The message of #GIJC19 was “collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.” But how?
Three tips to help journalists adjust to a collaborative mindset - and reap the benefits.
On the final evening of this year’s Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany, embattled Rappler CEO Maria Ressa spoke to an audience of 1,800 journalists from all over the world, urging unity. “An attack on one is an attack on all,” she said. “If we don’t take the right steps forward, democracy as we know it is dead.”
Describing how the Philippines was the “canary in the coalmine” where attacks on free speech were disseminated from below (via targetted disinformation campaigns) and then above (via attacks from the government), she urged the gathered journalists to “collaborate, collaborate, collaborate” in the fight for the truth.
It was a sentiment that could practically have been the motto of the entire conference. It was reiterated at session after session, from OCCRP’s Drew Sullivan to Toby McIntire of GIJN to Brigitte Alfter of Arena Europe.
Collaborative journalistic investigations like #GuptaLeaks and Azerbaijani Laundromat also dominated the nominees for the Global Shining Light Award, showing that collaboration can topple governments and win journalists international acclaim.
But how does a journalist get started collaborating when they aren’t part of a big consortium? Many of us are overwhelmed, underpaid and on a deadline. It can feel like a lot of extra work to engage in networking and finding partners to collaborate with.
At Hostwriter, the open global journalism network I work for, we are fairly obsessed with collaboration and crossing borders - both national and mental ones. And we have some good ideas for how journalists can get started on collaborating straight away. Pick one or two to try out for your next story.
Be more transparent about the collaboration you are already doing
The nature of journalism is social and its practically impossible for journalists to work alone. They rely on sources, fixers, photographers, editors, producers, interns as well as other journalists to go deep and get the real story. However, while sources are often acknowledged within the story, fixers, interns and other journalists are often not mentioned.
Fixers often play a crucial role in telling a story - everything from scouting locations and finding interview partners to suggesting story angles - but they are often not acknowledged sufficiently (or at all) in the final product. As Jelena Prtorić writes in the volume Unbias The News: Why diversity matters for journalism, “If local journalists working as fixers for foreign media are more than translators and facilitators, their work should also be given due credit; they should, when possible, be hired as co-authors for the story.”
Worked with a fixer before? Bingo, you’ve already been collaborating! By acknowledging it, you help normalize the practice of sharing bylines with local reporters and may well develop a relationship that is more equitable, mutually beneficial and can lead to future opportunities for you both.
Also, if you cited the work and research of other journalists or even chatted with them for context, why not mention them by name (and not just their news outlet)?
“An understanding of the quality and purpose of both competition and collaboration allows journalists to use the two in a targeted and focused way for any given story.” — Brigitte Alfter in Unbias the News
Similarly, you never know what kind of amazing work that intern you rely on for research will go on to do. Give them credit or a byline now so that they’ll remember you later in life, or later this afternoon when you need someone to explain TikTok.
The goodwill created by acknowledging others’ work can go a long way, and even in a competitive atmosphere like the media, knowing when to leverage collaboration can be a real professional advantage.
Show your work and share your data — it doesn’t hurt a bit
In compiling background research for a story, it’s typical to produce research and data sets that can potentially hold interest for journalists working on totally different stories than you are. To help others benefit from your research beyond the scope of your story, try to be explicit about your research steps and share your data.
A recent study has shown that people who understand how news works are less susceptible to disinformation campaigns. Being open about the steps you took during an investigation can help educate your audience and build trust in your results, as well as give other reporters leads to follow up on (and fact check).
Additionally, if you run across something over the course of your research that you don’t intend to follow up on but could be of interest to other journalists, share it! Often journalists are working on similar beats in different countries. Developing a relationship with someone working on the same topic as you by sharing leads you don’t have time to follow up on can create a reciprocal relationship that could lead to future collaboration and crack open more stories for you both.
Finally, it should become a standard professional practice that whenever possible, journalists make their datasets available under an open license after their story is published so that others can build on their work and avoid wasting time duplicating research. There are several different open licenses, like Creative Commons (CC0), that enable others to use your data freely. You can learn more about legal issues related to obtaining and sharing data in the Data Journalism Handbook and in ProPublica’s comprehensive Guide to Collaborative Data Journalism.
Join Hostwriter and find other journalists to work with on your next big assignment
It is easy enough to urge journalists to collaborate, but without access to a network it can be intimidating to cold-call journalists you’ve never met to ask for assistance or to partner up. That’s where Hostwriter comes in. We’re a totally free, open network of over 4,500 journalists in 151 countries who are up for collaborating and crossing borders.
Hostwriter members can contact journalists all over the world to request advice, a couch to stay on, or help working on a story together. Further, in our HostWIRE forum members can post open calls for advice or collaboration, as well as share tips and job or funding opportunities. Journalists have used Hostwriter to write collaborative pieces on sports, corruption, business and much more.
For instance, when Austrian journalist Alicia Prager wanted to visit the Lake Chad region to research how conflict and climate change intersected, she turned to Hostwriter and found Simpa Samson, a video journalist living in Abuja. “We Skyped twice and then said, we want to try,” says Prager. “It turned out that working together with him and his friends, especially Sani Adamu in Maiduguri, went super well and made it possible to work independently without the facilitation of NGOs. It was an amazing experience to work with Simpa and Sani — interviewing former Boko Haram, the civilian youth militia, university researchers, or grasshopper sellers at the market in Maiduguri and sometimes going for a beer or two at the trailer park afterward. Now we are planning our next projects, maybe this time in Germany.”
Collaboration is key for stories that involve multiple players, different countries, and a variety of skills to uncover. But collaboration cannot just be available to high flyers from big networks, it needs to be practiced through all levels of journalism and start at the beginning of one’s career.
The bottom line? Your work matters, and collaborating can amplify its impact. So do it early and often.