A recent winner of the Google Impact Challenge, Berlin-based media startup Hostwriter is all about collaboration — be it asking a fellow journalist for advice, staying on their couch or writing a story together.
More than ‘couchsurfing for journalists’
Tabea Grzeszyk, one of Hostwriter’s three founders, came up with the idea for the platform following her trip to the Middle East using Couchsurfing — an online network of hosts and travelers who arrange free accomodations — in 2010. The contacts she made staying at locals’ homes became useful when the Arab Spring started a few months later in Tunisia and spread across the region. She visited the region again, this time as a reporter.
She wondered why there was no Couchsurfing platform exclusively for journalists. Three years later, with German journalists Tamara Anthony and Sandra Zistl, she founded Hostwriter — a tool to make journalism more cross border and collaborative.
Hostwriter currently operates as a search engine for journalists looking for professional advice, accommodations or opportunities for collaboration with journalists in different countries. Users must register and provide work samples to be manually verified as a journalists by the Hostwriter team before using the platform.
Rules of successful cross-border collaboration
“How can we cover global climate change or migration from a national perspective?” asks Grzeszyk, explaining the natural shift toward collaborative, cross-border journalism.
Collaborating is different than hiring a fixer, which is why Hostwriter wants to promote the relationship of co-authorship. In this relationship, it is crucial to be clear about the publishing terms and payment from the very beginning, Grzeszyk says.
When collaborating on a piece with a colleague from another country, one has to be ready to be challenged by the different points of view.
Hostwriters’ code of ethics states that members of the network should treat each other professionally, never compromising sources or in-progress work.
“It should be a win-win situation for both sides,” explains Grzeszyk.
Sparking enthusiasm across borders
Hostwriter quickly became an idea that could spread across the world. Last month, Grzeszyk and her colleagues won a Google Impact Challenge Award of EUR500,000 that will help them develop the network further.
Funding will be used to improve the platform’s technology — adding tools for discussions and faster collaboration — and expanding the network. The organization currently has members in 129 countries, but the goal is to have at least one “hostwriter” in every country in the world, says Grzeszyk. Giving access to people from remote and underreported areas is also part of their mission.
“It was never going to be a top-down organization,” says Grzeszyk. “We want to spark the enthusiasm and create ‘hubs’ in different areas in the world.”
Another feature in the works is the Hostwriter Ambassadors. At the end of September, Hostwriter will hold The Ambassador Summit in Poland to bring together people from all over the world who are passionate about working across borders. Journalists are welcome to apply to The Summit until July 30.
Hostwriter follows the stories created through its network, awarding the best ones the Hostwriter Prize. Last year’s winning stories included a story on gentrification in New York, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi and Manila; Deep Breath, a cross-border project about life in polluted environments; a study on China’s involvement in Africa; and a piece about transgender sex workers in Istanbul.
Hostwriter is still accepting entries for this year’s Hostwriter Prize, which is open to both journalists who have already published pieces with the network’s help and those who have an idea for a cross-border story. The deadline is August 15.