Q&A with Laxmi Parthasarathy, Chief Operating Officer of Global Press
This week, we caught up with Laxmi Parthasarathy to learn more about Global Press, a non-profit media organization that trains and employs journalists in developing media markets. Read to learn about the process behind launching a Global Press news bureau, the organization’s partnership with McGraw-Hill, and how it seeks to tackle “invisible censorship”. Subscribe to our newsletter on the business of media for more interviews and weekly news and analysis.
Can you tell me about your role at Global Press?
I’m the chief operating officer of Global Press, which is an international media organization that trains and employs local reporters to produce exceptional journalism from the world’s least covered places. We operate over 40 news bureaus in places such as Zimbabwe, Puerto Rico, Mongolia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Fourteen years ago our CEO, Cristi Hegranes, founded Global Press with the goal of raising the standard of journalism in local media markets and providing access to diverse and dignified journalism. Our news stories prioritize what we call consequence-driven rather than action-driven news. In other words, reporters focus on long-term impact rather than just breaking news stories.
We’ve trained just over 250 reporters through Global Press Institute. Once reporters are trained, they’re offered employment at Global Press Journal and they join a network of professional local reporters. They work with our Washington, D.C.-based editorial team to produce accurate international journalism that features local voices, deep context and nuanced analysis on topics that are rarely covered elsewhere.
All of our stories are published in the reporter’s local language and in English to serve both a local and global audience. Currently, we publish in seven different languages on the Global Press Journal site, and stories are syndicated around the world, drawing an audience of over 20 million.
What projects and initiatives are you currently working on?
In 2019, we launched news bureaus in Puerto Rico and Mongolia. One of the coolest things about my job is being able to launch news bureaus around the world in some of the least covered places. When selecting a new bureau location, we pay a lot of attention to the health of the local media market and how it’s being covered both by legacy media outlets as well as the local media publications. We do extensive research to understand where we’ll be making a long-term investment as a news organization.
Our industry talks a lot about press freedom, but that’s often looking at it from the vantage point of a reporter who is already in the privileged position to be telling the stories of other people. At Global Press, we spend time investigating invisible censorship: How are people prevented from entering local media markets? What does access to a journalism job look like? And, specifically, are there barriers that hinder women from joining the field?
Our most recent expansion was into Mongolia. Now, on its face, Mongolia is an oversaturated media market with over 400 news organizations in the country. However, you’re not actually seeing coverage beyond the capital Ulaanbaatar and there is a lack of independent news. So we set out to cultivate reporters and coverage that would be truly representative of the country’s diverse communities. We’re thrilled we were able to launch the bureau right before the coronavirus crisis, so our reporters are already trained and reporting from behind the lockdown.
How does the organization sustain itself?
We have a combination of both philanthropic and earned revenue. This revenue primarily comes from our products and syndication platform, Global Press News Services.
We also have a partnership with StudySync, a division of McGraw-Hill. Our news stories are syndicated for civic classrooms across the United States. There are a lot of other ways that organizations can leverage what we’ve learned and experienced, and we’re interested in partnering with organizations beyond just the news industry.
How has Global Press been responding to the coronavirus outbreak?
We have a lot of experience weathering crises and our Duty of Care protocols have really prepared us to respond to those crises in a thoughtful and careful manner. At Global Press, Duty of Care is our holistic safety and security program, and it’s specifically designed to respond to the wellbeing of our reporters when extraction is not an option. The protocol prioritizes four things: physical, emotional, digital and legal security.
Since establishing the Duty of Care program, we’ve acquired a ton of experience responding thoughtfully to situations that other organizations would call a crisis.
We make sure that our reporters know that we deeply care about their physical security and mental wellbeing. We also make sure that our reporters know that we respect their cultural context.
With the coronavirus, it’s been fascinating to see how our existing check-in protocols have prepared our reporters. They’re used to engaging with us frequently, so check-ins amidst COVID-19 is seen as protocol.
And, though this is a heightened crisis because it’s happening everywhere at the same time, our teams are all really well equipped to help our reporters navigate other risks that they may be facing every day. On any given morning, I might wake up to news about how Sri Lanka or Nepal or Zimbabwe instituted an emergency lockdown — often with ambiguous guidelines- — and I’ve been really proud of how our global team has responded gracefully to care for our reporters in each case.
We’re not viewing this as here’s how we’re going to respond to coronavirus. Instead, it’s how we respond to any crisis.
How do local media outlets respond to Global Press’s involvement in the community?
In some countries, we’ve observed a genuine interest from local and non-local media outlets who are eager to work with us and leverage our tools and resources, such as our code of ethics. Meanwhile, in other places, we become a great competitor. In Mongolia, we had over 700 applicants, indicating that there is a demand for journalism and quality employment.
How can legacy news publications with foreign bureaus and correspondents support local media markets in the places they cover?
There are three lessons I’d love to share with larger and or legacy news organizations.
First, they need to recognize that there are outstanding local journalists in the places that they’re covering. These people are often treated as researchers or fixers, but never given the byline.
Our reporters have access to communities and stories that other news organizations would never be able to get. For example, one of our reporters in a remote part of Democratic Republic of Congo recently published a first-person story that gave readers a nuanced understanding of the community she is from.
Second, other organizations must realize that while caring for journalists is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Between business-as-usual and emergency extraction, our Duty of Care protocols lay out a rich set of guidelines for keeping reporters safe in the communities they serve.
And third, they can also start to think more critically about tools such as their style guide. It’s important to establish rules and rationales for representing places in a dignified and precise way. For instance, here at Global Press Journal, we’ve banned the phrase “ethnic tension” because we find it to be a misleading generalization for complex circumstances.
It’s funny, often we’re asked for a synonym for the phrase. But, it’s not about finding a synonym — it’s about thinking about how to be more precise.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve seen from a media outlet other than your own?
I was fascinated by the Washington Post’s infographic on how the coronavirus spreads. They powerfully depicted what a potential spread could look like and how to flatten the curve. That was powerful.
What is your first read in the morning?
What was the last podcast you listened to?
Hidden Brain hosted by Shankar Vendantam.
What job would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
I’d be the host of a vegetarian cooking show.
This Q&A was originally published in the March 31st edition of The Idea, and has been edited for length and clarity. For more Q&As with media movers and shakers, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest trends and innovations in media.