A recent global journalism conference highlighted an important phenomenon in investigative journalism: expanding perspectives through transnational collaboration.
Corruption and wrongdoing often extends beyond borders, so journalists who embrace a cross-border state of mind can find more angles, information and impact with a collaborative approach.
Since it was founded in 1997, ICIJ has been promoting cross-border reporting, and has used its unique collaborative model to produce some of the biggest journalistic investigations in history. If the recent Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC) in Lillehammer, Norway is anything to go by, the idea seems to be catching on more than ever. Cross-border research, data, reporting, and coordinated publication are all helping journalists find connections between countries and have a bigger impact with their reporting.
Formal networks or spontaneous collaborations emerge from these types of events, and can help reporters overcome significant challenges when it comes to investigating big quantities of unstructured and unexplored data, complex corruption networks, and security, among others.
After four days of presentations at the conference, here are four of the top tips and motivations for embracing a cross-border, collaborative state of mind:
Broaden your research horizons
Thinking across borders can begin right from the start of your investigation, with your research. In today’s interconnected world, following the money (a major research task for most investigations) can lead to unknown jurisdictions, but don’t let that dissuade you: the possibilities to access records in different parts of the world also increase every day. Many countries now have online portals that allow you trace companies, people, and vessels around the world from the comfort of your desk.
If the information is not available in public online records there might still be resources available, or you might be able to contact a local colleague or journalist who can help. The key idea is to not allow your research to be limited by national borders, and to always take a broad investigative approach in your search for more information and a stronger story.
Some good recommendations of where to go and how to do this kind of research came from ICIJ members Giannina Segnini who showed how to investigate organized crime with open data and Margot Williams who presented the best databases for Internet research.
Choosing a model for collaboration
Cross-border collaboration can have different approaches and sizes.
ICIJ’s model usually involves sharing the whole reporting process, exchanging information regularly, and publishing simultaneously. We explore the connections a global issue has in different parts of the world, and share the result of the reporting, and findings with our partners, who in turn contribute their local knowledge to the global story.
But, as speakers at GIJC demonstrated, not every investigative collaboration has to be on the size and scale of the projects ICIJ tackle. There are other forms of collaboration that can come from regional or global networks of journalists as well as independent initiatives. Collaboration can also involve just the exchange of knowledge, or methodologies, or resources, rather than sharing the entire reporting process from the beginning of an investigation through to publication. Whatever form your collaboration takes, the aim should always be to increase the standards of your reporting.
Collaboration can also be about more than just improving your own projects: it can support colleagues in situations where they are unable to continue their own investigations or publish their work. The Khadija Project, coordinated by OCCRP, is a great example of the power of collaboration to continue the work of a journalist unjustly silenced by authorities. Investigative reporter and ICIJ member Khadija Ismayilova was imprisoned in December 2014 in Azerbaijan, after publishing a series of stories about corruption connected to the family of the president of her country. After that, more than 20 journalists from different countries have kept her investigations alive and have continued publishing stories that expose corruption in Azerbaijan.
Expanding your reach
An additional benefit of collaborating with other media outlets across borders is the expansion of your potential audience. Not only will you produce better investigations that connect dots in different countries, but also your story will be seen by different audiences in different countries (sometimes in multiple languages), which can generate a bigger impact.
ICIJ’s Luxembourg Leaks involved more than 80 reporters in 26 countries, and our Swiss Leaks investigation brought together a team of more than 150 reporters. Stories were published in dozens of media outlets, and the publications had an immediate impact on public and political debates about tax regulations in Europe and around the world.
Another interesting example is the Migrant Files that involved more than 25 journalists and at least 10 media publications across 15 European countries coordinated by Journalism++. It shows the story of migrants and refugees across Europe by using a data journalism and cross-border approach.
Getting started with cross-border collaboration
Want to jump into the water? Different projects and cross-border approaches presented at the GIJC 2015, show that to get a cross-border state of mind it can be useful to:
- Check the connections persons, companies and governments have with different countries.
- Verify which data can be available online to follow the money.
- Be willing to share findings, documents, and information with other colleagues and leave ego’s aside.
- Respect the agreements done with other colleagues.
- Keep high verification and fact-checking standards.
- Be willing to share the exclusive with several media partners, and respect deadline.
- Be nice and keep constant communication with colleagues.
- Have good coordination and management.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to other trusted journalists or networks (like ICIJ) for help
- Use conferences like the GIJC, events and social media to expand your own network and find potential partners for future collaborations
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