Takeaways from our first ever Ambassador Summit

Hostwriter is a global network of journalists dedicated to promoting cross-border collaboration. Last month, we had our first ever Ambassador Summit in Warsaw, Poland, which brought together thirty experienced journalists from all over the world — from Myanmar to Madagascar — to meet one another and learn together about cross-border methodology and design thinking.

After an inspiring first day at the Outriders Summit with a number of other journalists from Poland and all over the world, we met on the second day in our smaller group to discuss the issues facing journalists in our various national and thematic contexts. I came in with my own preconceptions about what would matter to the journalists we had brought together: I figured they would be preoccupied with access to funding, high tech tools and equipment, and vast networks for promotion and opportunities.

What I learned turned my expectations on their head.

It would be impossible to summarize the numerous ideas discussed among the group over the two days of our conference, but here are the main takeaways I understood that can help us improve Hostwriter:

Deeper, not bigger:

It was clear from our discussions with ambassadors that they wanted to build a deeper connection with other Hostwriter ambassadors, members and with us, in order to have a better resource for support, job tips, security assistance, trainings and trustworthy connections for their work. For this, the quantity of members they are connected to seemed less important than the quality of the connections. Having a smaller network of people you can really rely on is more important than having limitless, more superficial connections.

Tech alone can’t fix it:

While the field of journalism has been improved immeasurably by new technologies in broadcasting and communications, apps and tech tools alone are no substitute for the same things that have always mattered in the field: critical thinking skills, dogged persistence, and having reliable sources and collaborators.

People are the biggest resource:

The ability to build cross-border connections with people worth trusting seemed to be a key desire of all the journalists we spoke to. Our conference was a first step toward this, and I witnessed friendships and professional collaborations sparking almost immediately. In fact, the most successful parts of our summit were the times that the journalists simply had unstructured space in which to interact. It’s clear that in-person connections are crucial, and our network needs more chances to meet in real life. This also means fighting absurd migration rules and bureaucratic barriers (such as needing a visa to walk from gate to gate at London Heathrow airport) so that not only the passport- privileged can take part.

So, what’s next?

We are committed to not only listening to our members but also actively implementing their feedback. So how do we take what we’ve learned and make Hostwriter a more useful platform for journalists?

First, together with our team, we’ll develop an ambassador agreement that will outline the mutual expectations Hostwriter has with its team of representatives. With this document, we’ll have finalized the broad strokes of our ambassador program — with the understanding that our collaboration can grow even deeper as we move forward. One of the first things we will collaborate on is using the lessons learned from the summit to implement new trust features at Hostwriter.

Second, we took the desire for deeper exchange, advice and support and launched HostWire, a new crowdsourcing tool Hostwriter members can use for everything related to their work. From job opportunities and grants to tech tips and security advice, we aim to make HostWire a flexible and interactive resource that really benefits its users. And although it’s an online tool, it’s only as good as our members’ input: in that way, it’s very basic and old school. Journalists have always shared tips and tricks: now they can do it across borders. HostWire will be even easier to access come January, when we re-launch our website as a mobile-first web app.

Third, we’ll get started on planning our next Ambassador Summit right away, to ensure that the personal connections we made in Warsaw can keep growing. Getting to meet again and see all that has changed in a year in journalism and in our careers promises to give us a whole new set of lessons to learn for our organization. Stay tuned.

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