Credit: Screenshot from ORBmedia

How might we provide a global perspective on the issues that make people relate to each other, regardless of their location? This is what American journalist and film-maker Molly Bingham set out to do when she founded non-profit organisation ORBmedia (Orb), using her background and experience as a photojournalist.

Launched in early 2013, Orb covers eight core topics: food, water, energy, health, education, environment, trade and governance, all or some of which often intertwine in a story, and have an impact on people everywhere.

For example a recent piece from Orb, called 'Money emergency', looks at financial structures and how people around the world get money when they need it most, touching on both education and governance.

A typical story takes about 12 weeks to produce, with data as a starting point, followed by a survey of the communities affected by the topic. Orb journalists then go out in the field, usually in teams of two, where one is focused on text and one on visuals.

They travel to at least three countries to report on each story. "It gives us a different perspective and enriches what we do, we're not just phoning in from our desks," Margaux Bergen, chief development and communications officer for Orb, told Journalism.co.uk.

"[Bingham] really wanted to use technology and data in our reporting in a fundamental way – it's the pen, paper and data.

"In the pre-reporting stage, we layer data to help shape the trajectory of the story. We look for journalists who are willing to put their natural biases aside about the human part of the story and also look at the data."

The organisation prides itself on its social journalism approach, the second step in the process which consists of reaching out to people who have been part of prior reporting, or who are in the Orb network. The team conducts surveys on how they are seeing certain trends pan out in their communities.

"We do [surveys] at almost every single stage of the story to have a connection with the people out there whose lives we are talking about – it's not just experts, politicians, entrepreneurs, it's people who are affected by some of these issues.

"Often we will ask fixers what they're seeing on the ground or to do a survey, and it's a way of taking the pulse of the community at large who may be affected by the story but isn't necessarily the story itself."

Each of Orb's stories are usually simultaneously published in four formats – text, audio, multimedia, data – and translated into four of the world's most widely spoken languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese. As it grows, the organisation hopes to expand to ten or eleven languages, making its work accessible to as many readers as possible.

Readers can find Orb's stories on its website, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as by subscribing to the newsletter. To extend the reach of its reporting, the organisation started putting together what it calls the 'global network database'.

The database has the names and social media details of experts, coalitions, academics and activists working across each of Orb's eight subject matters, and the team is building a separate one for journalists writing about those topics, Bergen said.

This resource has enabled Orb to reach out to people who can spread the word about their reporting or get involved, by asking them to take part in initiatives such as Twitter chats, for example.

"Using the exponential power of their social media contacts we then start to build expertise and audience in that subject matter.

"We know we can't build a massive audience around this global mission, we have to do it story by story and as we do that, we then start to build a platform for Orb and the stories we do."

As a non-profit, Orb is financially supported by foundations, donations and crowdfunding, hoping to also move towards an established membership model in the future.

The organisation is now gearing up to publish a comprehensive piece of reporting at the beginning of September. Having worked on it with some 10 publishing partners, Orb is also aiming to pursue syndication as a revenue stream going forward.

"This next story is the fullest expression of an Orb product," said Bergen.

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