Brigitte Alfter has recently published a book stressing the importance of cross-border collaborations in journalism. She aims at providing a step-by-step approach on what to consider when working with foreign colleagues – and why there is little choice but to do so. The book is currently only available in Danish so we asked her for some first-hand advice in English.
Why do you think cross-border journalism is so essential?
Brigitte Alfter: The reality is that politics is international, even global, therefore journalists who do not collaborate will always show only a fraction of reality. So, as soon as you start collaborating with someone else, you will have more pieces of the puzzle to tell your audience. A step closer to the truth, if that’s what we’re looking for.
Can you give an example?
Brigitte Alfter: There was new upcoming legislation on the side effects of medicine. So, clearly a consumer story. I had documents on the side effects of medicine, and how the existing legislation worked. I had access to the lobbyism in Brussels, because I had worked as a Brussels correspondent for a Danish newspaper. However, I had zero experience with pharmaceuticals, with medicine or with health research. But these documents meant that I still had something else to offer, something that I could bring into the team. I found some very experienced journalists in the field of pharmaceuticals who had the competence that I lacked. We brought together competences and the story ended up much stronger for both our audiences.
You said you’re aiming at giving a methodology for cross-border collaborations? What do you have to consider?
Brigitte Alfter: The first thing is, it has to be a win-win-situation. I cannot go to a journalist in another country and say ‘Wow, I’ve got this amazing story, don’t you want to work for me?’ Think, why would this other colleague spend his or her time on that story? What would be an interesting angle for him or her? For instance for the pharmaceutical story, I had documents that the gentleman who was experienced in this field did not have. He had experience that I did not have. So, it was a win-win to build this team.
And what do you specifically have to consider when working across borders?
Brigitte Alfter: You have to be aware that we come from different cultures. That matters in day to day communication but also in journalistic traditions. This means there is an open door to fabulous misunderstanding. If we are aware of that, we can try to avoid them.
Brigitte Alfter: You need to consider whether there are different approaches to ethics. For example, within a research team, one may come from a country where filming with a hidden camera is the norm and another comes from a country where this would be a delicate affair, only used as a very last resort. Even afterwards when you approach publication you have to think of media law and story telling traditions. For example you can’t just translate everything, you have to adjust it to your own target group, so that the readers actually enjoy and understand the story.
Brigitte Alfter is also Europe Editor of journalismfund.eu – a non profit organisation, which gives out grants for quality cross-border and in-depth journalism in Europe. Her book Journalistik over grænser has just been published in Denmark.