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

Categories: 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 [1] 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 [2], 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 [1] by August 30! And stay tuned for another post next week.