Improving the Way We Access Humanitarian and Crises News

03/17/2015 06:25 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

In 2014, Caroline Avakian put into motion an idea that could reshape the way we access and mainstream crises and humanitarian news from all over the world.

Caroline, who has spent a good portion of her career in both broadcasting and working for global development organizations, grew frustrated at the lack of quality and contextualized humanitarian and crisis news reporting in the mainstream media.

It can be very deceptive. In the digital age, we feel inundated with news and information, and so it feels like we have more access to global news than ever before. As Caroline explains, that's actually not the case. What is clear is that Caroline wants to encourage media at its original and most effective level: as watchdog, catalyst of social reform and builder of peace and consensus.

Caroline recently beta-launched SourceRise, a social enterprise and online platform that connect journalists to on-the-ground sources in the developing world. Caroline is currently a semi-finalist for the Echoing Green Global Fellowship for SourceRise, a highly competitive program offering seed-stage funding and support to emerging leaders working to bring about positive social change.

What is SourceRise? Why is it important?

SourceRise is a social enterprise that connects journalists to on-the-ground NGO sources during humanitarian crises, in an effort to bridge the growing information gap in humanitarian and crisis news reporting. SourceRise's digital platform allows a network of journalists and global NGO sources, to directly connect via daily source and information requests, as well as digital media briefings on breaking global hot topics. SourceRise's services also match journalists and other media makers with NGOs able to host them on the ground. As a result, SourceRise hopes to improve the quality of news and information, increasing coverage of vital issues and expanding access to information.

What SourceRise can deliver is important because at a time when news organizations are slashing international reporting budgets, and foreign news desks are shuttering completely, there remains a need to deliver timely and contextualized foreign news stories. A 2013 study by MPO Research Group found that American media is missing the mark when it comes to providing international coverage to the public. When MPO asked respondents what they thought about global news coverage, over half said there should be more of it. The bottom line is, we look at the Internet and think we have this wide view of the world, when in fact we're not really as connected as we think we are. In the 1970s, US global news was about 35-45 percent of all the news we consumed. Now, it's about 12-15 percent.

So, we've slowly adapted to that shift through the years and I think that's really problematic on many levels. The real problems of the world we need to solve are global in scale, which require global conversations to get to global solutions. We're nowhere near that right now.

How does SourceRise make these connections between journalists and sources?

SourceRise takes a three-pronged approach to its programs. The first is our digital matchmaking program between a network of journalists and NGO expert sources. Journalists send out their source request emails to us and we compile requests and send them to our network of available NGO sources. Via requests, we additionally match journalists and other media makers with NGOs able to host them on the ground, and host digital media briefings on breaking global hot topics. Lastly, we have a robust database of NGO sources from which journalists can draw on expert sources from a particular geographic or issue area.

What's unique about what you're doing?

There are a number of sites connecting reporters to sources but SourceRise is the only organization with a focus on humanitarian and crisis news reporting. Unlike other sites, SourceRise aims to elevate important global development stories, as well as new and prolonged humanitarian crises reporting. Our innovation lies in our user-friendly platform that can easily connect journalists with the vetted sources that desire to provide that information.

What do you think underlies the lack of humanitarian news coverage?

I think both NGOs and journalists have been guilty of generalizing and simplifying the portrayal of people who are thrown into crisis or are living in poverty. We need both of these groups to see the underlying, more interesting stories that are possible. NGOs need to ground their stories and pitches in the broader news context, and journalists need to be better at elevating those stories. But to get at the good story, we need more detailed attention to the local, particular causes and contexts. SourceRise can help fill that gap.

What about the question of journalistic integrity? For example, if an NGO offers to host a journalist?

This is a topic that comes up frequently and with reason. The way I see it, most of us are not completely independent of the funding that facilitates our work and projects. One way to view this is to ask yourself: Can I interview who I want? How is my writing on this story being shaped by my relationship with the NGO hosting me or providing me with information? Are we both clear on our expectations from the start? What can I do from the beginning to better my ability to look at different viewpoints? Journalists should also disclose the source and always provide attribution. No matter the setting, journalists are responsible for their own research and rigor.

Ultimately, what are the goals you hope to accomplish?

My goals are two-fold: To help give a voice to the voiceless, and through that help to provide critical global news stories that will reach wider, more mainstream audiences. Ultimately, we want greater awareness of global humanitarian issues and prolonged crises, an informed and activated public and governments that are accountable to their people.

Learn more about SourceRise
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