by Riley Stevenson
Public Radio International (PRI) launched the reporting project Global Nation in 2012 to cover the “real-world stories of immigrants in the United States—their challenges, successes and how uneven US immigration laws affect their lives.” The stories are available on PRI.org and on air on PRI’s The World.
To help tell these stories, PRI created the Global Nation Exchange in 2013 to foster discussion between immigrants and help ground editorial decisions in what was most important to them. In 2016, senior editor Angilee Shah created a fellowship program to give group members the power to manage and lead the Facebook group.
Project Goals: Global Nation tells the stories “of a changing America and its people.” In doing so, it aims to combat negative stereotypes and generate solutions-oriented stories by amplifying voices often excluded from mainstream media. The cornerstone of Global Nation’s model is training and raising the profile of journalists who are deeply knowledgeable about the immigrant communities they cover. Reporters and essayists, some who are new to journalism, are invited from the Facebook group to contribute to coverage as well. The fellowship program for the Global Nation Exchange Facebook group was opened up to active members who were invited to lead conversations and create content themselves. Both Global Nation’s reporting priorities and the Facebook group serve the larger goal of including underrepresented storytellers in media and fostering an open dialogue about immigration topics.
Tools and Technology: PRI used Facebook to host the Global Nation Exchange group. It is a public group, which means anyone can see the conversations that happen there. It does, though, requires a Global Nation editor or a group leader to accept new members who would like to post content, comment or react to discussions. The fellows who manage the Facebook group use Facebook Messenger for daily discussions, Google docs for reports, data collection and collaborative work, and Google Hangouts for meetings.
Impact: In order to measure the Global Nation Exchange’s Facebook activity, the editor and fellows track the number of posts with two or more comments by people who are neither PRI employees nor fellows. It’s a stricter measurement than numbers of posts or comments, which recently became part of the data that Facebook itself provides. The goal of the group is to encourage interaction among members and listening among journalists, rather than simply a high volume of posts or number of members. Since 2013, the group has seen a growth in the numbers of these types of high-quality conversations — at first it would have one to three per week and now it sees five to six, often of greater depth and nuance than in the past. There are nearly 2,500 members.
In one year of creating a fellowship program, the Global Nation Exchange leaders have created the bulk of the sustained growth in the group, producing conversations that are richer and deeper than before. About 10 stories, most of which were seen on PRI.org and broadcast on PRI’s The World, came directly from the conversations they encouraged in the Exchange.
In 2014, Global Nation won the Unity Award for Network Radio from the Radio and Television Digital News Association for its “outstanding achievement in the coverage of diversity.” Two of Global Nation’s editors have also been recognized by the Solutions Journalism Network as being among the nation’s top 60 leaders in the field of journalism.
One of Global Nation Exchange’s leaders, Luis Marentes, says the group has broadened PRI’s audience and made users feel like stakeholders in the journalism world. For him personally, Marentes says, “What I have liked about this group is that it has given me an opportunity to interact with people from totally different backgrounds… and to have dialogue with other groups and not just limit myself to discussions about Latinos.”
Organization Background: Global Nation is a project of PRI, a global non-profit media company founded in 1983. PRI’s mission is to “serve audiences as a distinctive content source for information, insights and cultural experiences essential to living in our diverse, interconnected world.” In 2016, PRI’s revenues totaled to $17.6 million with 72% of its revenue coming from program services and 26.3% from contributions. PRI’s audio and digital content reaches approximately 19 million people annually. PRI’s The World, where many of Global Nation’s stories air, can be heard on public radio stations around the country.
Project Resources: Global Nation launched the Global Nation Reporting Fund on Kickstarter to create a fund to bring new storytellers into public media. This fund was largely fueled by dedicated members of the Global Nation Exchange. Global Nation’s senior editor, Angilee Shah, then won a prize from Illinois Humanities that allowed her to create a fellowship program to hand the reigns of the group over to some of its most engaged and longest participating members. The $5,000 prize was used to create stipends for four group leaders and pay for some of the stories that came from their work. Paying group leaders for their work was a very important investment, a way to put value on the content in the Exchange and begin to create a pathway for investment in that content for PRI.
Shah guides fellows through the basic moderation tactics, story production process and facilitated monthly virtual meetings for fellows to pursue the topics they are most interested in. She also does some of the moderation, removing spam or hate speech. Often, however, dedicated members of the group and the group leaders help to moderate and keep discussion civil and productive.
The Facebook page requires little direct oversight from PRI, according to Marentes. “Angilee says ‘this is your page, do what you want.’ We post when we want, we comment when we want,” Marentes says.
Shah says that she is committed to following the lead of the group’s members to provide them with a useful service. Editorial staff of PRI.org and PRI’s The World also engage with the group, as do freelance contributors to Global Nation. This engagement has become a regular part of the editorial process in PRI’s immigration coverage.
Here’s what worked
1. Being inclusive
PRI made sure that its fellows and Facebook members were a key part of shaping the Global Nation project. PRI representatives did this by including fellows in brainstorming meetings, training fellows to pitch content, and posing questions to its Facebook users.
2. Offering production opportunities to the sources
Global Nation members participate in the storytelling process rather than solely serving as sources. After seeing significant activity in their Facebook group, Shah invited active members to help shape the leadership program and then apply to become fellows. Conversations shaped in the group have also led journalists across the organization to frame their stories in a way that is responsive to what is most important to members. They have also influenced other news organizations that participate in the conversations.
3. Tapping into social networks
Global Nation Exchange leaders expanded the Facebook group’s reach by tapping into their networks of friends. Marentes and his three co-leaders also made concerted efforts to invite people who might offer opposing viewpoints. “After Trump’s election, I got a feeling that part of the debate in the US has become polarized,” Marentes says. “I wanted to invite to the group some of my few friends who might have a more conservative perspective.” In that respect, the diversity of those networks was extremely important to the growth of the group.
Here’s what could work better
1. Training fellows
Because some Global Nation fellows are new to the reporting process, Marentes says they could have benefitted from more production training. Part of the appeal of leading a group like the Global Nation Exchange is learning about media production and while fellows sat in on editorial meetings, there was not enough structured time for them to connect with editors and reporters across the virtual newsroom.
2. Providing more opportunities for publishing
Marentes says Global Nation Exchange Facebook users have interesting story ideas that didn’t necessarily fit within PRI’s news structure and standards. Limited editorial manpower also means that PRI cannot follow every worthy story that is discussed in the Exchange. The emphasis on the first year of the fellowship was giving ownership of the group to group members; late into the year, it became clear that the group also needs more structured input and access to editorial decision-making.
3. Managing growth
Marentes says that as the Facebook group grows, the Global Nation Exchange becomes increasingly susceptible to internet trolls and fake users. Although the page now requests the completion of a questionnaire in order to be accepted into the group, Marentes and the other moderators have to occasionally remove a specific user for posting irrelevant or inappropriate messages or content. Marentes also laments the loss of community that comes with the Facebook group’s growth. “Now that it’s a little bit larger…I don’t know participants well enough,” Marentes says. “There was more of a community when it was smaller.”
Here’s what else you should know
- Fellows aren’t full-time: Because Global Nation fellows have jobs outside of PRI, they are limited in their ability to report stories and supervise the Facebook page. For example, although page moderators may wish to interact more with the group’s members, they are not always able to do so.
- Guiding journalists through the engagement process: Non-PRI and PRI journalists frequently interact with Global Nation Exchange’s users. However, Marentes says that these interactions aren’t always sustained. “Journalists share their stories, but it would be nice if they also participated in the discussion of their story,” Marentes says. “But how do you make this organic? How can we have that discussion with journalists?” Therefore, as Global Nation Exchange grows, the moderators have started to think about what resources they can offer participating journalists, who report both for Global Nation and many other national and local news outlets.
- Defining success: The Global Nation Exchange was grown slowly by design, emphasizing depth and trust over website traffic and other metrics. This has allowed for immigrants and people of color, historically underrepresented in public media but integral to its mission, to own the space and feel safe to have conversations there that they might not elsewhere within public media forums.
Riley Stevenson is a multimedia journalism master’s student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.