthropic giving towards the end of this year. I think really doubling down on who you are, what value you bring to your audience and then really targeting specific audiences is absolutely the key for how to get messages through at a time like this.

Vanessa:

What about brand journalism? I know that one of the things we’ve been talking to our clients about, not all of them but some, about this idea of them telling their own story. In a crowded news cycle where there may not be top of mind, their particular issue, how can… we’ve been saying, how can you talk directly to your audience? How do you sort of tell the stories that you want to tell, how do you use the tools that are available, like your website or social media, and to sort of create a constant stream of information to educate people and help them to build that awareness and ideally take some kind of action.

Vanessa:

What are your thoughts about this idea of brand journalism for nonprofit organizations or social impact organizations?

Cristi:

Yeah. I think it’s certainly different for nonprofit news organization versus another type of nonprofit organization. For a nonprofit news organization it can be a little bit of a slippery or a dangerous proposition to slip into brand, obviously like readers need to understand your value proposition, but too often, I think when reporters… when news organizations go that direction, they fall quickly into the trap of making a quick buck or getting a bunch of empty clicks or other vanity metrics. I think that I would parse out my answer to say that for nonprofit journalism organization, the answer really, I think lies in partnerships.

Cristi:

I bet there’s a big chunk of your listeners right now who are like Global Press Journal, never heard of it and you know what? In a weird way, I’m okay with that, because I guarantee you that those same listeners have read Global Press Journal stories. They have seen our award winning photos and they’ve benefited from our dignified and precise journalism. We have thousands of partners around the world. We syndicate our stories to literally thousands of different news organizations, educational institutions, et cetera.

Cristi:

At a certain point, I think that we are willing to often compromise brand awareness with the social value that our product provides, but that’s not an answer that is certainly going to work for everyone but I do think that partnerships in general are a great way for particularly smaller organizations to help build brands. Right? One of our first major syndication partnerships outside of the news business was with McGraw-Hill, the curriculum institutions that now uses Global Press Journal news stories and a million plus classrooms across the United States.

Cristi:

That is a great way to essentially leverage who we are and the fact that we really believe in values driven journalism, media literacy, starting from a young age and now there’s a bunch of third graders probably reading Global Press Journal stories this morning. Figuring out how to leverage partnerships, figuring out what kind of businesses have audiences similar to yours that if you guys are leveraging product or content between you, that you’re creating mutually rewarding opportunities. I think that’s a great way to build brand in such a noisy moment.

Vanessa:

Gosh, I have so many questions. I want to get your thoughts about just the role and responsibility of journalists as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion in storytelling. Last fall I led a workshop, a PR workshop about the importance of public relations professionals taking accountability for the stories that they bring to the media. Like we should not sort of be just focused on the white male perspective, but how do we create diversity in the people that we are bringing forward for interview subjects or issues that we’re highlighting and making sure that there is sort of some equity around that.

Vanessa:

What do you think is the responsibility of the journalist, if we’re that… diversity, equity, and inclusion lens around the stories that they tell?

Cristi:

Yeah. It’s such an important question because creating balanced high quality narrative isn’t the minefield that it’s made up to be. The quickest way to get there is to pass the pen. I started Global Press 14 years ago when I was 25 years old. Up until that point, all I wanted to be my whole life was a foreign correspondent. I wanted to travel the world and tell its story.

Cristi:

When I finally got that chance as a very young reporter in Nepal during the Civil War, I quickly realized that I was the wrong person to be telling those stories. Not because I didn’t know how, not because I wasn’t good at it, because as an outsider my version of the story wasn’t necessarily false, there was no way for it to ever be completely true. I think that as long as we are sort of obsessed with this notion of credibility as like traditional credentialing. Oh, Nick Kristof should be the one to tell the stories from this place, because he’s been doing it for a really long time and he writes books and he works for the New York Times. That’s a really dangerous mentality because there’s credentialed expertise and then there’s experiential expertise.

Cristi:

The reality is that 97% of foreign correspondence centers on just four topics, war, poverty, disaster, and disease. It’s no mystery why, right? Those things are obvious. They are bloody headlines that a foreigner who knows nothing about the place can see some a mile away without having to dig under the surface, but the consequences of those narratives is really high because it forces us to think about large parts of the world as broken and dangerous and unproductive.

Cristi:

That’s why we really aim for a comprehensive narrative, comprehensive coverage which is not to be confused with rose colored glasses or solutions only journalism, right? No one at Global Press is telling you to go to the Ituri province of Democratic Republic of Congo for spring break. What we are doing is we’re offering you news coverage in context, right? We are ensuring that you understand, yes, there is conflict in Congo, but you know what? There’s also innovation. We’re going to tell you stories about tax and health and education and criminal justice and climate change so that we’re giving you a fuller picture and we’re able to do that because of who our reporters are.

Cristi:

100% of our reporters are local women who live in the communities that they cover. They have extraordinary access to people, to narrative, to data, to facts and information that are simply out of reach for a traditional foreign correspondence and as a result, we’re able to stretch out these singular narratives, make them more plural and better represent people in the process. I think that’s number one, is just pass the pen. Think about are you really the best person to tell this story? And if the answer to that question is no, understanding that the next option is not that the story doesn’t get told, right? The world is filled with very capable storytellers.

Cristi:

The other way that I think that we can dramatically improve representation is by focusing on something as simple as word choice. I wish that more journalists took responsibility for the word choices that they made, understanding that word choice shapes worldview. At Global Press we developed our own international style guide. It’s a living document that exists to ensure dignified and precise representation of the people in the places we cover.

Cristi:

In many ways, our guide significantly deviates from the associated press style book, which is the industry standard because we don’t allow ourselves to fall into cliche terms. For example, at Global Press, we don’t say developing world or global south. We don’t use the word ethnic, not because ethnic is a particularly bad word, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean what people think that it means and it’s not precise.

Cristi:

If I tell you there are ethnic tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense. I’ve seen a lot of movies. There just tend to be a lot of fighting there and people hate each other. Cool. I get it.” Like I’m willing to accept the stereotype and move on. By using words that force people to fall into these big generalizations, right? Developing worlds is one of the worst.

Cristi:

By many indicators by which we define other countries as developing world, the U.S. is absolutely a developing nation, right? When we allow ourselves to sort of fall into these big buckets of comfortable vocabulary, we have to realize that in doing so we are depriving sources of dignity, and we’re depriving leaders of a precise understanding of the world.

Cristi:

I think by focusing on word choice, the global [inaudible 00:28:15] is a free and available resource, but about a dozen other news organizations use now, and a lot of foundations and businesses are beginning to use it as well, so really focusing on word choice and asking yourself the hard questions. When I say this is my message going to be interpreted clearly? If I use this description, is the person I’m talking about going to recognize themselves in my words or my description? Those are critical questions that are easy, easy answers for way that we can create more dignified and inclusive coverage and just stories in general.

Vanessa:

Okay. First, my first response is Global Press needs to sort of be doing lots of work in the U.S. right? Where do I sign up to lead the campaign for that? That’s the first thing. Your statement about word choice and sort of how all of that shapes perceptions is like so on target with a lot of my thinking and my observation. We work with a lot of underrepresented and marginalized communities, and it’s painful to watch some of the inaccurate representations of people often robbed of their humanity and the way that stories are told. We are launching our actual, very first training for March of this year.

Vanessa:

We launched something called the Narrative Justice Project and the Narrative Justice Project is a free media training that we are taking around the country to different cities. Our plan is to hit 20 cities this year if the coronavirus will allow us. Going into communities of color and teaching people how to communicate with the media if there is a crisis in their neighborhoods. If they or someone in their family is a victim of police brutality or some violent act or a child missing, how do you engage the media in a way to sort of keep the story alive, but also making sure that you are using the appropriate language and sort of actions to make sure that their voices are heard.

Vanessa:

Like how can they take more ownership of the narrative? And so I’m really excited about that and hopeful that that’s not going to change the problem in the media. All the things that you mentioned about understanding and who’s telling the stories, but I do think it will maybe give an opportunity for some journalists to maybe take pause and rethink their approach to telling some of these stories. I’m excited about that.

Cristi:

The people that you guys are working with as well, first of all, we need to make sure that you guys get a bunch of Global Press style guides for the [inaudible 00:30:54] justice project.

Vanessa:

Thank you. Thank you.

Cristi:

We’ll definitely do that. Sometimes I find that the way that people speak about their own projects actually is undignified imprecise language and then they write press releases for journalists that foster those essentially narratives this vocabulary that we don’t want to use. For example, if I hear about another women’s economic empowerment initiative that works with poor marginalized women, like come on. That’s not the message you want, right? Referring to domestic violence programs, victims oriented program, [inaudible 00:31:31] you mean to say.

Cristi:

I think that we have to take responsibility for our own vocabulary and how we talk about our own work. Chances are if we are using dignified precise vocabulary to talk about our work, and then we’re inviting journalists into those conversations, 99% of journalists are not like, nope, sorry. I would really like to devalue and degrade your work by using crappy vocabulary. They’re going to mirror what you say. They’re going to define your work and your programs the way that you do. We’ve got to step up the way that we really think about how do you want the world to understand your work and then use words that really foster that vision and those values.

Vanessa:

Yeah. I would agree, and thank you for the offer of the style guides. We welcome them. I have a couple of additional questions for you before I let you go. Where do you see journalism in the next three to five years? Do you think we’re at a pivotal moment now and things are going to continue to sort of go down or do you think that with all of the questioning of the media and how stories are told that we may begin to see some shifting and more accountability and maybe like the new world order around journalism?

Cristi:

I am weirdly and wildly optimistic about the future of journalism for a couple of reasons. Like, look, we got to get our stuff together on a couple of different levels. First and foremost, I think that ours is a time of extraordinary consequence and readers of journalists actually share the goal of better understanding the world. We need each other. Journals have to be great so that readers intentionally turn to them to explain the world, and readers have to be smart so that journalists continue to up their game and serve them with stories that are significant and interesting and new, filled with accurate information.

Cristi:

I think so many questions about the future business model of journalism and revenue generation and all these things it would be nice if journalism organization stopped making the same mistakes over and over when it comes to those things, but ultimately business model boils down to that fundamental relationship between readers and reporters. If we can recalibrate the way news organizations think about readers, not as a means to a financial end, but as partners and key stakeholders in the world, then I think that we’ll start to get where we need to go.

Cristi:

I think journalism organization from small nonprofit media to big legacy organization, we have some work to do in terms of really ensuring journalists’ abilities to produce a high quality product. One of the major threats I see to our industry going forward is the safety and security of journalists today, and frankly, the negligent responses that most major newsroom have to the security concerns facing their reporters. There’s a dramatic lack of security parody in the journalism industry between local journalists and foreign correspondent.

Cristi:

Foreign correspondents typically have insurance, training, security guards, drivers, fixers, and ultimately a one way ticket out of town if things get too tough, but the largest news organizations in the world don’t offer any of those same practices or protections to local journalists, who they rely on to get these stories for their global news coverage. I think one of the things I’m most proud of that we’ve created at Global Press in the last 14 years is our duty of care program, which provides for the physical, emotional, digital, and legal security for every reporter in our network.

Cristi:

While all four of those security strands are wildly important, it’s really important that we draw attention to the emotional security component. We were just named the Chester Pierce Human Rights Award winner by the American Psychiatric Association for our duty of care program because of our commitment to the emotional wellbeing of our reporters around the world, because we know that journalists experience PTSD, anxiety, and secondary trauma at a rate higher than most other professions, yet in newsroom it remains a hush conversation. It’s not a priority and journalists are presumed to be weak or frankly, even punished for speaking out about the traumas that they faced in this field.

Cristi:

I think if journalism is really going to get to its next level, we have to start thinking about employment differently because too often, I think that we lament the poor quality of journalism in our world without stopping to understand that the majority of the world’s journalism jobs are actually pretty low quality employment. These are low paying high risk, minimal support jobs and that’s something that our industry really has to address if we’re going to continue to demand that journalists bring us high value, highly accurate news products. We have to do our part as employers to really make sure that they’re able to do that within the best of their ability.

Vanessa:

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. My last question for you is what do you see as the biggest threat to journalism?

Cristi:

There are so many. The one that I think is most remediable is the profound lack of media literacy that readers have and that newsrooms encourage. I think that we need to get on a new page for readers to really start holding these organizations accountable for the stories that they tell, whether they’re undignified, imprecise, singular narratives, whether there’s facts wrong.

Cristi:

I don’t think that readers often fully understand the power that they have to hold these organizations to a high account, but in order to do that, readers have to get beyond their initial comfort zone to really hold themselves accountable for making sure that they’re choosing to consume information in a way that actually fosters a better, deeper understanding of the world, not just a comfortable understanding of the world.

Cristi:

I think media literacy readers have to work on it. Journalists have to insist on it and as a result, we’ll get better journalism and smarter readers and that I think are going to be two key ingredients for a better world.

Vanessa:

Thank you. Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners before you go? I just found this to be a very insightful conversation and I appreciate all of your expertise and your authenticity and sharing your perspective and what you’ve learned during your 14-year journey. Thank you for that. Anything you’d like to share.

Cristi:

Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciated the conversation as well. I would just encourage your listeners to really think through the kinds of narratives that they’re consuming and creating. At Global Press we are always here to be a resource. People can read our news at globalpressjournal.com or learn more about some of the syndication and other product offerings we have at globalpressnewsservice.com.

Vanessa:

Perfect. Well, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here. Cristi from Global Press was here talking to us about journalism and all of the things that we need to be thinking about to preserve this amazing opportunity for us to learn and experience culture and life beyond what’s right in front of us. Again, thank you so much Cristi.

Cristi:

Vanessa, thank you. Really appreciate it.

Vanessa:

Cristi, when we initially talked, we talked about journalism and how your writers, the writers that worked with you were really going into communities and environments that they were a part of, capturing those stories and how that had such an impact on the way the stories were told. I’m wondering, do you think that in this sort of COVID world we’re experiencing and all the protests and people sort of vying to find the right ways to share their stories and take ownership of the narrative in many ways, do you think that there’s anything that’s going to come out of these two major events that will impact the way stories are told or journalism overall?

Cristi:

Oh, well, it’s certainly better. I think there’s a lot of really exciting potential outcomes from this really tumultuous global moment. When I started Global Press 14 years ago, people thought that I was insane. This notion that local women, 100% people of color in some of the least covered communities on earth could and should be the storytellers of record for their communities, people thought I was insane. Over the last 14 years, we’ve made traction increasingly, increasingly, but now we are inundated with requests from major media organizations, from small newspapers. People who say, okay, we’re listening. Your team is 100% female, 99% people of color and your stories are so different. Why are your stories so different?

Cristi:

The answer is because my journalists are 100% female and 99% people of color. They have access to stories that traditional journalists and traditional newsrooms just don’t. I think the other real key is that they tell stories differently. They use words differently. One of the real consequences of the lack of diversity in major newsrooms in the United States, but also around the world is a genuine unfamiliarity and therefore discomfort with terms and descriptions of race and diverse identities.

Cristi:

I’m really, really hopeful that this is a moment where we can not only see journalists, major media organizations start to say, maybe we need to not only consider who tells the stories, but also consider the language that we use to tell them. I think everything will change. I’m also actually really hopeful that I’ve had an unpopular statement that I’ve said for years, which is people say, what is the long-term goal with Global Press? My answer has always been for 14 years.

Cristi:

I hope that the Global Press model eradicates the discipline of foreign correspondence. Foreign correspondence at its core says, hey, local people are not qualified to tell your story. You need an elite white typical man to travel thousands of miles to a place he knows nothing about to tell your story for you. In this moment thanks COVID, foreign correspondents are for the most part grounded. We are seeing media organizations increasingly reached out to us and also other local journalism organizations around the world to say like, “Hey, we need your journalists because we don’t have the ability to get those stories.”

Cristi:

I’m really hopeful that [inaudible 00:42:48], they see the quality and the nuance and the intricacies and just the really extraordinary access that local journalists get, not just Global Press Journalists, but all local journalists. As corona restrictions get lifted, media organizations will really reconsider like, hey, do we need to parachute this outside or back in? Or is there substantial talent and capacity locally that we can actually change the way international storytelling is done?

Vanessa:

What about the sort of themes of the story? There’s been some criticism of media, traditional U.S. media that the narratives that they sort of see most interested in capturing are not sort of equitable and as you mentioned, sort of like the language, there’s a general lack of understanding of specific communities. Looking at like your model for journalism, and I know you’re very specific about language and very specific about making sure that the people who are telling the stories are also part of the experience so that there’s just a totally general… a different approach and desire to tell the story.

Vanessa:

As we looked ahead, if we look maybe a year from now, are there any specific trends that you think we will see that point to like how this moment reshaped the way we’re telling stories? When you look at some of the COVID stories, like one of the big themes was like, oh wow, we sort of shifted and see that the essential worker is not who we want it to be and like, even in as great as that was to sort of highlight the people who are usually sort of shut out of the conversation or invisible in the stories it’s still didn’t fully paint the picture of the value of their voices.

Vanessa:

I’m just wondering how you look at some of the protests, you see young people or people who would never have an opportunity to have their voices heard, sort of thrust into that maybe without understanding how to leverage that moment. I’m just wondering if there are any trends or any things that you think we’ll see in the people actually telling the story. It’s like are there opportunities for them to sort of better shape the narratives that they’re telling on their behalf or behalf of their communities?

Cristi:

I think so. I think there’s two real changes that I’m not only hopeful that we’ll see but my team and I are working really hard to make sure that we’re making [inaudible 00:45:17] within Global Press available to other news organizations to make these two things a reality. The first is that American media has a news value problem, right? The old saying, if it bleeds, it leads, it’s still very much true. The press perspective, we’ve sort of remedied that internationally in that 97% of coverage, like the continent of Africa, for example, and international agencies falls under four topics, war, poverty, pest or disease.

Cristi:

What we’ve seen in the last few weeks in America, especially as protests continue, they’re getting larger and larger in some places, but they’re actually peaceful, but they’re falling out of the press and what that tells us is that in the American newsroom, the black community is newsworthy [inaudible 00:46:08]. We have to reckon what we define as newsworthy. That is our ultimate responsibility to the American people, is to say we have an equitable sense of news value. This community is not only newsworthy in times of crisis. We have to figure out how to get equitable representation in media 365 days a year regardless of chaos, protests.

Cristi:

I think that’s rule number one and change number one is, when we get more, not just diversity and reporters, but diversity and newsroom leadership, we will start to see longer term and more sustainable diverse coverage of communities that says, oh, hey, actually it’s not just poverty that’s newsworthy. It’s not just the criminal justice system that’s newsworthy. It’s not just violence that’s newsworthy. This community is newsworthy every day of the year for reasons that are good, bad and other [inaudible 00:47:05]. I think that’s number one, is that we really have to reconsider news value in American media.

Cristi:

The second thing that I think is equally important is that we really find ways to better educate readers. America real media literacy problem, because essentially you can find information online to reinforce whatever worldview you currently hold. Right? Members of my own family will send me articles to say, [inaudible 00:47:38] here’s this story that I found at some ridiculous website and you’ve taken it to be true. I think it’s an exciting moment how much of America really seems to be listening right now and committed to learning not just about white privilege and not just about how to be better allies to all kinds of communities.

Cristi:

I hope we can take that moment and also say, “Hey America, we also need you to get more media.” We need you to be able to say to major news organizations, hey, that’s yes. You didn’t cover this correctly, or that’s incorrect, or really be able to ignite the difference between a news organization that has credible fact checking and editorial processes versus stuff that they’re seeing on social media.

Cristi:

I think that we are seeing American readers, at least certain types of American readers develop a more critical eye when it comes to accuracy. At Global Press we hold ourselves to a dual standard of dignity and precision, and the problem when news value or news stories lack precision, lack accuracy, is there’s always dignity consequences for the people dirt in the stories.

Vanessa:

Got it. Got it. I guess my last question for you on this little bonus round is what do you think the impact of our current sort of climate we have on the diversification of the newsroom? Do you think it will sort of shift the way hiring and job opportunities are available to those who are typically counted out? Or do you think that it will not change anything?

Cristi:

If it doesn’t, nothing will. If a year from now major newsrooms like the New York Times and [Booker 00:49:29] and organization… and NPR. Organizations that we rely on to tell the stories are still 75 to 80% white, which all three of us currently are, then they’re never going to change. They have sent a clear message that actually diversity is not important to us. I mean, I’m almost [inaudible 00:49:49] old and for the last 20 years that I’ve been a working journalist, we’ve been having conversations about diversity and all of them and nothing ever really changes.

Cristi:

We have had a handful of news organizations reach out to Global Press in the last couple of weeks. Gosh, your team is so diverse. How did you do that? The answer is we built it that way on purpose, right? This notion of “Oh, it would be great if we had a black reporter to cover urban issues.” Like we got to get beyond that, right? We have to get beyond these sort of [inaudible 00:50:24] job newsrooms to say, actually, if our newsroom doesn’t represent the communities that we cover, we’re just not doing our job and frankly, readers should take a look at that.

Cristi:

These news organizations do publish most news organizations their diversity statistics and if a year from now they’re not different, unsubscribe. News organization has just told you that diversity is not important. That being said, I do think that we see a change, things that news organizations have to. They are wounded in some cases, some doing fine, but I think this is a moment where our readers just have to demand it. We just have to say diverse voices matter, access matters, accuracy matters, newsrooms you have a problem, fix it. It’s a fixable problem.

Vanessa:

Yeah, I agree. I agree. Well, Cristi, as always, it is a delight talking to you. I always feel like I learned so much and there is a lot of me nodding my head in agreement during our conversations because I think we share similar levels of impatient at the speed of change, but also a desire for it to happen and the understanding of the impact. I thank you and we will talk again soon.

Cristi:

Vanessa, thank you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.

Vanessa:

As someone who is very interested in the way the media tells stories, as I’ve shared previously, I have painfully watched and seen many ways that stories of people of color are typically sort of one sided and oftentimes lacking humanity, sort of being seen as human beings. I love the way Cristi has decided to sort of rewrite the rules around journalism and how she is an advocate for maintaining a connection between the people from different communities, from different environments and sort of allowing them to serve as the storytellers, sort of the keeper of the story to ensure fairness and accuracy and really a perspective that can only happen when you are sort of one of the people.

Vanessa:

I think that’s just so important, and sort of connecting it to work at the Wakeman agency, I just wanted to sort of plug again the Narrative Justice Project, our initiative that is offering free media training in communities of color, to people of color, really trying to help people understand how to sort of shape a narrative when a crisis happens, to understand how to interact with the media and to ensure that stories are told fairly and that people feel like their voices are sort of heard and that they are seen.

Vanessa:

With that, I’d like to thank you for joining.