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Ford and IWMF host women's digital media summit
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

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Ford Foundation and the International Women's Media Foundation hosted Cracking the Code, an invitation-only women's digital media entrepreneurs summit Jan. 28-30, 2015 in New York City.

More than 150 women, and a few men, participated in the event, which was for journalists, storytellers, entrepreneurs, "intraprenerus," funders, academics and others from the area of digital media.

Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of IWMF, and Barbara Raab, Ford Foundation Program Officer for Media and Justice, said in the program guide that their goals included highlighting the work of outstanding women in digital news globally, "and to create a powerful opportunity for peer learning and networking." Also, they wanted to "foster a meaningful dialogue around the importance of gender equity and the inclusion of diverse voices in the digital news industry."

Their final goal was to help find solutions to "the challenges women working in digital news face," especially for startups.

Munoz also spoke about an innovative new phone app IWMF is developing to help protect journalists around the world, especially those covering war-torn areas. They will be announcing more details this spring.

The diversity of women was indeed inspiring. There were women who started media, or innovated traditional media outlets, in the Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia and beyond.

The program had keynote speakers, panel discussions and then "Ignite Talks," short presentations from women doing interesting things in media. The first evening's Ignite talks were: Jennifer Brandel, founder and executive producer of Curious Nation ( which launched in Chicago at WBEZ radio as Curious City ); Wadia Samadi, editor of Wadsam, a business website in Afghanistan; Nonny de la Pena, CEO of Emblematic Group; Elmira Bayrasli, co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted; and Joumana al Jabri, co-founder of Visualizing Impact.

Kara Swisher, co-CEO of Revere Digital and co-executive editor of Re/code, was unable to get to New York due to the weather, but she recorded her "Call to Action" for attendees.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, opened the second day of programs with an inspiring speech calling for full inclusion of diverse voices in media. "Across this country and around the world, women do not have an equal seat at the table. Equal space in media, or an equal voice in the board room," Walker said. "Especially, especially in the technology industry. As I've often said, inequality in all its forms is an existential threat to a democratic society. This includes gender inequality. Because until women have an equal voice, we will not have a free press. So today is not only about cracking the code, but about re-coding our status quo. Not only about breaking the glass ceiling, but about building a bigger space for women on those glass screens where we consume digital journalism. I am an ardent believer in the profound power of great journalism and our digital society to help fight injustice in the world."

Mariana Santos, the fun and energetic founder of Chicas Poderosas ( Powerful Chicks ) and director of Interactive and Animation for Fusion, spoke in her keynote address about her passion for increasing the skills of women journalists. Her Chicas group has trained more than 1,000 women from Latin America in using design to enhance their journalism projects.

Amy Webb, founder and CEO, Webbmedia Group and co-founder of Knowlegewebb Training, spoke about "what's text" in digital. The near future is especially about putting audiences first, including in the design of articles on various devices and focusing on the time consumers have to read. She also said a trend is virtual assistants who can talk.

The "Women at the Forefront: Succeeding in Digital News" panel was moderated by Farai Chideya, New York University professor of journalism. Panelists were Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor, the Rappler ( Philippines ); Nataliya Gumenyuk, co-founder, Hromadske TV and editor-in-chief Hromadske International ( Ukraine ); Natalia Viana, founder and director director, Agencia Publica ( Brazil ); and Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief, The Information.

The next panel, "The Rise of Single Subject News Sites," was moderated by Lara Setrakian, co-founder and executive editor, News Deeply. The panelists were Juanita Leon, director, La Silla Vacia ( Colombia ); Laura Amico, co-founder, Homicide Watch and data and multimedia projects editor, Boston Globe; Fungai Machirori, director, Her Zimbabwe; and Susan Daly, managing editor, ( Ireland ).

The Ignite Talks breaks included Andaiye Taylor, founder and editor-in-chief of; Marie-Catherine Beuth, founder, News on Demand; Kelly Virella, founder, Longview Magazine; Tracie Powell, founder, All Digitocracy; Erin Polgreen, co-founder, Symbolia; Jeanne Pinder, founder and CEO,; and Melinda Wittstock, founder and CEO, Verifeed.

There was a panel on "Intrapreneurs: Leading Digital Innovation in Established Media Organizations," with moderator Amy O'Leary, editorial director of Upworthy. Her panelists were Mandy Jenkins, open news editor, Storyful; Lakshmi Chaudhry, executive editor and co-founder, ( India ); Youyoung Lee, senior editor of strategy and development, The Huffington Post; and Shazna Nessa, director of journalism for the Knight Foundation.

There was a two-part series on funding issues, which was on the minds of most of the women at the conference, whether they are with startups or established entities.

"Where's the Money for Women Digital News Entrepreneurs? Seed Funding" was moderated by Dr. Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for Innovation, Research/Creative Activity and Graduate Studies, Scripps College of Communication, Ohio University. The panelists were Jake Shapiro, founding partner, Matter Ventures and CEO, PRX; Marie Gilot, Knight Foundation program officer in journalism; Deborah Jackson, founder and CEO, Plum Alley; and Christie George, director, New Media Ventures.

"Where's the Money for Women Digital News Entrepreneurs? Venture Capital," was moderated by Adaora Udoji, CEO and founder, outLoud Inc. Panelists were Fran Hauser, partner at Rothenberg Ventures; Harlan Mandel, CEO, Media Development Investment Fund; Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO, Pipeline Fellowship; and Stacy Donohue, Investment Partner, Omidyar Network.

Closing remarks were from Lisa Stone, chief community officer, SheKnows Media and co-founder of BlogHer. She discussed partnering with Public Radio International to expand the reach of women's stories across the Internet. They will be using the hashtag #womenslives.

The final summit day featured a hackathon, with $10,000 in prize money donated by Google.

The online version of this story includes links to videos from some of the presentations.

The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.

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