Quote This Woman+ (QW+) is a non-profit company based in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, but working throughout South Africa. Their aim is to contribute to gender transformation of the media landscape through the use of female voices and narratives that better correlate to South African demographics. The organisation is building a body of female experts in traditionally male-dominated fields to appear on panels and in the news, and they are collating new narratives from this database with the aim of broadening the news agenda.
Quote This Woman+ has recently received over $50,000 from the Google News Initiative to support its tech turnaround. This follows the organisation’s success at the recent Middle East, Turkey and Africa GNI Innovation Challenge, where it pitched a rebuild of its current platform to the Google programme. The platform consists of an online database of over 600 expert sources, made up of women, and people from other marginalised groups, that journalists working throughout Africa can access when looking for somebody to interview for their news stories. The rebuild will focus on a slicker user experience, with improved protection of personal information, search functionality, and journalist-expert communication channels.
Currently, over 1,000 journalists access Quote This Woman+’s database of experts. Jamlab spoke to Kath Magrobi, director of Quote This Woman+ to find out what the organisation has been up to since it graduated from the Jamlab Accelerator Programme in 2019.
Quote This Woman+ was founded in 2019, how have the last three years been, In terms of your goals and aim of the organisation?
The environment has been tough, but we’ve kept on track. We’re implementing our theory of change and we’re slowly but surely doing what we set out to do: bring more voices out of the margins and into the forefront of the news. We’re really proud to have succeeded to the extent that we have given the great upheaval of the last three years and – from lockdown to Zuma to Ukraine – just how important the news has become for all of us.
The aim of Quote This Woman+ is to contribute to gender transformation of the media landscape, do you see any changes or more women experts appearing in news and channels?
Yes and no: in some cases, we see huge strides forward. There are some media who have committed to closing the gender gap in their news sources, and who call on us seven days a week for sources for their stories. For example, The Citizen has a consistently on-the-ball newsdesk that insists journalists balance sources, and don’t only quote the same tired and over-used experts that appear everywhere. The same goes for The Daily Maverick and the M&G. We also get lots of requests for female sources from some SABC radio and TV news programmes and from some programmes on 702/Cape Talk – but not others, so there’s an inconsistency.
The other awesome area where we see more Quote This Woman+ experts appearing with more and more frequency is in foreign media. Consistently, more foreign journalists reach out for access to our database and to interview QW+ experts. So from The New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera to the Associated Press networks, our experts are getting solid international exposure. And the ripple effect of that is huge.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that interviewing a woman expert – or an expert who is marginalised in other ways, such as living in poverty, or with a disability, or being LQBTQ+ for example – is still significantly the exception rather than the rule. We’re making breakthroughs, but we still have a long way to go.
When you started you had 40 women experts on a spreadsheet to now having over 600 women experts. How did you grow your dataset?
Hard work, persistence, research, persuasion and networking. When I started QW+, my biggest mistake was believing that experts would see the intrinsic value in joining the database, and would flock to sign up. I thought convincing journalists to support us would be the hard part. And it’s been exactly the opposite. Journalists are so supportive, they just sometimes have short memories so you have to keep bringing them back to the database and find ways to give them a good experience on it so they keep on using it. Experts are the ones who in some cases look at the database with distrust, and then need skillful convincing to either tell other experts about it or to sign up themselves.
Your organisation lobbies journalists and news producers to turn to this database first when looking for people to interview and quote for their stories. How are you lobbying or encouraging newsrooms to use your database to find women experts?
We have a multi-pronged approach. We have a great relationship with media institutions, take SANEF for example, which helps with talking to editors. We also do our best to touch base with news editors regularly too, and we offer training on how to use our database for newsrooms and for individual journalists. This year we’ve also started talking to student journalists – getting to reporters before they’re actually in newsrooms so that they start their careers understanding why it is important to close the gender gap in their reporting. And finally, we use social media, especially Twitter, to keep reinforcing this message.
What are some of the challenges that you face as an organisation?
Resources, like all non-profits in the media world. Quote This Woman+ doesn’t charge journalists to use our database, and we don’t charge experts to be on it, so our business model sometimes appears counter-intuitive. It’s something we’re not prepared to budge on, however. Currently, we’re funded by grants, and the income we earn from our very unique media training offering, which we call “Women Own the Spotlight;” and the gender-sensitive writing courses that we offer for journalists. Keeping the lights on can at times seem precarious.
What is next for Quote this Woman+ – any plans to expand?
The first “next” is a big tech rebuild. We’ve just been given funding from the Google News Innovation challenge for a long overdue revamp of our platform. Look out for better searchability for journalists and peace-of-mind security for experts.
What were your takeaways from the Jamlab Accelerator Programme?
Stick to your lean canvas startup methodology; know your elevator speech; vapourware is fine for much longer than you think; you’ll never get the funding you don’t ask for.
You recently received funding from The Google GNI Innovation Challenge and how will it help with supporting your database?
The funding from the Google GNI Innovation Challenge is for us to update and revamp our technology. Currently, we have a beta version of a database that we have been looking for funding to update. We think that by making the database more user-friendly, more journalists will be willing to use it and recommend it. As it stands, we recognise that our glitchy tech is a barrier to entry. Further, there is money from the Google GNI Innovation Challenge for us to market our database. This will be the first time we have had a considerable amount to spend on marketing, and we are very excited at the prospect of making sure that all newsrooms in South Africa know about us, and hopefully use our services. To get anybody to do something outside of their normal routine (in this case, use the database) requires a bit of convincing. With this funding, we will be able to be much more convincing: our tech will be user-friendly and high quality and our marketing will hopefully do its job. We hope that this will mean more people using the database, and ultimately, more people using women sources in their reporting.
In honour of Women’s Month, why it is important to do the work that you do?
Women’s Month is a time to reflect on how South African women have had to fight to have their human rights recognised. We celebrate the 1956 march to the Union Buildings – an act that forced society to listen to women’s voices. Quote This Woman+ exists for a similar reason: we want to make sure that the voices of women (and other marginalised groups) are heard so that the issues that affect them can be brought to the fore and acted on. As an intersectional feminist organisation, we strive to ensure that all people have a say in the policies that affect them, and our mode of operation is to ensure representation in the media.
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