Where will we go? Managing Director Maria Krasinski gives a glimpse into the future of our growing nonprofit.

Decoder Podcast: Maria Krasinski (Stories w/o Borders)

The Decoder Podcast features conversations with News Decoder community members about their experiences in education, journalism and beyond. In this episode, recorded as part of our June 2023 Giving Campaign, we talk with Managing Director Maria Krasinski about what’s on the horizon for News Decoder in 2024 and beyond. You can listen to the podcast or read a transcript of the conversation below. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Joyce: Hello everyone. I hope you’re all enjoying June, from wherever in the world you’re listening in from. Today’s Decoder Podcast is a special one, as we’re sitting down with News Decoder’s Managing Director Maria Krasinski to talk a little bit about what the future looks like for our global nonprofit, which is celebrating eight years of growth and social impact this year. Let’s dive in.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk a little bit about News Decoder’s future, looking towards 2024 and beyond. So just for our listeners who are new to the podcast, would you please introduce yourself?

Maria: Of course. Hello, everyone. I’m Maria Krasinski. I’m the Managing Director at News Decoder. I joined the News Decoder team in July 2021, so almost two years ago now, and I am based here in our headquarters in Paris.

Joyce: Amazing. And what’s it like in Paris nowadays? What’s the weather like? How are we feeling?

Maria: We’re feeling very, very warm. Summer is here after a long, gray winter. We’ve jumped right to the other extreme. But it’s really lovely. The sun is shining. It’s nice to look up at the blue sky for once.

Humble beginnings: ‘a Kickstarter and a dream’

Joyce: And June is particularly special for News Decoder because it is our eighth birthday, right?

Maria: It is our birthday. So, all the way back in 2015, News Decoder started with a little Kickstarter campaign and a dream. And here we are now, eight years later, going stronger than ever.

Joyce: Eight years, almost a decade. And at least in the time that I’ve been on board at News Decoder, I’ve seen so much growth, even just in the half year that I’ve been part of the team. I’m so curious as to what you’ve seen in your time at News Decoder as Managing Director, what have been some of the highlights?

Maria: Yeah, lots of them. One of the things that I love about News Decoder, that drew me to the organization in the first place, is that being eight years old — or even when I joined, it had just turned six — you’re a bit established as an organization and you’ve gone through cycles of success, but you’re still kind of in that startup mode.

And I really like that flexibility to try out new things, to pivot if something isn’t quite going as well or just to experiment and prototype some ideas — see how it went and then continue to hone and refine and see what really meets the needs and interests of our audience and our partners the best.

And that I feel like, in the last year, that has really ramped up and it’s been really exciting and rewarding to watch. I think we’ve had great feedback from our partners, too.

So if I think about the highlights from this past year, there’s the internal and the external highlights. As an organization, we’re multifaceted, as most of our supporters and listeners will know.

Fostering global connectedness through media

Maria: But externally, I would say it’s been really great to see News Decoder’s expansion of our presence in the youth media and global education world, and expanding our partnerships and working with other like-minded organizations and nonprofits who share a similar mission with us — how we foster global awareness and connectedness through media, through news.

And that’s looked a few different ways.

From the very beginning, school partnerships have been the core of our educational mission. This year we welcomed two new schools to the fold — Saint Mary’s in the UK and the Tatnall School in the U.S.

What was really interesting — and a highlight with them — is we engage with their classrooms in a totally different way, in a creative way, than some of our other partners.

That kind of goes back to our startup mentality and that we’re flexible enough to really customize the work that we do with our school partners and students to maximize their benefit and really fit in with their curriculum goals.

So working with those two new schools was a really wonderful experience and I think added really well to our global community.

Growing News Decoder’s global impact

Another big growth moment for News Decoder this year was our first big institutional grant project through Erasmus+. We implemented a climate change education initiative called The Writing’s on the Wall, in partnership with The Climate Academy at the European School of Brussels II, one of our school partners.

That was really a significant moment, not just getting the grant funding, but deepening our partnership with one of our partner schools and finding creative ways to work together. Through that project, we also got to connect with more partners and people here in our home city of Paris.

One facet of that project is a monthly webinar conversation series called Ecologues, which is being hosted by the American Library in Paris. It’s been really wonderful to partner with them.

We worked with our longtime partner, Global Youth & News Media, to implement a climate storytelling contest through the project, which drew contest entries from 16 different countries. So again, it’s putting News Decoder in front of new audiences, and again working with The Climate Academy all along the way and brainstorming how we might grow even more in the future.

Along with grant funding, we’ve been pursuing a lot of new projects too, including a very exciting project to come that we’ll be announcing soon — that you’ll be sure to hear a lot more of in the future.

But just to give a preview, it’s going to be a ten-partner, ten-country consortium all across the EU, which really fits into News Decoder’s strategic goal to expand our presence and find ways to partner with other organizations working in the same space, but in a complementary way. We can’t wait to share more about that project.

Looking ahead

Joyce: It’s so impressive to see the breadth of the network that News Decoder has and the way that it just continues to iterate and to serve, like you said, the school partners, but also to collaborate and really amplify the strengths of different organizations. You’re talking about this ten-party consortium. I’m excited to learn more about that.

And that does bring me to my third question here, kind of looking ahead. What does the future look like for News Decoder after its eighth birthday?

Maria: Yeah, we have lots of things in the works. So, another highlight — I’m just full of highlights — internally, as an organization, we have been really focused this year on making a lot of our work more explicit.

A lot of our mission and our educational focus kind of sits behind the scenes. And it’s always been sort of implicitly understood.

But I think we could do a better job at communicating that to the general public who maybe isn’t aware who we are. Maybe it’s a new school.

Making the implicit explicit

What I mean by making the implicit explicit is if you come to news-decoder.com, you see a lot of our news stories. You see some links, maybe to some of our partners, but you’re not always seeing ‘behind the headlines’ to all the educational learning that went on behind the scenes to get to that point, to get to publishing.

And not just with our student stories, but with our correspondent stories as well. And I think one of News Decoder’s really unique values is that we bring a global perspective to all that we do, and we encourage that through our students, through our correspondents.

How is this story relevant to someone on the other side of the world? How can it be useful in a classroom?

And so, all of that work is going to continue on in the future. We are revamping some elements of our website, including adding these explanatory bits to our news articles.

Going beyond the headlines

When you read an article, it’s really good to learn and get the backstory of what’s happening in Sudan now. But we’re labeling it: this story comes from one of our seasoned correspondents who has worked in this area. We add maps to situate where in the world this is.

Every story includes three questions at the end, as a prompt. We’re going to expand on more within the articles themselves, some kind of news literacy prompts.

With our student stories, we label them all to identify that this came through a partnership with a school. If someone is interested in learning more about how their school might get involved, the links are right there.

And much like this podcast, we’re also taking time to go behind the scenes and do these interviews and spotlights with our current students to learn about their learning, and the process of creating and reporting on a topic.

We’re featuring correspondent interviews, alumni, faculty at our school partners, even some of our trustees and board members. This is to really paint a wider picture of News Decoder and go beyond the headlines, as we like to say.

Joyce: It’s really great to see the faces behind all of the work and all of the educational materials, the news stories, to personalize that a bit. And I love that feature.

Purpose-driven work rooted in global citizenship education

Maria: Yeah. And I think all of this is still rooted in our mission. It’s easy, especially as we look at different grant projects, to kind of be like, “Oh, this sounds great” or “That sounds great.”

But we always are checking — how does this fit our mission, how does this fit our overall goal and what we’re trying to do here?

All of News Decoder’s work is rooted in global citizenship, global citizenship education. We peg our learning projects to internationally-recognized standards, such as the UN and the SDGs. Or there are, in the EU, different media literacy frameworks.

So we’re always trying to incorporate that into what we do, and journalism is just the lens through which we are building these skills and these competencies.

And I think around the world, really, there’s a growing interest and value in that kind of experiential and project-based learning. I think News Decoder offers a really unique approach to that — helping young people think like journalists, giving them these tools and techniques of journalism as a way to boost their global awareness.

Evolving with global trends

Joyce: That is so important, especially with the current trends and the increased usage of artificial intelligence, things like that. This truth-finding — what is, and is there, objective truth? How do we find that? Especially to teach that skill to young people is going to become more and more crucial.

Maria: Absolutely. Another thing that I’m hoping we’ll do more of going forward — we do a couple of them through the year — is having these global public webinars. We call them Decoder Dialogues.

I think one of News Decoder’s strengths is our convening power. We have school partners all around the world, we have correspondents based all around the world. More and more we’re connecting with other media and youth organizations.

In the past we have quite successfully brought them together around the same table, with all having equal voice to discuss very timely and relevant topics. We’ve hosted past webinars on student mental health, on the war in Ukraine, on just democracy in general.

Things like AI and journalism and the future of that, I think, are certainly on the roster for next year.

‘What are the needs and the gaps we can fill?’

Joyce: That’s a great segue into my fourth question here. So, with all of these changing trends in the world at large, can you talk a little bit about News Decoder’s growth and innovation strategy? What’s compelling change, and what are some of the triggers of these areas of growth?

Maria: Like I said, it’s all rooted in our mission, but also trying to be as responsive to the needs of our audience. Really having our students, our faculty, even our general public involved, and hearing from them what are the needs and the gaps that we can fill?

Again, going back to building global citizenship competencies is rooted in what we do, a growing focus on socio-emotional learning and really creating a space.

I like to say that I really want News Decoder to be known as the go-to site for trusted global news and information that helps young people and anyone break outside of their bubble and feel a part of the larger world, and feel a responsibility to that world.

How do you understand the perspectives of others and relate with them and in our case, share those stories?

We frame a lot of what we do in terms of being a foreign correspondent for the week or think like a foreign correspondent. And I think that discipline, that career, really does offer a unique way of looking at the world.

Stories and skill-building without borders

So, as we look ahead towards our growth and innovation, we’re doing some of these tweaks to our website to really improve the usefulness and usability of it for our academic partners and the general public.

We really put a mirror on ourselves too, and look at who our audience is. We have readers in more than 100 countries around the world, but there are some areas where we don’t have many school partners.

So we’re really looking to grow into these different regions. To that end, we’re honing and expanding our subscription models. We have our full immersion, fully embedded within the classroom model, but we’re also going to offer different levels — again, to meet schools where they are or based on their needs, which I think offers a lot of exciting opportunities.

We want to make it easier for when people come to our site to know what we’re about, how they can get involved. Whether that’s subscribing or donating or maybe writing for us, introducing us to a school that might be attracted to our mission — all of these facets are coming into play in the next few months as we look ahead.

Joyce: That’s incredible. I love seeing this growth — even in a short couple of months, there’s been so much progress. I know our website has had, I think, a quarter of a million views [this academic year]. That’s a big number. To continue to see that social impact growing and growing and growing — that’s a rewarding part of this nonprofit work.

It’s very humbling to see because it’s the result, I think, of individual efforts and people who really care, and that’s really incredible.

Okay, great. My last question, just final words for our community and our really valued donors.

‘Thank you’

Maria: Oh, gosh. I guess two words: thank you.

As I said, News Decoder really launched as a true grassroots endeavor back in 2015 when Nelson Graves, our founder — who’s still very much involved with us, maybe not in the day to day, but still leading our board — just had this idea and put it out there in the world.

It’s amazing to see how this mission is really about connectedness — it’s about global connectedness — and how we not only make the news more engaging and relevant, but help people around the world feel more connected.

I think that mission really resonates, and that’s why we’re still here today. And we’ve had supporters who’ve been with us from day one, and we’ve picked up many more along the way.

So we’re really glad to have you with us in this endeavor. Here’s to another eight more years.

Joyce: Thank you so much, Maria, for sitting down with me. I really look forward to seeing how New Decoder grows in 2024 and beyond.

Maria: Same. My pleasure. Thank you, Joyce.

Joyce Yang is News Decoder’s Programs & Communications Intern. She is a former classroom teacher passionate about equitable education access, intentional pedagogy and inclusive policy-making.
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News Decoder UpdatesDecoder Podcast: A conversation with our Managing Director