Cristi Hegranes dreamed of being a foreign correspondent, drawn to the drama and exoticism of traveling the world to tell important stories to people around the globe before moving onto the next location.
It was during a trip to Nepal as an NYU master’s student that Hegranes realized her dream wasn’t quite what she expected.
“I went to Nepal with the intention of being that traditional parachute journalist, someone who went into a place they didn’t know and unearthing incredible stories to kind of enlighten the world,” she says. “What ended up happening was quite the opposite. I was overwhelmed for the first time with the logistics, ethics and the reality of foreign correspondence. I came to the pretty quick realization that I was the wrong person to be telling those stories. I did not have the context. I did not have the access. Local people didn’t trust me.”
Further, Hegranes realized that foreign correspondents were covering stories intended for the wrong audience. “As I traveled through Nepal, I was so struck by the degree to which local people needed access to accurate information. They needed extraordinary journalism. Someone like me, parachuting into their country only to tell stories outside of it, wasn’t actually helpful and was deeply problematic in many ways.”
Hegranes decided to do something about it and created Global Press, an organization that trains in-country journalists, mainly women, and provides them with jobs covering topics and stories the rest of the world should know about but largely go unheard.
“Our mission is to create a more informed and inclusive world by changing the storyteller of record from parts of the world that are typically only covered in terms of war, poverty, disaster and disease. When we employ a local press corps of trained, talented journalists, we can tell a totally different story about the world.”
The three main tenets of Global Press are simple: “First, we identify media markets across the world most in need of Global Press intervention. Two, we train local women journalists. Third, we run an award-winning, multilingual news organization that distributes our stories in six languages to local and international publications around the world,” Hegranes says.
Women are Global Press’ key demographic because, historically, media outlets are run by men, and most news outlets are staffed by men, with women still largely running the fashion, lifestyle and other pages and departments that aren’t covering more hard-hitting news. By training women, some with no experience at all in journalism, and hiring them to well-paying jobs with benefits, Global Press is “able to give them the tools they need to produce really exceptional stories the world needs. Once they’re working for our publication, we distribute all our stories for free to a robust network of local and international partners,” so even if some would argue that only hiring women is not doing much for diversity, this practice creates diversity and highlights new voices in traditionally male spaces.
The kinds of stories these women cover, and their ability, as local journalists, has a greater community impact, Hegranes says. Two years ago, a woman in Mongolia reported about a government policy of conducting virginity tests on adolescent girls in public high schools and their protests of the practice. The story gained some attention and, a few months later, the government said these tests were a bad idea and promised to stop the tests.
A year later, the Global Press journalist found the practice hadn’t stopped. “In fact, girls across her whole community are telling her this exam is happening without their consent,” Hegranes says. “She does a follow-up story. We syndicate the story widely, including with one of our television partners here in the United States, PBS Newshour. A couple months later, the government comes out and officially says, ‘OK, fine, we’re going to ban the practice.’ That was last October and they have, in fact, banned the practice.”
This one story is a testimonial for what Global Press strives to accomplish. “When you have a local woman, in a local community, with the trust of her community and she employed to tell impactful stories over time, and a robust distribution network to get those stories out in front of millions of people around the world, that’s where we can see the truest and most powerful impact of journalism.”
Cristi Hegranes talks to It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell about how Global Press is working to increase the number local women journalists in some of the world’s least covered places to tell stories that are rarely heard.