Collaborative journalism: keys to success for transnational projects in Latin America, according to Connectas

  • By Guest
  • April 24, 2018

This article is part of the series, "Innovators in Latin American Journalism," published by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, with the help of Open Society Foundations' Program on Independent Journalism.

By Priscila Hernández Flores* and Carlos Eduardo Huertas**, Connectas

It seems like stories with a global impact, like the Panama Papers, awoke a sleeping lion in Latin America so that all kinds of journalistic collaborations are now being produced. There are many who want to replicate this emblematic case, and some believe that it is a matter of simply applying magic formulas and voilà! You have a high-impact story.

Moreover, it is easy to assume this because of the natural chemistry that exists among our peoples. It leads to, for example, three colleagues from different countries –such as a Mexican, a Venezuelan and an Argentine who are attending one of the many regional forums– forming a big party and becoming compadres for life in the blink of an eye.

The challenge is how to turn that camaraderie into productivity. How can you turn this "party factor" into a "working factor"?

There are several essential considerations that prevent this provocative form of work, making it a path lined with frustrations. The main thing to keep in mind for a successful collaboration does not involve sophisticated journalism techniques or complex technological applications. It doesn’t involve a large budget or flashy announcements of agreements between media involved.

The first key to get a project off the ground is humility. Abandon the figure of the hermit journalist –no one knows what he is working on and he is greedy with his information. Become the journalist who recognizes that the reality he is interested in telling is more complex, that it exceeds his abilities, or even that, although he understands it, he knows he will achieve a better result for the audience with a collective effort. It looks more like ants that have a common project where each one contributes a piece of leaf.

The next step is generosity, something that requires going against a "chip" installed by media corporations for years as a philosophy of the trade, where the journalist's sense of "ownership" and information was unquestionable. The Panama Papers would not have been possible if Frederick Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer, the talented investigators of Süddeutsche Zeitung who received the large leak, had not shared it without restrictions with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ).

In collaborative journalism, "mine" ceases to exist and becomes "ours." The most elevated concept in this equation is that of "radical sharing" proposed by Argentine journalist Marina Walker, deputy director of ICIJ. She refers to projects in which collaborators agree that all findings are assets of the investigation itself and not of the individual participants, regardless of the editorial position of each journalist.

For a collaborative production, trust is indispensable. Therefore, it is essential to know the person. However, the best party friend is not always the best teammate.

The ICIJ began when visionary Chuck Lewis brought together journalists whose careers and credentials were a guarantee of quality. Many of them are referents as teachers of journalism globally, and laid the foundations of the current moment. But the consolidation of the model has come from the hand of journalists with less exposure and more perspiration, adapting an expression of the Colombian Ana Lucía Duque. The work, professionalism, independence, suitability and good judgment of this generation are part of the keys that have opened the door to "membership" in these spaces.

Hence, a key to finding the best ally is to participate in the multiple spaces that foster training in the region and encourage the search for commonalities among colleagues regarding principles, values and related methodologies. This is the case of CONNECTAS, which, as a journalistic platform for the Americas, has been promoting high-quality journalism since 2013. Its proposal for "journalistic complicity" has already brought together a hundred journalists tested as ants in 15 countries in the hemisphere.

In our DNA, collaboration starts with the possibility of debating or discussing the editorial focus of a local issue and its structure with a colleague interested in helping, and carries through to the realization of projects of great importance, done in teams and with a transnational character.

In order to develop a collaborative story, it is necessary to abandon this fear of speaking squarely, and implement something that, for regional cultural reasons, is hard work: clarity. There must be clarity in the rules of the game, in the coordination of work, in the editorial decision-making process, in communications and even in differences. It is the antidote to headaches.

There are different motivations to collaborate. It occurs when several colleagues meet around an issue that would otherwise be dangerous to take on, as a strategy to achieve greater impact or from the need to expand working capabilities. These motivations can be based on the interests of someone who requires support, depend on a common theme with individual contributions, or the most complex: in total interdependence.

If it’s important to have a clear path to follow while developing an individual project, the requirement is even greater in collaborative work. The definition of a common hypothesis will prevent everyone from working on the subject as if developing their own article.

The hyper-basic level of collaboration is to present the text of each reporter one next to the other. But there is no doubt that the audiences will be grateful for greater efforts that explain the findings in structures that allow full and non-fragmented reading of the situation. This translates into efforts with style, and writing, and that test the keys described above so that a good result is not wasted at the last moment. It is essential to respect the agreements of production times and publication dates.

Verification and checking of all the material will be the seasoning to give more flavor to trust. It is the guarantee that allows everyone to have peace of mind with the material obtained by someone else in the group.

It is a challenge for collaborators to work with the same level of excitement and energy about the findings until publication. A good environment is an indicator that everyone involved in the work is enthusiastic and committed.

The success of the collaboration will not only come from the impact of the work. It will also come with the interest of carrying out new collaborative projects.

As Frederick Obermaier shared in the Global Conference of Investigative Journalism in South Africa in 2017, journalistic collaborations demand a high level of responsibility, logistical imperatives and, in many opportunities, extra costs and effort. But it delivers better journalism with more impact, which opens the door to new projects and improves the reputation of those who participate; and among the journalists, the little ants, a fun and almost familiar brotherhood is generated. A fair mix of the "party factor" with the "working factor.”

*Priscila Hernández Flores, is a Mexican reporter specializing in human rights. Hernández is an outstanding member of the CONNECTAS community, a journalistic platform of the Americas, and is participating in its journalistic residency program in 2018. She studied Communication Sciences and a master's degree in journalism from the University of San Andrés and Columbia University at the newspaper Clarín of Argentina. She has received different recognitions for her in-depth reporting on social issues with emphasis on disability, gender and migration. In 2016, she received the Prize from the Initiative for Investigative Journalism of the Americas from ICFJ/CONNECTAS in the category of collaborative journalism. In 2009, she was recognized by the King of Spain Award and was also nominated for the Gabriel García Márquez New Journalism Foundation Award. She has also participated in collaborative reports in media such as CONNECTAS, Ojo Público (Peru), Animal Político and El Mundo (Mexico) and Revista FACTUM (El Salvador).

**Carlos Eduardo Huertas is the Director of CONNECTAS and also the Chief of Party of the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas, a project of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). CONNECTAS is his latest entrepreneurial project that began in 2012 as a regional journalistic platform in Latam that promotes the interchange of information and knowledge about key issues in the Americas. It started during Huertas’ period as a Nieman Fellow 2012 at Harvard University, with the support of the Knight Foundation. Now, this platform is consolidating in the region with the help of an alliance with ICFJ. For more than a decade and until July 2013, Huertas worked with Semana Magazine, a leading publication in Latin America, and he was its Investigations Editor. He began his journalistic career as a correspondent for the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) in monitoring freedoms of the press and of expression in his country. In 2006, he founded Consejo de Redacción (CdR), a professional association in Colombia that promotes investigative journalism. Since 2011, he has been a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) and has participated with them in several investigations, including the Panama Papers, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. His reports on corruption, human rights violations, and environmental issues have earned him several national and international awards.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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