Caroline (Sanchez) Avakian is an Emmy-nominated television correspondent, media technologist and award-winning social entrepreneur. Dubbed the “Publicist to the Poor”, she is the Founder and CEO of SourceRise, an organization that is forging a new path for foreign and crisis news reporting by increasing the media’s access to on-the-ground expert sources in the developing world. Caroline is also the Managing Partner of Socialbrite, a leading social media for nonprofits consultancy and digital learning hub that brings together top experts in social causes and social media. Read more >>
To learn more about Caroline, join us for the upcoming ELLA Institute #LatinaInnovation Twitter Party on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6pm PST/9pn EST. Visit http://www.twtvite.com/latinainnovation.
What inspired you to create SourceRise?
SourceRise is a social enterprise and digital platform that directly connects international journalists to expert on-the-ground sources from all over the world. In a time when international news-gathering budgets are shrinking at record rates, it is becoming more difficult for journalists to independently cover critical international stories. Via a network of journalists and expert global NGO sources, SourceRise enables foreign development and crises news reporting rooted in real time, accuracy, and deep context.
Ultimately, we created SourceRise with one goal in mind — to increase media coverage of vital global issues thereby improving the quality of news and expanding access to information.
What makes SourceRise unique? Why is it important?
SourceRise is unique in that our main focus is connecting journalists to international development expert sources, something that other reporter/source connector sites don’t focus on. There are plenty of reporter/source matchmaking sites out there, the most popular one being Help a Reporter Out (HARO). These sites are useful but are more focused on reporting on topics such as sports, business, travel, lifestyle, family, relationships, etc. For example, on other reporter/source connector sites, you won’t typically find a journalist looking to interview a local expert source based in South Sudan who can speak to the growing humanitarian crisis there. In depth, accessible global development and foreign news reporting is the most needed form of journalism, yet the most neglected. At SourceRise, we know that if we can facilitate those connections via our platform, we have a greater shot at getting needed and necessary global news stories into the mainstream.
If we want to know why SourceRise is important, all we have to do is turn to the facts. A recent survey by MPO Research Group found that American media are missing the mark when it comes to providing foreign and development coverage to the public. Over half of all respondents said there should be more development and foreign news coverage, indicating that there’s a lot of room for improvement.
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 and development news was about 35-45% of all the news we consumed. Now, it’s about 12-15%. Development and foreign news has been relegated to “special” news sites. You have to go searching for that news, because you’re not really going to find much of it on the sites you’re likely already reading.
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, that require global conversations to get to global solutions. We’re nowhere near that right now.
How has your work at SourceRise impacted others in your industry?
Even though we are still at a very nascent beta stage, we have had an overwhelmingly positive response to our venture from both journalists and global development experts, international nonprofits and the UN. What we’re finding is that this discussion of connecting expert sources to journalist is actually opening the door to another important conversation, which is the need for these on-the-ground experts to be prepared to speak to the media, should the opportunity arise. Often times, journalists want to speak to the experts actually working with affected communities on the ground and not the organization’s spokesperson. Often times the spokesperson (while deeply knowledgeable and prepared) can’t answer the more in-depth but critical questions, so invariably there’s a lot of back and forth, time wasted, and dilution of the message. Journalists as well as organizations have communicated to me that there is a real need for media training for these on-the-ground experts, so at SourceRise, we’re starting to think about what an international development media training program would look like.
How have you gained support, funding and/or media attention for your venture?
We’ve gained support by putting ourselves out there as an enterprise early on, not being afraid to share our ideas, and having honest conversations about our work and our challenges. We’ve always stressed the ‘WHY’ of what we do. Once people hear the ‘why’ we do it, everything else seems to fall into place and it’s an easy conversation to have. As a social entrepreneur, it’s always a hustle to drum up media attention and new funding, but being diligent about outreach has helped us score some needed initial seed capital as well as some media attention and awards, which we are tremendously grateful for.
What has been your biggest learning experience or positive takeaway since creating SourceRise?
The most positive takeaway since creating SourceRise has been how eager we all actually are for better international news reporting. We all want to know more about the world but want it delivered to the news sites we’re already on. When I started, before I went about the eye-opening task of conducting interviews, I thought to myself, am I trying to fix a problem that others feel doesn’t actually exist. Nope. It was clear that this was a problem on both the journalist side as well. They wanted a larger pool of experts to talk to. By giving access (in this otherwise inaccessible area) to other reporters and bloggers, we’re hoping to get more international stories into the popular mainstream media arteries that dominate the news landscape. We’re infiltrating slowly but surely!
In what ways has your culture or unique life experiences impacted how you innovate in your business?
I was born in Queens, New York City, arguably the most culturally diverse place in the world. I was raised in a very international household. We spoke three different languages (English, Spanish, Catalan), and I traveled a lot from a young age. It was clear to me early on, how different American news television was from the television news I watched when I was abroad. In the US, so much airtime was spent on hyper-local news, something that you really didn’t see that much of abroad. I remember thinking about how little we actually understood and knew one other. I think I always wanted to do my part in helping to bridge that communications and information gap. SourceRise is a direct result of those early experiences, plus my career in global development communications that led me to want to fix this inaccessibility problem that I faced every day head-on in my work.
In many ways, I’ve always come back to this question below. It fuels me and forces me to confront what’s working and what’s not. It provides me the freedom (and honestly the courage) to keep innovating:
What would happen if we understood and were more connected to what’s happening in the world around us? Would we be more capable, compelled and resolved to help solve the social issues that continue to plague us as a global society?
To learn more about SourceRise, visit http://sourcerise.org/