A few weeks ago, lovely and sharp Pam Maples, the Innovation Director at Stanford’s JSK fellowships, asked me to answer a few simple questions about my post fellowship activities. My responses turned into a 2000-word piece!
This should’ve been a series of posts peppered through the last two years here. But I regretfully ignored this blog while I was going through Hosh, Nava and Global Voices, many apologies for my absence and neglect!
I left out a lot of crucial detail – like the amazing friends and team members I worked with a long the way. So a much needed shout out to i2i‘s Kalsoom
who worked so hard to get Hosh and me in shape and arranged for the grant that I ended up turning down (details below); Haleema Mehmood – my partner in crime at the d school’s launch pad for burning the midnight oil with me so we could get Hosh working in 10 weeks; Shahid Saeed - who helped prototype and put together Hosh media’s first website, offered sound advice, and editorial support. Farhan Kamal, who also offered technical advice and helped us decide on a platform to use. Ali Abbas Zaidi and PYA for volunteering their time and energy to brainstorm and test Hosh in its formative weeks, and helping spread the word about our mission once we launched.
Hosh wouldn’t have gotten far without the support of my amazing friends and colleagues Nadia Zaffar and Fatima Akhtar – who helped plan and put together some awesome workshops. I’ll always be indebted to the ever-gracious Abbas Nasir for offering his time and stellar mentoring to me and agreeing to lend his credible face and commanding voice to the beautiful media ethic video series that the too-talented-for-his-own good Ahmer Naqvi shot, but refuses to accept payment for. (yup, its true, he’s a fool and good friend!)
I took the site down 3 months ago, it was fun while it lasted, and had become an amazing archive of the dozens of stories we published, but site maintenance was becoming expensive and a pain. And the way my heart is leaning – Hosh will make a come back completely anew at the right time.
I should probably add a picture of my soon to be 14-months old Nava. She’s already walking, we are working on flying.
Over to the JSK website. (Also copy-pasted below)
During her 2011 Knight Fellowship, Sahar Ghazi explored ways to get more youth voices into Pakistan’s media, ultimately developing a prototype, Hosh media. In 2012, she became deputy editor of Global Voices. In this interview, she talks about the impact of her fellowship, how she ended up joining Global Voices and the status of Hosh. Are you passionate about tackling a challenge facing journalism? Apply for a Knight Fellowship. deadlines are fast approaching.
What is the key to success for Global Voices, one of many outlets giving voice to the voiceless?
On the outside it seems like we just tell stories at Global Voices, but we also build community. The base of our organization is made up of hundreds of volunteer authors and translators. Keeping them engaged and motivated to contribute – within a mostly virtual structure – is probably our greatest success. The Global Voices community is incredibly close. Even though many of us have never met in person, we are like a family. We are united in our mission to tell underreported stories and counter mainstream narratives of the countries we come from, currently live in, or places where we once lived. We try to keep this common mission at the forefront of all of our virtual interactions through Google groups, IRC chats, Skype chats, Facebook and Twitter and I think that keeps most of our volunteers motivated to stay active with Global Voices.
What changes have you made to Global Voices?
I joined Global Voices about 16 months ago. Since then I’ve tried to create tools for our community to do better reporting and editing. I revamped the Style Guide (GV Style Wiki) and streamlined the newsroom workflow, to focus on story structure and news writing standards.
Through community participation and endorsement I also put together GV’s first editorial code. Even though we made a name for ourselves as a credible news source, we never had a formal code until this year. I thought it was important to have something in writing — for transparency and for our authors and editors to refer to. Some of our community members and authors are at the forefront of freedom of speech, minority rights and Internet freedom movements in their countries. This gives us great access to underreported issues and stories within those countries, but it can also raise some conflict of interest concerns. So we needed to find a way to tailor the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) code for our unique circumstances. It took a few months of back and forth with our community and editors, but I think we reached a sweet spot in the final code that everyone endorsed in August.
Even though we are a community of bloggers, our editors are on the conservative side when it comes to headlines and leads. Through virtual games and guides I try to encourage them to focus on keywords for SEO, but also tap into their emotional and humorous side while crafting headlines and leads for social media sharing.
When I joined GV, I was soon manning most of our social media accounts on my own. It was exciting to see our social media followers and traffic grow, but it was also overwhelming. (We currently have 62K + followers on Twitter and 46K+ on Facebook.) So I asked our community for help, crafted some guidelines and now we have an awesome 8-member team (mostly volunteer) running our Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and our Google + presence.
This September I also kickstarted a weekly video hangout series called GV Face. We use Google Hangouts on Air to delve deeper into trending topics with our authors and editors around the world. So far we have covered Syria’s non-violent resistance movement, the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, the Saudi Women2Drive Campaign, Pakistan’s fractured love for Malala, the fight for internet freedom in Brazil, and Sudan’s ongoing Protests.
What is the biggest challenge in working with an international community of bloggers?
The biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity! When I was helping set up Pakistan’s first English language news channel, there were no trained English-language broadcast journalists and producers in Pakistan to hire. So we spent the first year training fresh college graduates. Some of them are now leading journalists in Pakistan. At Global Voices our authors don’t come to us trained in news gathering and writing, which can be challenging in the beginning. But through our guides, editing workflow and mentoring they soon become well-versed in Global Voices writing standards.
The key issue in working with bloggers can sometimes be accuracy. How does Global Voices handle those issues?
Global Voices was founded in 2005 by former CNN Beijing and Tokyo Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and technologist and Africa expert Ethan Zuckerman while they were both fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. Their idea for Global Voices grew out of an international bloggers’ meeting and has grown organically since. At that time the blogosphere was often accused of insufficient or bad sourcing and mixing ground reports with opinions, so the primary mission for GV was to produce neutral reports with solid citizen media sources. Our authors understand the nuances within their citizen media landscapes and blogospheres and choose the most credible voices to use as their sources. These authors send their stories to one of our 20 regional or language editors, they do additional fact-checking, ensure the story is balanced and has the necessary context for our global audience.
How have your experiences as a Knight Fellow at Stanford influenced your approach to leading Global Voices?
I left Stanford with a strong desire to let self-reflection, empathy, constant iteration and fearless creativity guide me. I try to use these values every day as an editor managing Global Voices, a mother to my 13-month-old Nava and an entrepreneurial journalist trying to figure out the best way to keep Pakistanis informed and empowered. These values allow me to approach my personal and professional life with problem-solving skills and the confidence to know when to let go and the courage to take the leap when it feels right.
I became a journalist because of the conviction that storytelling has the power to change lives and societies – and opportunity. The year I graduated from college, the Pakistani government starting issuing private broadcast licences to news companies. Pakistan has always had a strong print media, but in a largely illiterate country, broadcast has so much more reach and potential. In 2005 I joined Pakistan’s first independent news channel.
Fast forward eight years and the news media landscape in Pakistan has really evolved. The good news is Pakistanis have access to more information than ever before. There is even a sense that the media can deliver justice; in a country with a really weak legal system, this has been empowering.
But Pakistan’s broadcast news industry seems to be suffering the same fate as the rest of the world’s. Its evolution is being dictated by advertising and corporate bottom lines. Pakistan’s news media has become overly sensational, isn’t representative of the diversity within Pakistan and focuses on breaking news, not investigation. When only terrorism, disaster and political fiasco make the headlines and are the focus of news gathering, real human stories that have the power to bring change get lost in the noise.
Your concerns about that inspired the project you launched during your fellowship. What was your goal and what has happened to Hosh media?
The year of my fellowship I was exploring ways to bring more youth voices into Pakistani media. Two in three Pakistanis are under 30, but the news media wasn’t addressing their issues and problems. At the same time the Pakistani youth were increasingly more engaged on social media. But since Internet penetration rates are low in Pakistan these young bloggers and netizens didn’t have the kind of reach that mainstream media did in Pakistan.
I left the fellowship with a working prototype that aimed to solve this problem. Hosh media was born in May 2011 in a class I was taking at the (Stanford) d.school during my fellowship. For 12 months we trained and mentored dozens of young bloggers and students through workshops, one-on-one Skype sessions and online video tutorials, and syndicated their reports to mainstream media in Pakistan. Even though we had a team working on the site and mentoring on and offline, no one was being paid. Everything we earned through syndication was put back into the organization.
Throughout my fellowship year I met with potential investors, but without success. There is international funding available for youth-oriented projects and media in Pakistan, but anything media related with a “foreign” or “western” connection risks being branded as propaganda, and could have dire consequences on my reputation as a journalist, so I was hesitant to explore those options.
Six months after I left Stanford (six months of no steady salary) Hosh was very much alive, mentoring bloggers and publishing stories, but it became quite clear that if we didn’t get funding soon we wouldn’t be able to scale and become sustainable.
In November of 2011, I started to aggressively look at the foundation options in the United States that I had been avoiding before. A few months later, I also started to look for another job in case funding for Hosh didn’t come through. Our daughter Nava, was on the way.
In May 2012, I was shortlisted as an Echoing Green semi-finalist and pitched Hosh at their annual fundraising event in New York. A few weeks later I also presented Hosh at Google’s Internet at Liberty conference in DC.
I soon interviewed with Global Voices, an organization that has a massive network of bloggers and translators producing news reports on citizen media. These reports were frequently published with mainstream media partners around the world.
While I was prototyping Hosh, I frequently visited the Global Voices website for inspiration and guidance. They were looking for a deputy editor to help run their virtual newsroom, streamline procedures, improve editing standards, and help expand syndication opportunities. They wanted someone with ideas and the ability to implement them.
The job was full-time, but they were OK with me continuing my work on Hosh. GV is a completely virtual organization – everyone works remotely – so I didn’t have to worry about dividing my time between Pakistan for Hosh and San Francisco, where my husband had joined a start-up during the Knight fellowship. They weren’t uncomfortable with my now seven-months-pregnant status either. In fact, they offered me two-months paid maternity leave! I knew immediately that this was the perfect fit. I joined them in June 2012.
The day after Nava was born one of the foreign funding grants we had sought for Hosh, came through. I asked them to put things on hold until my maternity leave was over. During the fellowship, the entrepreneurship classes I took at the Graduate School of Business and the d. school taught me the need to harmonize my personal and professional ambitions. This time was for Nava and me learning how to be her mother. The next few weeks sped by as I nursed, burped, swaddled, and rocked Nava every few hours.
I rejoined Global Voices after two months and found myself seamlessly delving back into the initiatives I had started earlier. I ended up implementing a lot of my long-term vision and ideas for Hosh in the Global Voices newsroom. But I struggled to find time to work on Hosh. I asked for another extension on the grant.
At night I couldn’t sleep thinking about the implications that taking the grant could have on my reputation as an independent journalist in Pakistan.
In January 2013 I returned to Pakistan after being away for about a year. Mainstream media in Pakistan had begun to lean heavily on youth voices through social media and their own blog sections. While I was fundraising or worrying about funding, the original problem that I was trying to fix with Hosh seemed to have shifted.
I had worked tirelessly on prototyping and refining Hosh, pitched it hundreds of times, and had come to love it. In all of my competitive assessments I had determined that Hosh would need to evolve into its own TV channel and/or radio station because mainstream media would fill the void. But I didn’t expect it to be this fast. I was really disappointed.
But I suddenly felt relieved at the prospect of not having to take foreign funding to push Hosh forward. That’s when I decided to finally decline the grant.
While Nava went from sitting up, to crawling and now walking, at Global Voices I helped put together our first editorial code, revamped our style guide, helped create a weekly video series and a new original writing section and set-up a dynamic social media team.
At the same time I’ve been doodling my ideas for re-engineering Hosh, and continue to informally connect bloggers with mainstream media publication opportunities in Pakistan.