Rapid-Round Congress Q&A: Preethi Nallu, Global Director at Report for the World
It’s no secret that there is something of a crisis in local news reporting, and that parts of the globe have already become news deserts with no newspaper or online platform serving them.
Some existing local news providers are also struggling to maintain quality levels, hamstrung by falling revenue.
Report for the World is an organisation that has a solution to the local news conundrum. It has developed a program that matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.
Report for the World pays half the salary of a first-year corps member, while also offering coaching and support to partner newsrooms to help raise the other half.
We are delighted that Preethi Nallu, Global Director at Report for the World, will be joining us at FIPP Congress 2023.
In this interview Preethi talks about:
- Her unique perspective on the news, shaped by her experiences as a migrant
- How Report for the World works and the way in which they are undertaking recruiting corps members
- Why local journalism is such an important tool in the process of keeping governments, corporations and authorities in check
At FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, Portugal, on 6-8 June, Preethi will explain more about Report for the World’s mission to connect local newsrooms to global conversations.
For specially discounted tickets click here.
Here she responds to our rapid-round questions.
Who are you?
I am a journalist, researcher, free speech advocate, and a social entrepreneur focused on journalism and media development.
A larger part of my identity is that I am a migrant, albeit a privileged one. I have been able to cross borders throughout my life – from Iran, where I was born, to India, my home country, to the US for my studies, and onward to 14 countries across the globe. I have been able to carve out my life and career in these diverse contexts. Without this freedom of movement, I would not be able to arrive at my current position.
I am acutely aware of the levels of access and opportunities I have experienced in my life and deeply cognisant of the social and political systems that inhibit a majority from experiencing the same. Those influences steered me first towards development-focused research and soon after to journalism. I wanted to relay the diverse motivations, experiences, and outcomes of human movement across the globe.
As I worked on migration and displacement narratives, I met many journalists and freedom of press advocates that were fleeing persecution by their states. From the 88’ generation journalists of Myanmar to independent media founders from Afghanistan, I witnessed how my peers became targets for simply trying to practise their professions. So, I gradually shifted to the field of media development to work directly with independent news platforms and journalists in countries where press freedom is an evolving, and, at times regressing feature of societies.
When I came across the global director post at Report for the World, I felt it was the perfect culmination of my journalism, documentary, advocacy, and media development experiences. And that feeling was reciprocated by my colleagues, who started the program.
And what is your role in the media/publishing?
My main task at hand at Report for the World is to help scale the program, growing the number of reporters, which we call “corps members” to 45 this spring, thanks to support from the MacArthur Foundation, Google News Initiative and Microsoft.
Right now, we’re in the midst of selecting the newsrooms that will host our full-time, salaried journalists as part of their staff, and will be announcing them, along with the beats that they will cover, in April. Report for the World will then advertise a call for corps members, based on the newsrooms’ specific requirements, so we may help them find the best possible local talent. We aim to double our corps again in 2024, while adding new countries and deepening the ecosystem of support and mentorship. To achieve this ambitious mandate, I am working with a diverse team of journalists, editors, and program specialists that are part of our program.
We also have a blueprint, thanks to the success of our sister program, Report for America that has placed more than 300 corps members in at least 211 media outlets across all the states of the US. While the needs of Report for the World will be markedly different due to the diversity of the contexts in which we operate, I am relying on the wisdom of my colleagues to understand the opportunities, the constraints, and most importantly the human dimensions of such a large program.
My specific role is to ensure that while we expand the size, geography, critical areas, and formats of reporting, we remain bespoke in meeting the needs of each of our newsrooms and corps members. Ensuring “corps member excellence” – in other words, helping each journalist-newsroom pair achieve its objectives – it is what I am most excited about!
What have been the highlights of your career in media/publishing so far?
As a journalist, I have been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic newsrooms and editors, and won recognition for my work through The webby awards, The Amnesty Human Rights Reporting Prize, The Migration Media Award and others. Such accolades are a nice ego boost. I was also fortunate to have the first-hand experience of launching and managing an independent media platform at News Deeply that was focused on refugees and migration.
But my most satisfying moments have been out in the field, when I have been able to steer journalists, advocates, and humanitarian workers in a direction that advances the welfare of their communities. When I see these protagonists achieve their goals – whether relaying lifesaving information, initiating new discourses or simply helping those in urgent need – it is a satisfying end to a workday.
I have worked in many such contexts over the past 15 years – women-led newsrooms in Myanmar and Afghanistan, environmental reporting in rural Colombia, community journalism in the Palestinian camps, Syrian newsrooms in exile, cross-border outlets along the US-Mexico border and migration-focused publications in Europe.
The pandemic period put a magnifying lens to their mission. As I worked alongside local media during the peak of the COVID crisis, I saw a paradoxical situation emerge.
At a time when border restrictions between the global north and south were at their most restrictive, we were drawn closer by similar quests for change, regardless of our political systems and economic outlooks. Despite the pandemic protocols easing in most countries, these intersecting interests have remained. In fact, they have grown. To be able to help capture this Zeitgeist reverberating across the world has been a deeply rewarding experience.
Plugging into these local-global media networks, helping amplify their voices and facilitating connections between them – it is the type of work I will continue via Report for the World.
What do you see as the three key trends in the media?
For independent media anywhere in the world, I would say that creating the connections between the “three Rs of Impact” – Reach, Reaction and Revenue – has become crucial.
We know that the life-cycle of a story is directly related to access to audiences, their willingness to engage with the story, and creating a sense of accountability. With this premise in mind: how do we plan the journey of a story, to turn audience engagement and accountability, into impact?
In other words, how do we turn reach and reaction among audiences into revenue that sustains the work?
Given the role of RFW as a global journalism service program, we are starting to convene peer-to-peer networks among our members, within countries and across continents, so that public interest media of different sizes and geographies can learn from each others’ trials and errors, and build diverse types of ‘story impact.’
Anything else you’d like to tell Congress delegates?
To add to the sustainability experimentation among media, I have also seen that “representation” has taken on new meaning in the field of journalism. But there is so much more we can do to create diversity, equity and inclusion through our newsrooms.
Over the past years, as I worked with independent media in different countries in the global south and north, I have seen that without representation, journalism cannot be truly public interest in nature. By representation I mean the people who work as journalists, the places that are reported about, and the themes that are covered. I have also realised that the very concept of representation is context specific. So, those of us working in media development ought to better acquaint ourselves with these diverse settings – firstly in our own organisational set ups, and vis-à-vis the newsrooms and journalists that we are supporting. At Report for the World, we are heavily focused on representation and diversity, as we initiate new partnerships across the globe.
I have also learned from various newsrooms that have been raising the bar for representation and diversity. Amid multiple global crises, they have been innovating solutions, transforming their agendas, and establishing new modes of operation. I have also had the privilege of witnessing their transformation from traditional office setups to nimble digital spaces that relay varied views and draw diverse audiences.
As these media confront their governments, freedom of expression is their greatest ally and independence is their most powerful tool. We must help create stronger eco-systems that sustain their representation on the global agenda.
As an independent journalist, freedom of expression advocate and a media development worker, I am part of the calls for action – and the responses. It is therefore a significant shift in my own trajectory that I join the Report for the World at this crucial point, when political strife and disparities in northern countries share the travails of those in the global south.
- Explore Report for the World here
- Follow Preethi on LinkedIn
- See more Congress speakers
The FIPP World Media Congress is a must-attend event for anyone in leadership positions in the media. Delegates can hear from an incredible range of media thought leaders and influencers while networking with their peers in the resort’s stunning venues and hotels.
For specially discounted tickets click here.