Below is a Q&A with Cristi Hegranes, founder, publisher and CEO of Global Press. It has been edited for length and clarity and first appeared in Poynter’s Cohort newsletter. Subscribe to The Cohort to join a community of women in media moving the conversation about workplaces forward.
Mel Grau: For someone who is not familiar with Global Press, what do you think are the three coolest things about it?
Cristi Hegranes: Global Press is reinventing international journalism. We train and employ female journalists in the least-covered parts of the world to produce local stories of global relevance with dignity and precision. My three favorite things about the organization are:
- I employ the bravest, boldest women on the planet! Together, we created the Global Press Style Guide, which deviates from AP Style in important ways. It sets a new standard for dignified, precise language in global journalism.
- It’s tough to be a local reporter in places like Southern Mexico and Democratic Republic of Congo. So, we developed an industry-leading Duty of Care program that provides for the physical, emotional, digital and legal security of every reporter in our network.
- Global Press Journal, the award-winning publication of Global Press, serves a really unique audience. Our stories are available in the reporters’ local languages and English.
Mel: You founded Global Press 14 years ago when you were 25. It’s kind of like your first child. In March, you gave birth to a sweet baby boy. Tell us about having a baby during this time, while also being the CEO and publisher of a global nonprofit news organization.
Cristi: Yes! Global Press was born on March 6, 2006. And Henry Wynn Cayo Hegranes was born on March 24, 2020. For the last 14 years, Global Press has been my whole life. I carefully crafted the exact right time to have a baby, and just my luck, gave birth in the midst of a pandemic. In mid-March, understanding about COVID-19 was still up in the air and hospital policies were changing. I ended up giving birth alone in the hospital because just one support person was allowed in the room. My best friend had traveled too recently to join me, and my doula got sick. It was a perfect storm. It was scary, for sure. But I think it gave me the mental fortitude to endure these next weeks (or months) home alone with a newborn.
Mel: As a mom to a newborn, how are things different than what you expected pre-pandemic?
Cristi: I am a single mom, so having everything planned out for my maternity seemed essential. I had every week structured, planned, booked. And, of course, absolutely none of it came to fruition. My family hasn’t been able to visit. The child care I arranged evaporated. But while the external circumstances were wildly unexpected, I bet my first few weeks as a mom weren’t too different from what most new moms experience. I’ve learned that nearly everything can be accomplished with one hand. I’ve learned what it feels like to have no sleep and to still adore the little person preventing you from sleeping. I’ve learned how to get barfed on in stride.
And I’m learning how to find gratitude in this crazy moment. I am grateful that I get this one-on-one time with Henry, who just happens to be the cutest, sweetest, mellowest baby I have ever met. He is a champion sleeper (thank god!) and an easy smiler (swoon). He seems to know that the world is in a tense and difficult moment. I like to think he’s taking it all in so he can become a force for change later in his life.
After 10 weeks of this, what I can say for sure is that momming is no joke. I actually think I’m lucky to have a new baby who sleeps all the time. All the moms around the world, especially the journo moms, who are doing their jobs and teaching times tables and doing science projects are freakin’ heroes.
Mel: You had planned to take months of maternity leave, but you started working again after just a few days. Why?
Cristi: While I was pregnant, I was so irritated by people who would constantly comment on my maternity leave plans. I heard an endless barrage of things like, “You better to take all of it” and “I better not hear from you.” The implication seemed to be that I’d be a bad mom if I came back to work too soon. Or that I wouldn’t know how to love my son because I love Global Press so much; that a work-a-holic can’t also be a mom-a-holic. I repeatedly said that I would do what felt right for me. And that’s what I did.
In too many news organizations, policies have been created to tolerate women, which doesn’t allow them to be the best journalists they can be. I’m proud of the fact that we offer the same paid leave to every Global Press employee, whether they are in D.C. or DRC. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of women off onto maternity leave, and everyone at Global Press was ready to ensure that I had the same opportunity.
But, we’re a small team here in D.C. And there are a few things that only I am set up to do. Interfacing with donors and investors is one of those things. So, when it became clear that there would be a financial impact attached to the pandemic, I knew I had to get to work. I started scheduling a few phone calls a day. I’d strap Henry into his car seat and drive in circles around our neighborhood, hoping he’d stay asleep, while I talked to a myriad of Global Press stakeholders.
I know it was the right thing to do. There are still a lot of people covering for me in a lot of ways. But this is a moment where we all have to do our part.
Mel: What does a typical workday look like for you now?
Cristi: Well, for the first time in 14 years I have a very demanding new boss. He’s a stickler for deadlines. (Milk must be delivered every 120-180 minutes or else!) Mornings are weird and wild. But by about 1 p.m. we have a little routine developing. He takes longer naps, I take more calls. We’re figuring it out. My top work priority is continuing to interface with Global Press stakeholders and to raise money during this uncertain time.
Still, no two days look the same. I’m extremely fortunate to work in a news organization that celebrates motherhood. Henry makes his fair share of appearances on Zoom calls and people are very generous when he squeals in the background or when I have to reschedule at the last minute or drop off quickly.
Mel: Tell me more about Duty of Care.
Cristi: In our industry, there is a profound lack of security parity between foreign correspondents and local journalists. Often used as fixers or translators, local journalists rarely receive the same protections. Yet they are the ones who make so much of international storytelling possible. For them, extraction is never an option. So, we designed a holistic, four-part safety and security program to provide for their physical, emotional, digital and legal security — we call it Duty of Care.
Duty of Care is implemented in three distinct ways: in-person training, daily policies and procedures, and crisis response.
In training, reporters learn things like situational awareness, first aid, surveillance detection etc. But when it comes to security, news organizations have to do more than just offer a few trainings. Education has to be supported by a robust system of security-related policies and protocols designed to ensure that reporters’ safety is prioritized in every step of the editorial process.
One of the most exciting aspects of the ongoing support that we provide to our team of female journalists is long-term wellness counseling. We know that journalists experience work-related trauma at extraordinary rates. Yet, mental health conversations remain taboo in many newsrooms and mental health resources remain largely out of reach for people in the media markets where we work. So, we recruited a global network of counselors who speak the languages of all of our team members. They offer unlimited sessions, which are free and confidential for the reporters. Since the wellness counselor network launched in 2018, more than 60% of our global team has utilized the service.
Mel: How has prioritizing education and safety set you up for success during this crisis?
Cristi: It’s never happened before that we have every reporter in the world on heightened Duty of Care check-in protocols — much less for the same reason. But we were able to respond quickly because our reporters were already trained in these protocols. The culture of checking in was already established, and we were able to quickly establish security norms that allowed most of our team to resume reporting right away. They’ve been able to do some extraordinary coronavirus coverage in the last few months, exploring the unique impact the pandemic is having on places like DRC, which just became Ebola-free, or populations of people, like sex workers in Uganda.
Ultimately, I think it’s the culture of Duty of Care that allows us to produce such great stories from so many different places. Because at its core, Duty of Care says we care about our reporters as people, not content machines. Across the world, we trust each other.
Mel: Even in the best of times, executive leadership can be lonely. So can being a new mom. How are you coping in both roles? What support helps?
Cristi: This is a tough moment for all news executives, I think. And it’s a tough moment for new moms — and all moms! As a mom, I have a lot of virtual support because I’ve stayed mostly isolated since Henry was born. No matter what I do, I feel like I am either being paranoid or reckless. I can’t seem to find an in-between. I imagine a lot of people feel that way. We get lots of FaceTimes and people have been so generous, sending us food and gifts. One of my dear friends runs the jewelry company Article 22, which makes stunning jewelry out of recycled bombs. She sent me one of their resolution wrap bracelets that says, “courage takes many forms.” It’s a great reminder of how people everywhere are living courageously right now.
Mel: What is something that you wish other women knew about your experience during the pandemic?
Cristi: Most of all, I think this moment has made me even more committed to ensuring Global Press continues to be a news organization that strives to be an exceptional employer of women. Our reporters around the world are full-time journalists and moms and aunts and sisters, all living in challenging circumstances, doing challenging work. Having an employer who says it’s OK to be all the things you need to be in a day is important. Being successful and sane in this difficult time is all about being able to have the freedom to decide who you need to be in each moment.
In some moments, I need to be a CEO raising money and supporting a team of global journalists. In others, I need to be singing silly songs and bouncing up and down the hallway to get this baby to sleep. Both are important.
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