Zombie movies are a parable for collaborative journalism

Things are getting bad and not all of us are going to make it out alive.

You know that part in the zombie movie where the group of people get attacked by the undead horde? And there’s always that guy who sees a chance to run, thinking that he can save himself. He abandons the group to their seemingly sealed fate. Newsrooms that think they don’t need collaboration are that guy.

He runs off, certain he’s better on his own, or at least not willing to fight the fight with everyone else.

And our team of survivors suffer for it. Maybe it’s the kid that bites the dust, the older wizened person who we’ve fallen in love with. Maybe it’s the dog that dies and damn if that doesn’t hurt. That extra pair of hands could have made the difference.

And we know what happens next. Sometimes, the deserter meets their fate in a jump scare encounter in a dark corner. Sometimes, they find their way back to the group and everyone knows the score about who’s really got their back. And almost always, the jackass has been bitten and hides it from everyone else. First off, he’s gonna die. Secondly, he’s made things harder for everyone else.

And what about the heroes of these stories? They are the ones who do everything they can to leave no one behind. Because they get the big picture. When the fate of humanity is on the line and good guys are dropping by the minute, survival means sticking together.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the joy of being part of the Collaborative Journalism Summit. It was a day and a half of conversations about how to best collaborate from newsrooms to newsroom, newsroom to community partners, small newsrooms to big newsroom, nonprofit and for profit, local to national. And we realized that we have a lot of work still to do. But the conversations were amazing and the reason that they were amazing was because of where we started.

Most journalism conferences feature a panel or two about collaboration success stories. A good chunk of time is often taken up by addressing doubts and questions about whether collaborating with each other is something newsrooms can and should do.

We were not hobbled by that challenge. The ability to start the conversation with the baseline that collaboration can be a powerful tool to address multiple kinds of newsroom challenges made it possible to have quality conversations on what we can do better and how to get there. And I think a lot of us left knowing we’re not alone in our work.

Though my time on the Stanford campus is winding down, collaborative journalism is still very much my focus and is going to be for some time to come. I’d love to hear your collaborative journalism story.

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Heather Bryant is currently a JSK Fellow at Stanford working to help newsrooms build effective and meaningful editorial collaborations and partnerships.

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