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Dial Fellowship

Shifting the Narrative

Global Press is supporting, training, and employing women journalists in news deserts around the world to provide essential coverage of their own communities.


8 min read

During her final semester of journalism school in 2004, Emerson Collective Dial Fellow Cristi Hegranes was, at the age of 23, finally on her way to becoming a foreign correspondent with a fresh assignment to cover the civil war in Nepal for SF Weekly and The Village Voice. She had been dreaming of this moment for years. “My mom often trots out an old piece of paper from a teddy-bear shaped notebook. Written in blue crayon are the words ‘I want to be a journalist,’” she recalls. “The story goes that I asked for help to spell ‘journalist’ correctly.”


She had never been to Nepal, nor did she speak the language. But Hegranes put in extra time to research the dynamics of Nepal’s conflict before she left, even working closely with a Nepalese man in Queens, New York, to learn about the customs and the language. Still, once she arrived she struggled to tell the stories of the people living there. “I lacked near total social, historical, political context,” she remembers. “And yet, I never questioned if I was the right person for the job. I believed that I was. I was in the country for only a few days when I realized I was wrong.”


Even with government-appointed translators to help with the language barrier, she soon realized she didn’t have the trust of locals, and without it, was never going to get the stories she was after. In a moment of clarity, she realized there was someone who did have that trust and knowledge: the matriarch of the community. Hegranes handed over her paper and pen. “I asked her to fill in the gaps, to write what I didn’t know, to speak to the people who wouldn’t speak to me,” she says.


The experience made clear to her who actually had the stories the world needed to read, and gave Hegranes a new dream: creating a global media organization that would amplify the voices of local women, like the one who had helped her in that Nepalese village.


“Who you are is who you have access to,” Hegranes says. “There's an evidence-based correlation between who works in a newsroom and who is quoted and featured in stories. ​​Who's under-represented in literally every media market on earth? Women. Who has access to the stories that could most help dismantle the war/poverty/disaster narrative? Women.”

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A journalist explains a revolutionary new model for international media, led by local journalists who help us better understand the world and our place in it.

And so, in 2006, Cristi dreamed up Global Press, a global network of independent news bureaus in some of the world’s least covered places, staffed by local women from those communities. Sixteen years later, Global Press is a thriving non-profit journalism organization that is changing how global reporting happens by changing who tells the stories. Their work includes The Global Press Institute, which trains its reporters to be world-class storytellers; Global Press Journal, an award-winning multilingual news publication; and Global Press News Services, an earned-revenue initiative which sells products and services, including a customized Duty of Care program, a Style Guide workshop, and access to a photo archive.


Since opening the first bureau in Chiapas, Mexico, Hegranes and her team have opened 36 additional locations in 12 countries around the world, including Mongolia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti, and trained over 250 women reporters. By opening bureaus in challenging global media markets, hiring local women reporters, and giving them full rein to cover the stories they want to write, Global Press is creating international coverage that’s dignified and precise, and critically important to life in those places, too.


Global Press stories are primarily intended for residents of the communities where they originate and are increasingly drawing Western audiences too. Stories are published on GlobalPressJournal.com in both the reporter's local language and English. Local language versions are distributed by more than a hundred partners—including national newspapers, local radio stations, hyperlocal websites, and even WhatsApp channels. English versions, meanwhile, are published by partners like Quartz and the BBC.


“We’re able to tell really fascinating, very unique stories,” says Hegranes, “that are not only comprehensive, but of significant service.”

There are countless examples of the impact of Global Press stories. A 2016 story by Nakisanze Segawa about a discriminatory hair policy in Uganda spurred on teenage activists and their parents who have seen the policy banned in schools across Uganda. That same year, a story by Janviere Uwimana about children babysitting other children at the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border received wide readership in both countries and led to community and government leaders working together to build a daycare at the border. And a 2020 story by Shilu Manandhar about the failures of Nepal’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that left more than 69,000 cases unheard, prompted the government to reconvene the commission and begin hearing cases.


Reporting from women like Segawa, Uwimana, and Manandhar is a big shift from the way that journalism has worked in the past. For more than a century, Western media has relied on foreign correspondents and so-called “parachute journalists” to land in other countries for a few days to cover the only global news they think will interest Western audiences – mostly wars, famines, and environmental disasters, and then leaving once the conflict or event is “over.”


But this parachute journalism has had—and continues to have—many consequences. First, Hegranes says, “it relegates most of the world to only being newsworthy on their worst days,” reinforcing narratives that center poverty, disaster, victimhood, and struggle. What’s more, she says, it reinforces “the colonial legacy – this notion that we have to send people from the U.S. or Europe to Africa, Asia, Latin America to get the story.” And, as Hegranes found out herself years ago, because the reporters writing these stories aren’t from the place they’re covering, the work often lacks important context, misses nuance, and perpetuates static global narratives.


And then there’s the fact that the business of media is undergoing a massive transformation. Since the 1990s, the majority of foreign news bureaus have closed their doors, and many news entities have scaled back international coverage and even local bureaus in North America.


But there has never been a more important time for the world to understand itself and how it works, and for journalism to fulfill its critical roles as watchdog, catalyst, and tool for making and holding change. That’s why Global Press specifically works to open bureaus in global news deserts or unfree and politically unstable markets.

To build their bureaus, Global Press conducts local outreach to identify journalists who might be a fit for further training and collaboration, as well as promising individuals with no experience but relevant skills. All of the journalists who work for Global Press Journal are on salary, and they have health benefits and family leave. As a result, demand is often high: they typically receive a thousand applications for just a few training spots.


Training begins, very simply, with teaching the journalists what type of stories are newsworthy for Global Press. “We're not a breaking news organization. For instance, we're not going to tell readers the volcano in Congo just erupted,” says Hegranes. “Instead, six weeks later, our lead reporter in DRC followed the volcanic eruption that happened in 2021 with an investigation into why the volcanic warning system didn't go off. We focus on more consequence-driven stories.”


Global Press is also dedicated to journalistic values like accuracy and balance, in an unusually hands-on way. Every story gets a team on it—one local reporter to write the story; an editor with a global eye to it; a fact checker to ensure every detail is correct; and translators to ensure readability for both local and international audiences.


Global Press’ style guide
bans the use of vague terms that frequently appear in other news outlets – like “victim,” “Global South,” and “ethnic” – in favor of more precise language.


And at the core of the organization is Global Press’s “Duty of Care,” an interconnected methodology of editorial policies, training sessions, and safety protocols created to keep the reporters safe and care for their mental well-being. Fast Company named it one of their World Changing Ideas for 2022.


“Say, for instance, I am supposed to travel for a story,” explains Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, an economics reporter based in Harare, Zimbabwe. “[According to ‘Duty of Care,’] we have to come up with a travel plan, and in that plan, we have to think about if there are instances where our security might be compromised and if we think there are going to be any emotional or physical dangers.” The organization helps journalists navigate these dangers, and consider which stories are just too risky.

"What we can do is change the storyteller. Change the story. And create an inclusive narrative of the world that rights a lot of the narrative wrongs of the past."

Cristi Hegranes

Considering the events of the last few years – the pandemic, the effects of rapid climate change, international economic downturn, war in Europe affecting global food supplies, democratic crises on nearly every continent – it’s clear just how connected the world actually is. Parachute journalism’s real flaw – not getting the real truth or consequences – makes it no longer tenable in a world that needs to know itself as quickly and transparently as possible.


Global Press’ unique ability to provide high-quality news from places ignored by global media outlets is making their work newly resonant. In fact, just this summer, PBS NewsHour featured one of Global Press' most fearless reporters, Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, discussing her yearslong work exposing the widespread practice of virginity testing in Mongolia. This work led to the Mongolian government issuing a regulation to bar the practice in schools. But Khorloo continued to investigate, revealing that six months after the regulation went into effect, the forced exams are continuing at school.


Ultimately, says Hegranes, stories like these are a vital part of change. “High-quality journalism gives people the tools they need for education, policy-making, and movement building,” she says. “What we can do is change the storyteller. Change the story. And create an inclusive narrative of the world that rights a lot of the narrative wrongs of the past.”

Learn more about The Dial Fellowship.