This Nonprofit Is Trying to Revolutionize International Reporting by Partnering With Freelancers

By Kieran Dahl October 30th, 2014

In the past, if young American journalists wanted to become foreign correspondents, they would would have to pay the usual dues. Start at a local newspaper, find a bottom rung at a more prestigious publication, and work up the ladder until an opportunity opened up in the foreign bureau. But now that communicating across vast distances is dependent on little more than a strong Internet connection, the process for today’s journalist is far simpler: become a freelancer.

For Round Earth Media, a nonprofit that launched in 2005, this shift has inspired an initiative that helps freelancers find international reporting opportunities. Round Earth Media’s newest venture, the Global Mashup Project, is aiming to help three American journalists partner with reporters in Ghana, Jordan, and Mexico to work on underreported stories. Such an immersive project requires significant capital, so the nonprofit has turned to Kickstarter to generate funding. With the crowdsourced campaign set to end in two days, I spoke to Round Earth’s founder, veteran journalist Mary Stucky, about how freelancers can support each other and why foreign reporting needs more collaboration.

As Round Earth says on its “Who We Are” page, American journalists are often haphazardly dropped into a country “for just a few weeks of reporting, failing to grasp the nuances and complexities of what is, for them, a foreign country.”

The distinction here is bilaterality: Young American journalists are paired with “the most promising early-career journalists” from the countries in which the story is taking place, thus providing geographical and cultural context and “a deep sense of humanity.” Round Earth then mentors the young journalists and pushes their stories to audiences in the U.S. and the country in question.

Most of Round Earth’s journalists are freelancers who, without the nonprofit’s support, probably wouldn’t be able to take on long-term commitments by themselves. “[They’re] shouldering the immense risk—financial, physical, and editorial—of providing news we rely on,” Stucky said. “Many of the best young journalists are freelancers who rely on Round Earth for support while they cover what’s happening on the ground, often in remote places.”

In addition to situational support, the nonprofit also offers a stipend to help cover expenses and provides journalistic training.

Tell the stories that aren’t getting told

While stories from Iraq and Gaza and countries affected by Ebola will be reported ad nauseam by major news sources, Round Earth’s goal, according to Stucky, has been to “tell the stories that aren’t getting told.” For example, the nonprofit previously exposed issues connected to underage marriage in Morocco, a story that would not have received mainstream attention otherwise.

Stucky decided to focus Global Mashup’s efforts on three countries—Ghana, Jordan, and Mexico—because of a lack of reportage from the former two and a limited scope of reportage from the latter. All three American journalists involved are freelancers.

“[These countries] are very, very interesting places where our teams have worked before, and news from Mexico is currently confined to the country’s economy in relation to ours, and immigration, family issues,” Stucky said. “Our project will produce underreported stories in these neglected regions.”

“This is a chance for freelancers to support each other”

Freelancing is, for the most part, a solitary business, devoid of the constant face-to-face interactions that staff writers and editors have at publications with brick-and-mortar hubs. But Round Earth, and the Global Mashup Project in particular, is a collaborative enterprise. The nonprofit’s funding primarily comes from from foundations and individual supporters who believe in Round Earth’s new media model.

“This is a chance for freelancers to support each other and send a message,” Stucky said of the Kickstarter campaign. She likens the Global Mashup Project to a vote—a democratic way of demonstrating support for a mutually beneficial cause. “Round Earth, if nothing else, is all about freelancers supporting each other. That’s perhaps one of the most important things [freelancers] can do—give each other advice. Don’t remain isolated. Engage with each other, and stand together.”

Failure isn’t an option

What happens if the Kickstarter doesn’t meet its $27,500 goal by Sunday? “We’ll do another one,” Stucky said. “We’ll hit three more countries with three more teams. The great thing about Round Earth is that we’re entrepreneurial, not willing to fail. The opportunity is there for people who care about these regions.”

When shaking up journalism’s status quo, you can never have too much persistence and ambition. “Neglected regions, untold stories, reportage that’s valued, important—there’s support and demand for it,” Stucky said. “Democracy and the world demand and rely on the news information we provide.”

Image by Bethan
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