During an ICFJ bootcamp in Casablanca in November 2013, journalists from eight countries gathered to conduct cross-border investigations on such complex topics as human trafficking, recruiting for jihad in Syria and black market prescription drugs.
By combining talent, expertise and tapping into resources in their own countries, reporters produced compelling projects that served media markets in Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq and Palestine.
These bootcampers were on the cutting edge: In the 21st century, global cooperation among journalists is gaining momentum, thanks to the Internet and other technologies that facilitate cross-border communication and promote diversity in the news.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), founded in 1997, has become the gold standard for transborder sleuthing. A visit to the website provides an overview of recent successes, including “Evicted and Abandoned: the World Bank’s Broken Promise to the Poor,” a project that involved 50 journalists worldwide.
Now, there is a road map into how ICIJ’s investigators operate.
A new Shorenstein Center study, “Anatomy of a Global Investigation,” by Bill Buzenberg, former executive director of ICIJ’s parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity, deconstructs three investigative projects and offers practical tips, tools and models for journalists to follow.
ICIJ is a pinnacle of collaborative journalism. But how do reporters in Baghdad, Kiev or Mexico City jumpstart a project on their home turf?
Following is a collection of strategies and resources that can be used by journalists anywhere in the world who have access to the technology. Every great project starts with an idea.
When considering a collaborative project, ICIJ looks at three criteria:
- Is it an issue of global concern?
- Is the system that's designed to protect people broken?
- Are we likely to get a result?
An ICIJ blog post noted, “Good ideas provide good outcomes, so organizations like ours need to choose issues that genuinely affect peoples’ lives, that preferably prompt a running series of on-going stories and which prompt change.”
Once an idea passes muster, there is a crucial planning stage.
“Best Practices for Planning Investigative Collaborations,” compiled by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, provides eights steps.
These steps include a slew of questions to address before starting an investigation, assigning roles to your team and more.
Once planning is under way, communication among team members is vital. An article in American Journalism Review lists 21 cloud-based tools that facilitate the process, starting with popular and easy-to-use Google Docs, and addressing how to create chat rooms that “grow into a watering hole” for team members.
An example from the article: “If you can use spreadsheet editors like Airtable or Google Sheets, or experimental visualization app Google Fusion Tables, you’re ahead of the game. They are likely the best options for editing data.”
And this: “Github is king when it comes to collaborative coding and development. There are several beginner’s guides to navigating Github, like this one from Lifehacker and this one from Read Write Web.
Investigative journalist Paul Radu, co-founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, wrote a chapter for the International Press Institute’s Reporter’s Guide to the Millennium Development Goals listing three overall steps for cross-border collaboration, with supporting resources:
- Think outside your country
- Make use of existing investigative journalism networks
- Make use of technology
You can view an excerpt of the chapter here.
Here are more resources that can provide inspiration, guidance and practical tools of the trade:
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project – This group of investigative centers and independent media across Eastern Europe and Central Asia carries out regional investigations, notably the YanukovychLeaks, when reporters retrieved documents from the reservoir outside Ukraine’s former president’s estate.
Investigative Dashboard – OCCRP originally created this tool to help investigators carry out investigations across borders. On the platform, which is available in 18 languages, you can search through crowdsourced databases of persons of interest and their business connections, access a list of worldwide databases and ping experts for assistance.
African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting – Founders from 16 pan-African newsrooms joined forces to create this group, which just carried out massive exposés alleging De Beers’ undervaluing of diamonds in South Africa and, alongside ICIJ, an Australian mining company’s link to injustices and deaths in the African mining industry.
Connectas – a nonprofit journalism project promoting transnational journalism across Latin America. It’s working with ICFJ on the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas, a four year reporting project boosting cross-border collaboration.
If you know of any other collaborative reporting resources, feel free to share in the comments below, on Twitter or Facebook.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Kit