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Jefferson Awards: Global Journalism For Social Change

HEALDSBURG (CBS 5) - Covering stories in the developing world is a job usually left to foreign correspondents, but this week's Jefferson Award winner is changing that, and in the process, empowering women and their communities around the globe.

At a little office in Sonoma County, Cristi Hegranes launched an online chat to connect with her worldwide network of journalists. She founded Global Press Institute five years ago, a non-profit that uses journalism as a catalyst for change . A former correspondent herself, Hegranes got the idea while working in Nepal.

"Even though I had been in the country for a good amount of time, I spoke the language pretty well, I was just the wrong person to be telling the stories because I lacked so much context," she said.

So she began training local women who might otherwise not have a voice in their culture in the skills of old fashioned journalism. After six months of learning, they're offered a job with GPI, working with local editors, filing stories, and meeting deadlines.

"This is not just blogging, this is not just 'This is how I feel about this.' I am a traditionalist and I believe in the power of traditional ethics-based journalism. So that's really what you see," she explained.

Today, Global Press Institute employs 114 journalists in 24 different countries.

"We've run stories on a lot of inter-caste and gender justice issues, reproductive rights issues, and our biggest focus for the second half of the year is going to be climate change coverage."

Correspondents write in their in local languages, with help from editors Cristi has hired in each region. The final product is distributed for free to local media outlets, but also finds a home in English on the Global Press Institute website. Cristi checks in daily with her correspondents, helping them develop ideas.

She shares her tiny office with co-worker and consultant Meagan Demitz who just returned from East Africa.

"I think what was most striking to me is that this is more than just women having jobs as journalists," Demitz said. "It's really changed their perceptions of themselves, the kind of power that they have as women. A lot of them would never have this opportunity otherwise."

It's an opportunity to make money that is transforming their families as well. As for Hegranes, she makes her living teaching college journalism classes, sharing her passion with Bay Area students the way she has with women around the world.

"I came up with the idea. But it's actually the people on the ground who make this work," said Hegranes. "If there weren't brave, bold women around the world who are willing to take on this training opportunity, this employment opportunity, it wouldn't work."

For using journalism as a catalyst for economic empowerment, global awareness, and social change, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Cristi Hegranes.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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