When our board of directors met in Healdsburg, CA last weekend for our first-ever Board Retreat, I began our meeting by sharing a host of our incredible success stories from our News Desks around the world.
As I told the stories of PI reporters using this opportunity to build their skills, keep from homelessness, provoke change on individual and social levels, one question came up time and again – Why weren’t these success stories being shouted from the rooftops?
When the topic of our new PR initiative came up a similar question emerged – Why weren’t we broadcasting our awards and honors? (I found myself in a bit of hot water for the lack of PR I did after being featured with the likes of Bill Clinton and Bono in Kenneth Cole’s 2009 book Awearness: 86 Essays from People Changing the World.)
And then there was the topic of this blog – “Is that going to be an annual entry?” wondered Jon, the newly elected board vice president (and my older brother.)
I had been called out.
For the last five years, I have built The Press Institute slowly, carefully, brick by brick, reporter by reporter, news desk by news desk, country by country. Together with our incredible network of reporters and editors, we have achieved extraordinary successes since our founding in March of 2006 – our reporter retention rate is 91%; our budget has steadily increased each year since our founding; our readership is making a mighty rise; and our programs are have become tools of change on many levels.
So, as I told our success stories, hailed PI reporters around the globe who have become serious agents of social change, and spoke of our bright future, the new board of directors, had one unanimous critique – not of the organization – of me.
It was agreed that an executive director, I am calculating, precise, smart, sleepless, safety-obsessed…and horrible at PR.
The truth is, they are right.
But really, I am thrilled by their complaint because it means 2 very important things – 1) The GPI board is dedicated to bringing us to the next level and 2) With all of our successes, it is clear that we are ready to be at that next level.
There is, however, something beautiful about being small. Over the last 5 years, our successes were measured, timely and happened in intentional stages. Often, our biggest WOW moments were shared only between myself and a reporter or editor over Skype.
The first time a local government policy changed because of one of our stories, I cried. But I did not write a press release.
When we won a Journalism Innovation award, I emailed my Dad, not the New York Times.
But this changes TODAY for one reason – We. Are. Ready.
To be frank, The Press Institute is amazing. It is an against-all-odds story of a brazen (but apparently not boastful) 25-year-old who founded an organization with one tiny goal – to change the face of international news. And as Michael Todd, an editor at Miller McCune magazine recently said, "The Press Institute fulfills the dream of citizen journalism."
And now that this 25-year-old (me) is all of 30, it takes my own breath away to realize that we are really doing it.
The Press Institute is built on a single premise that unfolds into an intricate diagram of social action. The premise is this – when trained, local women throughout the developing world are uniquely suited to use context-rich and solutions-based journalism as a tool for their own empowerment, their community’s development and worldwide awareness.
Our reporters are paid a strong local wage to tell balanced and responsible stories of under-reported and often taboo topics. The results of their work have been incredible and have likely impacted millions of people in one way or another.
In Kosovo, our newest pilot News Desk, the wages one reporter is now earning is keeping her from homelessness. The opportunity to be a professional GPI reporter is also bucking local trends, where nearly 60% of women are unemployed. In Nepal, our largest News Desk, 2 articles have received attention from members of Parliament and even the Prime Minister in the last six months. Policies and human rights laws are changing as a direct result of our work. Throughout all of our News Desks, the people featured in our news stories have received jobs, pro bono legal advice, and community support. Our regular readers in 160 countries write to us on a daily basis to thank us for their new, deeper perspective of the world, its people and cultures. And each and every one of our reporters is provoking change every time she goes out into her community to report a news story. She is proving that every woman is capable of being a literate leader.
And then there is me – “the man behind the curtain,” one US-based staffer calls me. I am so proud of each and every reporter and editor associated with the GPI. Every time a reporter sends in a pitch or a picture that makes me shiver, I am filled with an indescribable joy. This is my definition of journalism and it is living and breathing.
And it is time that I scream these successes from the rooftops because it is time for us to grow. It is time for the whole world to know about the incredible journalism we are producing. It is time for us to raise more money and more awareness. It is time that the triumphs stop belonging to just a few of us. Because, in truth, these successes belong to the world – the world that we are actively changing.
Oh, and yes. I promised to blog more often.