The Power of Publication

Brigitte Alfter

Rethinking the European infrastructure for journalism in a networked society — or why we set up an open Arena for Journalism in Europe

When journalists publish the same story simultaneously in three, ten or forty countries, public attention is secured; they make a big splash. It is the power of publication. Notably the power of publication adapted to the era of networked societies.

Previously journalists and national or local media were in a happy partnership. They focused on national or local power structures, national or local problems, national or local businesses and so on. Gradually political power had been delegated to international bodies such as the European Union or even global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. The power of publication on local or national level thus faded, no matter how excellent the journalism — because the political power had moved elsewhere.

In recent years, journalists have developed cross-border collaborative journalism, adapting the power of publication to the realities of networked societies and delegated political decisions. Everybody has heard about the Panama Papers, the Lux Leaks, the CumEx Files, the Football Leaks and so many other collaborative journalism projects. Journalists have found a new way to set the public agenda. In the service of the public and not limited by national borders.

Networked journalism in reality resembles an investigative unit in a classic newsroom, except the colleagues are not in the same room, not even in the same country. They may live in very different conditions, since cross-border teams bring together the most competent journalists whether they work as freelancers out of a basement room or as staffers with a bright office. But they work as a team. They build trust and honour it. They set up their work plan, their guidelines and a common goal for publication date. They will not share any of this with anyone. After publication, they are back in their usual day-to-day routine as well as still being part of the team.

This is networked journalism. During its work phase, it is a closed network — being open would endanger the research as well as the splash effect of simultaneous publication.

How do you compose such a team?

Here is where the need for a journalism infrastructure in Europe comes in. Journalists need to know one another. They need to know each other’s competencies, journalism traditions, ethical views, practical experience, favourite topics and so forth. Ultimately, journalistic collaboration builds upon trust. To build such trust you need to meet, talk, and get a sense of the person, with whom you might enter into a very intense work process.

For this part of the work, you need an infrastructure. Networking does not happen by itself. To facilitate networks, one needs space, attention, consideration and some enthusiasm. This is why we have founded Arena for Journalism in Europe, a new foundation under Dutch law with the sole purpose to facilitate networking among journalists in Europe.

Right now our activities are these:

  • Planning and organizing the annual European Investigative Journalism Conference & Dataharvest in May 2019
  • Facilitating a digital forum for information sharing and networking by topic or method — initially to prepare and follow up meetings during the conference, an open network that helps journalists to collaborate across borders
  • Knowledge sharing with relevant stakeholders about cross-border collaborative journalism through publishing articles, speaking and mentoring
  • Developing educational materials and advising on cross-border collaborative journalism education and training

With the overall purpose of providing an infrastructure to journalists, we’ll need the input from the community. So, this is also a call to action: Share your needs and let’s see, whether it’s a task for Arena.

Initially we rely heavily upon support from foundations and on support from our community. As publishers of larger media houses realise the value of cross-border collaboration and take back the power of publication, we hope they will contribute to maintaining the network, from which they benefit. One of the tasks in the years to come will be to explore more potential income sources.

This article has also been published on JournalismArena.eu.

Brigitte Alfter

Written by

Journalist and author / based in Denmark / keywords: crossborder journalism, collaborative journalism, Europe / www.alfter.dk

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