Hostwriter: Couchsurfing for Reporters

September 11, 2014 • Specialist Journalism • by

An online network, aimed at helping journalists from all over the world to “find a story, find a colleague and find a couch” has been set up by three journalists in Berlin.

Hostwriter aims to encourage collaboration between journalists, as well as to help them find friendly accommodation while on reporting trips abroad.

Described by its founders as “couchsurfing for reporters”, Hostwriter was started in May this year. It has already attracted nearly 1000 members.

Tabea Grzeszyk, one of the network’s founders, explained its philosophy: “In general: Europe and the world are growing more and more together, economically for example, but there are also issues such as refugees and migration. So it’s totally natural to work across borders. (If you work) together you will have the better story.”

Grzeszyk said Hostwriter aimed to help journalists to cooperate, rather than to compete: “I have the impression that some freelance journalists curl up into a ball, hiding their contacts because they fear that they will no longer sell their own stories. There is a foreclosure and competition. We believe that we do not have to extend the elbow, but we can benefit from each other. When you cooperate across borders, there is no reason for competition.”

Christian Schlodder, a reporter with a German non-profit website, e-politick.de, used Hostwriter during a recent visit to Beirut. “I came across hostwriter.org by coincidence: someone had forwarded a link to our mailing list at e-politik.de, which I occasionally write for. I am still studying and I wanted to use the semester break to do a story in Lebanon. I was interested in the Lebanese housing bubble and the real estate market in a country close to what you can call political instability,” Schlodder said.

Schlodder contacted Eliana Maaz, a Hostwriter “ambassador” and journalism student in Beirut and Juliane Metzker, a German living in Beirut. “Eliana and I were going to collaborate for an article about real estate in Lebanon and Juliane offered me her guest couch to crash on. Moreover, Juliane helped me with important contacts and all the practical knowledge I needed to survive in Beirut (when do public buses leave & where??) I had so much support, it was perfect,” Schlodder said.

Grzeszyk, was inspired to start Hostwriter, with journalists Sandra Zistl and Tamara Anthony, after experiencing hospitality and help from local people, while working in Damascus. “In 2008 I was in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria and did couchsurfing. I stayed with a young couple in a suburb of Damascus, who lived in an area where the mostly Iraqi refugees live. I got an insight I would never have had if I had slept at the hotel.”

“After that we had the idea that such meetings should also be used professionally. With Sandra and Tamara we developed it further, until we came to the current project, a global cooperation network for journalists, bloggers and documentary filmmakers.”

Membership is free, and open to all journalists although certain criteria must be met, as Grzeszyk explains: “the easiest way to become a member at Hostwriter is, if you are a member of one of our partner organizations. This includes journalist associations, such as the DJV or Reporters Without Borders, and there are also a few universities. These journalists get an invitation code from us and their profile will be activated immediately. All others must apply for accreditation. With us it is that you must have published something. So you send a link to a text, we will check it and enable the journalists to work with Hostwriter – at the moment we do this within 24 hours.”

Grzeszyk, Zistl and Anthony do not get paid for their work on Hostwriter – all have full time jobs, but the website currently receives funding from the Augstein Foundation, the Bosch Foundation, Vocer and Social Impact Lab.

This article was translated and modified from the German “Netzwerk Hostwriter” and is available on EJO also in Italian, Latvian, and Ukrainian.

On the photo: Hostwriter founders – (from left to right) Sandra Zistl, Tabea Grzeszyk and Tamara Anthony. Photo used with permission.

 

 

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