What we do & how we do it: two issues for discussion by the Community Council

Photo by Jer Clarke. CC-BY-NC.

The GV Community Council is coming together! As of now have nearly 100 confirmed participants, and we expect that more of you will join before the August 30 deadline.

As everyone now knows, we’re forming this Council because we have come upon some big questions about our identity and our future. The core team feels that we must consider these questions together, as a community.

This blog post explores two of these four questions in a bit more depth than in previous posts. They are:

  1. Should we narrow the scope of issues we work on?

  2. Should we seek contributors with specialized knowledge and skills, or focus on training less experienced contributors?

1. Should we narrow the scope of issues we work on?

We’ve set ourselves relatively few absolute restrictions on the types of activities we undertake and stories we write. This is most evident in our newsroom, where volunteers can write about everything from corruption to censorship to culinary crazes. In contrast, our Lingua, Advox and Rising Voices projects each focus on specific actions — translation (Lingua) and protecting (Advox) or enabling (RV) free speech and access to information online.

How did we get here?

In the beginning, we were explainers. We helped readers better understand conversations in the many blogospheres that blossomed around the world in the early 2000s. Our job was not to report the news, but to explain and contextualize what was already being told, in an effort to elevate and amplify important stories that were not seen in mainstream media.

As our community grew and online media evolved, we started diversifying our activities. While most GVers remained dedicated to writing, others began building new projects like Lingua, Advox and Rising Voices. While these projects had a clear focus, GV’s storytelling section, which we started calling the newsroom around 2014, continued to cover a wide range of topics.

With Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms encouraging everyone to speak online, the internet began to feel like an extremely noisy — and sometimes dangerous — public square. It became more difficult to find and focus on meaningful conversations. And at the same time, other media were learning to do the same kind of work as GV, with more resources and tools at their disposal.

Where are we now? How might we evolve?

The purpose and character of our stories has shifted a great deal since we first launched. Yet in the newsroom, our openness to (almost) all story topics and our leadership structure — a distributed team of part-time editors — has remained more or less the same. Newsroom editors work with authors on a wide variety of topics, leaving little time for planned, focused coverage.

As we look ahead, we need to ask ourselves: When it comes to storytelling and project focus, what is most important to us? What do we most want to achieve?

If we narrowed our focus…

At our 2017 summit and in adjacent surveys, community members expressed the desire for GV to have an impact in the world. Many mentioned specific human rights, environmental and social justice issues that we could focus on. To do this, we would need to pick specific areas of focus and develop editorial projects and campaigns around them.

Projects like Rising Voices and Advox have had much success working this way, engaging with community members and external partners who specialize in issues related to technology access, media development and digital rights.

If the newsroom were to follow this path, we could lose some things too. We might lose our “serendipity function” — the way stories sometimes emerge by accident — that has long been part of our culture. When there are few boundaries, projects and stories emerge spontaneously and we’re free to pursue them since we are not fully committed to focused projects or campaigns.

We also might lose some contributors, as for some GVers, the freedom and flexibility to write about almost anything is a great virtue.

Likewise, we might decide to narrow the focus of our project work – special editorial projects, network building, training, small grants, research and affiliated technology development. At the moment those projects can be as broad as our editorial focus. Might we likewise restrict them by topic, by geography, or by some other factor?

And if we maintained or expanded our focus…

Alternatively, might we maintain the breadth, or further widen the focus of our work, allowing authors and editors even more autonomy and authority to choose how and what to write about? In this model, we might become more like a platform, with individuals creating a presence within it based on their interests. Similar platforms, such as The Conversation, which works with academics and university partners, support larger communities. Global Voices might become a space with better search and sorting functions, encouraging a wider selection of individuals and partners to publish, expanding the community and doubling down on serendipity.

2. Should we seek contributors with specialized knowledge or skills, or focus on training less experienced contributors?

Currently, Global Voices welcomes a wide range of contributors, from experienced journalists and advocates to people who are new to online writing and activism. We invite the broadest range of people who might bring important stories or perspectives to GV.

Contributors with less experience often need training and support from multiple staff, which requires a lot of time and dedication and leaves less time for planning activities and special coverage. Surveys and feedback from the newsroom editors have made it clear that training is difficult work, and that more support is needed.

If we wish to remain highly inclusive, we may consider developing a training and mentorship program, where less-experienced Global Voices contributors could learn writing, advocacy and research skills before becoming full contributors. With new staff leading such a program, this could become central to GV’s work.

Alternatively, we could raise the requirements for becoming a GV contributor, a move that would allow staff and volunteers with specialized skills more time to focus on high-impact activities. If we did this, we would lose some contributors, but potentially gain new ones who are more interested in contributing special skills, like research, data visualization and multimedia projects.

How do these two questions relate to each other?

It may seem that these two issues go hand-in-hand. If we narrowed our focus, we should also pursue contributors with more specialized skills. But this may not be the only option.

If we narrowed our focus, we could still be open to all levels of experience. We would need to ensure that contributors were dedicated to the issues that we choose to focus on, and that they would be willing to undergo training in this area. Some of our Advox and RV projects have done this very well. Our campaigns on social media have been organized by experienced activists, but dozens of GVers, regardless of experience, have participated and helped make an impact.

If we continue to tell stories about a wide range of topics, we could still pursue contributors with specialized knowledge and skills, but likely from a wider range of sectors. This might make us look more like a “traditional” media outlet, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We could find a way to preserve our community ethos while inviting higher-level contributions from experts who we trust.

Do these questions intrigue you? Want to commit some time and energy to the future of GV? If you haven’t done so as yet, complete your Community Council application by August 30! And stay tuned for another post next week.


  • 1. Narrowing the focus: this is a difficult question. I do think if GV wants to have a bigger impact, it needs to narrow its focus. But then I ask myself, is it worth losing the community? Can’t we think of the way that being a member of GV impacts us as a community and as individuals and then ask what the external impact should be? Can GV simply accommodate more focused projects as part of its overall community?

    That said, I have been doing training in Solutions Journalism (https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/), and it seems to me that the larger GV network is a natural for adopting the practices of SJ. We have a worldwide network. What would happen if we focused our efforts on particular themes, researched them, and provided examples of solutions related to the theme?

    2. I think that finding support for training and mentoring would be amazing. In my other work, I see how difficult this is every single day. It takes a lot of effort and sometimes the effort is all for naught. Some people really cannot divide their activism from their reporting and see efforts to do so as “selling out.” Some people see editing as a form of censorship. Many refuse to read the style guide at all. But others are enthusiastic and excellent contributors.

    I really feel that training might need to be paid work rather than volunteer work. It requires too much time and continuity to be unpaid.

  • Thanks very much for this post! It brings most of the ideas that are flying around to a more focused ‘what if’ structure.

    I agree with Tori in both the idea of focus and the idea of training. I also think that even if we decide to narrow our focus and bring on people with more experience, training and mentoring might not necessarily be off the table.

    Global Voices is, I believe, a big and bold lab where many things happen unintendedly. Training and learning happens at all levels and in all directions. I think that one of the things that have made us special over the years is the way people from many disciplines come together. With that, we’ve been able to tell stories that show how connected we are, in spite of what so many people want to makes us believe.

    I think that beyond narrowing the focus, also narrowing somewhat the style is important. What makes a GV story? What makes something interesting for those wanting to cross cultural or regional bridges? I think it’s time to agree on the sources we should focus on, the angles we need to explore, and the ways in which we can organize to make this happen.

    We’ve been following what “the world is talking about” for a while, maybe it’s time to educate better our ears to follow the stories that can actually build bridges.

  • I want to begin my comment with the obvious disclaimer that I’ve been absent from Global Voices since May 2010 (over eight years!) and am not aware the discussions at the last Summit, or the “ideas flying around” that Laura refers to her in comment above. I feel sheepish about being the third person to respond to this post when the council has over 100 participants, but I’ll offer a few semi-outsider reflections. First, I need to offer a little bit of context before responding directly to the two questions asked in the post.

    If I were asked to summarize the essence of Global Voices, I’d offer:

    1) A global community of individuals with common values and diverse identities and viewpoints that support freedom of speech, inclusion, solidarity, and empathy.
    2) A website with a wide range of content that allows readers to understand cultures and current events from local perspectives that bridge linguistic and cultural divides.
    3) A global campaign to advocate for norms or rights regarding how the Internet ought to be — especially focused on access & inclusion (Rising Voices) and freedom of speech and privacy (Advox).

    In other words, it’s a microcosm of the Internet that I’d to experience every day, but rarely do. I mention this because it’s difficult to imagine Global Voices without each of those three mutually-reinforcing pieces. However, it also leads to a sprawling enterprise that is difficult to understand or financially sustain. Global Voices isn’t the only community facing such a tension; I believe the same is true of Wikimedia and Open Knowledge International.

    One last thought before I respond specifically to the two questions in the post. It seems to me that the transversal concept that permeates each of the three pieces mentioned above is inclusion. That is, how do we demonstrate a version of a global network of networks (ie. the Internet) in which each individual is able to both learn and express oneself with dignity, respect, and safety?

    Should we narrow the scope of issues we work on?

    As an infrequent reader, I’m highly supportive of narrowing the scope of issues that appear on public-facing Global Voices websites. The main reason that I don’t read more stories on Global Voices is that it’s too overwhelming and the content is too disparate to make sense of. I would benefit from more synthesis across countries and more historical context by linking back to older posts on the website to explain how current events took shape and compare with what we reported on five, ten, and fifteen years ago.

    I would ask: If we only get one hour of a reader’s time each week, what do we most want to communicate to that person and what is it that we are able to offer?

    Should we seek contributors with specialized knowledge or skills, or focus on training less experienced contributors?

    This dynamic seems to me more like a complementarity than a trade-off. I’d think you want to recruit paid contributors with specialized knowledge or skills who spend part of their time training less experienced contributors with an eye toward inclusion. The Conversation is mentioned as one example and Global Press Institute is another. I think mentorship and peer learning has always been an integral part to Global Voices and that it may make sense to formalize.

    My apologies for such a long-winded comment and I look forward to reading other views.

    • Every news site struggles with presenting many streams of content. I think subscribing to the newsletter would help you make sense of the articles on the site.

      Every reader has a different hour to spend. For us to make meaningful changes, we have to define our reader(s) better. Perhaps that would help them make better sense of the site.

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