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Giving Women Journalists a New Reach

Gpi Sri Lanka Photo Training

Cristi Hegranes was a stringer in a small village in Nepal in in the mid-2000s, covering the civil war for the Village Voice and San Francisco Weekly, when she realized that, as she put it, “these were not my stories to tell.” Her government-appointed translators were unreliable and only deepened her sense that there were too many barriers between her and the truth.

The whole experience was, as she puts it, “so inauthentic.”

She decided that there had to be another way.

In Lumbini, the village where she was working, there were very few men. Most were at war or away, working abroad. In trying to do a story about a community leader named Pratima, she found herself getting more and more frustrated with the language barriers. Finally, in frustration, she handed the woman her notebook and said, “You write it.”

Pratima did just that. The story was powerful, passionate. In that moment, says Hegranes, she knew that “somehow in that notebook was the answer.” It was the local women, she realized, who had exceptional access to what was really going on, and the power to change their own lives. These women “could tell the truest, most colorful stories,” stories that would be firmly rooted in their local realities.

So much of foreign reporting is simply about “war, poverty and disease,” said Hegranes in a recent telephone interview from her San Francisco office. And foreign journalists are at a disadvantage when they come to different cultures and settings as outsiders. It’s a model that Hegranes describes as “really limiting.”

She kept the story written by the woman in Nepal and went back to her daily grind, where she churned out stories for another two years. But Hegranes had a plan in mind. She began to see that journalism also had potential as “an extraordinary development tool.” With this in mind, she read up on how to structure a nonprofit, how to write a business plan, how to do international training.

Then, in early 2006, she quit her job at SF Weekly and asked everyone she knew for $40. Her goal: to raise the $10,000 needed to launch a new pilot enterprise, the Global Press Institute (GPI), an NGO that would train women journalists all over the world. Her plan worked. In September of that same year the first GPI news desk was established in Chiapas, Mexico. Five local women took part in the training—three of whom continue to work for the organization to this day.

But GPI would be merely one part of a three-legged enterprise that seems to be growing in global influence each day. Providing the foundational training for women from all over the world, GPI invites women with no prior journalism experience to learn reporting. The curriculum consists of 21 modules taught by local instructors over the course of six months. Since its launch in 2006, the nonprofit arm of the organization has trained more than 159 women in 27 countries. All who finish are hired to write for the Global Press Journal, the online publication platform that features GPI writers’ work.

But the biggest leap yet for the organization has been the launch in September 2013 of the Global Press News Service, a for-profit news agency that syndicates Global Press Journal content to hundreds of local and global media outlets, education institutions, and corporations around the world. The news service is projecting revenue of $150,000 for 2015, and the hope, says Hegranes, is that it will eventually spin off into a self-sustaining enterprise.

What’s unique is that although the reporters are all women, their stories are not necessarily branded by gender. In fact, Hegranes laughs when she recalls proposals she’s received from website designers, illustrating their profound misunderstanding of terms like “gender justice” (one of the subject tabs for the Global Press Journal). “They say we should make the background pink or purple with flowers.”

Hegranes insists that the news service, whose clients include Reuters, UPI.com, Public Radio International, and Good, is about much more than women’s advocacy. This is not “citizen journalism,” she says, and it’s not a blog. Rather, it’s a professional service with a “sophisticated editorial structure” and one that puts out “extremely professional product.”

And yet, the venture’s goal is to do more than simply report the news well.

Tara Bhattarai, who serves as GPNS editor in Nepal, is a “shining example of why this works,” says Hegranes. She was an orphan from the western part of the country with a limited formal education and no prior journalism experience. But during the training process she gulped up every ounce of information she could get her hands on, taking every opportunity to use the knowledge to transform her own life as well as her community. Today she has successfully reported on difficult topics such as marital rape and inter-caste discrimination. She’s been praised by the country’s prime minister and in the process has become one of the most famous journalists in Nepal.

“She’s a badass,” says Hegranes. “She was absolutely born to do this.”

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