From Facebook groups to face-time with Gorbachev: This is the story of online reporting platform Hackpack, a business with a quest to build a globally connected network of journalists.
After war broke out in East Ukraine, many foreign correspondents flocked to Donetsk to cover the ongoing crisis there, but did not speak the local language nor have contacts on the ground.
American journalist and entrepreneur Justin Varilek explains: "It's hard if you're a foreign correspondent coming into a new country to really understand the nuances of the situation."
How do you confront that problem? That's where Hackpack comes in.
Having lived and worked in Russia as a journalist with the Moscow Times for five years, Varilek was already familiar with Facebook groups connecting journalists and editors.
Yet he wanted wanted to provide a more comprehensive resource that held a broader reach.
In July 2015, Varilek launched HackPack. It's an online platform which helps media outlets and companies find, hire and manage journalists, photographers and fixers. There were 1,000 initial requests to join the site.
Registered in the U.S., HackPack currently counts 9,000 users in 147 countries. It will have its official American launch at the Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C. this October.
"Every journalist is becoming an entrepreneur" says Varilek, who moved to Berlin to work with the startup incubator Project Flying Elephant. "They develop a brand, find clients, research, create a product, manage legal contracts, accounting, chase payments...."
Finding journalists and ideas
HackPack offers several functions. Journalists create a profile, showcasing their experience, geography, languages, article clips and even how risk-averse they are.
In one section, journalists can rate the editors, and vice versa. There are also sections where journalists can share their story ideas on a message board so that editors can reach out to them.
Ideas have been submitted from journalists around the globe – even far-flung spots ranging from Peru to Eastern Congo. The best ideas, says Varilek, are "really short, really specific."
And the site's success is growing. From interviews with refugees in Berlin for Al Jazeera to an hour-long TV interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, Hackpack is supporting a new wave of strong reporting.
Editors have a “talent management” section with a “corporate page”. They can connect members of their team to it, have access to the alert sending for new positions, and see all of their team members' connections.
Paying for ideas and stories around the world
Editors pay for a assignments with a credit card through the website, and journalists withdraw the money they have earned each month.
Many use TransferWise.
As a journalist, “you won’t have to worry about getting paid,” especially when working for a new client in a new country, says Varilek. Likewise, “companies don’t want to figure out how to pay journalists.” He encourages journalists based in countries where TransferWise operates and earning over 150 euros to withdraw their earnings using TransferWise, pointing out the exchange rate is much better.
TransferWise charges just 1% or 0.7% over $5,000 with no mark-up - that means you get a far better exchange rate.
And why not try the Borderless account. For business without borders.
Old-world bank accounts only work properly in one country. They hold money only in one currency. And it
gets expensive when you try to use them across borders. TransferWise's new Borderless accounts solve all of this.
Now you can send, receive and organize your money internationally, without crazy fees or even crazier exchange rates – just a small, fair charge when your money moves between currencies. Perfect for making payments or getting paid in multiple countries.