On a sunny day a year ago in 2018, the staff of Hostwriter met to put together an official “Vision Statement” as part of the continued development and professionalization of our organization.
Sitting around a desk in a conference room, we spent a soul-searching afternoon focused on filling in the blanks of the following proposed template:
Hostwriter is a _____________________
that helps _______________________
We each received a stack of sticky notes and tackled one section at a time. When we asked “What are we?”, everyone had five minutes to write down answers on as many sticky notes as possible. When the alarm signaled the end of the five minutes, we each went around the room sticking our notes onto a whiteboard. After a lot of discussion — were we a community? a network? what’s the difference? — we settled on “Hostwriter is an open network.” We chose the word “open” both because we’re based on the open-source Drupal framework and because we are free.
Then we tackled the next question, “Who do we serve?” Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who your organization helps, sometimes it isn’t. In our case, the challenge was that we sometimes got too specific in talking about who we were aiming our platform at helping. Were we helping freelance journalists? Sure, but also established journalists working full-time at news bureaus. Were we helping investigative journalists? Of course, but also science journalists, data journalists, documentary photojournalists, and a whole myriad of other types of journalists. In the end, we’re targeting people like ourselves. All the founders are working journalists and most staff members do journalism on the side. We realized the answer was, “Hostwriter is an open network that helps journalists.”
Finally, we asked ourselves, “What do we help journalists do?” Wow. After five minutes of thought and a manic scribbling of pens on sticky notes, our whiteboard was filled with all of the many things that we do to help journalists. We began grouping the notes together by theme. Slowly, we realized that all of the things we do to help journalists center on one main topic: cross-border journalism. It became very apparent that we had hit upon the final part of the statement. “Hostwriter is an open network that helps journalists to collaborate across borders.”
But we felt that there was still something missing. What is the core of our value to our members? The word that truly completed our mission statement: “easily.” The heart of Hostwriter is the online platform, where thousands of journalists can quickly and easily find journalists according to where they live, topics of interest, and what they offer to other platform members. Search, find, click to contact and send a message. Easy. Many of our members are freelancers or young journalists starting out who haven’t yet built a big network of their own. We help them to easily connect with other journalists around the world. With the addition of that one word, we then had our vision statement.
Hostwriter is an open network that helps journalists to easily collaborate across borders.
What happened after that?
Once we had our vision statement, we had something to measure our activities against. We could ask ourselves, “How closely does this serve our vision?” before embarking on a new project. Did it serve the vision, or was it a distraction from our vision?
Ultimately, the vision statement helped inform our decisions as we moved forward in 2018 with some very big projects:
1. Diversify our membership and reach out to journalists from all over the globe. Over the past year, Hostwriter has made great efforts to reach journalists from more countries. To that end, we enlisted our ambassadors to reach out to their networks in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. We’ve also led workshops on “Cross-Border Journalism as a Method” specifically for student and established journalists in Europe, Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. These activities contribute to making Hostwriter “AN OPEN NETWORK that helps journalists to easily collaborate across borders.”
2. Focusing on mobile-first for our platform. In 2018, Hostwriter began a long process to make our online platform easier for our member journalists to use — no matter where they were and no matter what level of mobile data availability they had. We set about to streamline the login process and to make the platform easier to access in places with limited cellular service. Because our vision is to be an open network that “helps journalists TO EASILY COLLABORATE across borders,” this project fit perfectly.
3. Held our first-ever Ambassador Summit. In holding our first in-person meeting of 30 Hostwriter “super-users,” we were able to not only get great feedback on how Hostwriter could better serve its members, we were able to experience first-hand the difficulties that many reporters have simply crossing borders. This provided us with a lot of insights on considerations we should be aware of and steps that we could take to help our network’s member “journalists to easily COLLABORATE ACROSS BORDERS.”
As we plan future activities, we will keep our vision statement as a beacon in front of us, lighting the way forward in service to journalists around the globe.
(This article was also published on Hostwriter’s Medium channel.)