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How a Media Nonprofit is Supporting Local Newsrooms in Hiring Diverse Voices


FILE - A man reads a newspaper while sitting on a bench at a park in New Delhi on Nov. 18, 2020. Media group Report for the World helps support newsrooms around the globe by training and supporting journalists in underrepresented communities. (Jewel Samad/AFP)
FILE - A man reads a newspaper while sitting on a bench at a park in New Delhi on Nov. 18, 2020. Media group Report for the World helps support newsrooms around the globe by training and supporting journalists in underrepresented communities. (Jewel Samad/AFP)

At a time when newsrooms globally are under economic and other pressures, an American media initiative is helping some of them by finding staff to cover underrepresented communities.

Report for the World places early- and mid-career journalists in newsrooms around the world to help them expand in-depth coverage of specialized beats. This year, the organization is supporting 30 reporters in newsrooms in eight countries. The organization -- a part of the GroundTruth Project -- also provides training, according to its global director, Preethi Nallu.

A graphic of Report for the World's international partnerships. (Report for the World)
A graphic of Report for the World's international partnerships. (Report for the World)

“Independent media across the world are facing a combination of pressures including state repression, collapsing revenue models, rampant dis- and misinformation, and direct attacks against journalists,” said Nallu. She tells VOA this is the time to invest in local, public-interest media amid what she calls “this global crisis for journalism.”

The partnerships allow for collaboration. “They can exchange information, learn from each other about what is working and why it is working, and connect the dots between global trends and local knowledge,” Nallu said.

Recruiting reporters familiar with a region’s language and culture has another advantage. It “fills the gaps that we see when foreign correspondents cover stories over short spans, without context-specific knowledge or consistency,” said Nallu.

For The News Minute, a women-led, digital news platform focused on coverage in India’s five southern states, specialized knowledge and diversity were key to selecting reporters.

Through Report for the World, the newsroom has been able to hire journalists to cover caste, gender, and civil liberties issues.

Its co-founder and editor-in-chief, Dhanya Rajendran, told VOA it was essential that they find someone “from a marginalized community” for the caste beat.

“To put it very simply, caste is what divides Indian society,” said Rajendran, referring to the centuries-old system in which members of society are segregated and discriminated against based on birth and profession.

Their new reporter, Bhavani Etikala, an applicant from “one of the most oppressed communities,” will be able to use her experience to offer a nuanced perspective, Rajendran said.

Similarly, a former lawyer and movie commentator, Sukanya Shaji, will help the outlet approach gender coverage from fresh angles.

“Many times, covering gender just gets reduced to covering violence or just gets reduced to covering discrimination,” said Rajendran. “We sometimes don't understand the nuances, we don't look at the commentary in society itself and how law can intervene and help, or where the law is not stepping in effectively.”

Sometimes, the partnership allows journalists within an organization to specialize.

Prajwal Bhat has worked for The News Minute for five years, but when he heard the website was able to expand with a beat solely on civil liberties, rights he believes are eroding in India, he knew he had to apply.

“I've interviewed so many journalists, activists, and students who have been accused under the sedition law for saying or doing something - I mean just for protesting, just raising their voice, just for calling the crime in action…So many of our individual freedoms are under threat in this way,” Bhat told VOA.

Rajendran says that in India, media organizations that have questioned or been critical of the government are harassed online or face litigation and lengthy income tax audits as a means of pressure.

Right group Reporters Without Border ranks India 150 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 has the best media environment. India declined eight spots in 2022.

India’s information ministry has previously dismissed concerns over the media environment, saying, “The government does not agree to the conclusions drawn” by Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the list.

Media and education

Elsewhere, government pressure is an issue Hungary’s independent media are keenly aware of.

From false news laws directed at critical news outlets, pro-government owners buying large stakes in publishing companies, uneven allocation of state advertising revenue and refusal to renew licenses, independent journalism has become difficult.

It’s a situation that has resulted in a “shrinking space for independent media in Hungary,” said Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief for Atlatszo, a nonprofit news site that focuses on investigative reporting.

Staff at the Hungarian investigative news outlet Atlatszo. (Courtesy Atlatszo)
Staff at the Hungarian investigative news outlet Atlatszo. (Courtesy Atlatszo)

“In Hungary, the mainstream media is basically captured by the state. The state is exercising control through ownership or through financing a lot of media outlets in Hungary, and these outlets do not do any kind of watchdog or critical journalism and they do not exercise any control over the state wrongdoing,” Bodoky told VOA.

The Hungarian embassy in Washington did not respond to a VOA email message requesting comment.

In a speech to the U.S. Conservative Political Action Conference, held in Budapest in May, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán alleged bias in news coverage, saying, “The problem is that the Western media is adjusted to the leftist viewpoint.”

With help from Report for the World, the news website Atlatszo plans to expand coverage of education. It is an area that, because it is state-owned, does not get the attention it deserves, says Bodoky.

“The state is under-financing public education,” Bodoky said. “So the rich people or well-off people start private schools and take their children to private schools and also they go studying abroad, when meanwhile the general population gets a very low-level education and the teachers are very much underpaid.”

Orban nationalized local schools in 2010, in a move that critics say resulted in a curriculum containing ideological bias, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Although Atlatszo has previously reported on education, support from Report for the World meant it could hire a full-time beat reporter-- Zita Szopkó. Bodoky hopes she will help expand coverage to more rural areas.

Rajendran of The News Minute also believes in-depth, dedicated coverage of underreported areas and specialized topics is essential.

“When a news organization wants a cause to be highlighted, or a news organization believes that whether it's feminism or gender or caste is of utmost importance to them, they have to do sustained coverage,” Rajendran told VOA. “It has to be deeper, which is what I hope these reporters will do.”

Editor’s Note: The second paragraph has been updated to clarify details on the Report for the World Initiative.