Monday, June 9, 2008

Share What You Know

It has worked wonders for my Malawi project. Last week I received an email from a PhD student in England who is writing a thesis on the experiences of Malawian nurses in the UK, South Africa and Malawi. Talk about an exact match! We've already started comparing notes. She found me because I posted my field project proposal on the web and have been blogging about this trip for the past several months.

And that is just the point. I've spent the past year unlearning some (not all) of my training as journalist. The idea that you have to hoard all the information you have until publication date is not only old-fashioned, it actually keeps you from finding important new contacts. Or should I say, it keeps them from finding you?

Note this probably doesn't work if you are on a tight deadline or are trying to expose wrongdoing at the Walter Reed Medical Center. And all the old rules of contacting known experts and sources, conducting literature and databases searches and following up, double-checking and verifying still apply.

What this means is that we're breaking the "tyranny of the now" that has gripped news-gathering for decades. No longer do stories appear just once and then quickly get displaced by some other news-breaking event. (That's a weakness of traditional news gathering that has been exploited by spin doctors who release bad news on Friday afternoons after the markets close when fewer people are paying attention.)

We're going to have to change some of our ideas about news hooks and exclusivity. People will read/view/use the final product because it provides an overarching framework by which to make sense of complicated issues and all the twists and turns in the report-as-you-learn it model.

In the long run, I think we will see that collaborative story-telling and news-gathering is better than traditional methods at keeping tabs on issues that unfold over longer periods of time, such as global climate disruption or the migration of health workers. But as anyone who has ever served on a committee knows, collaboration takes a lot of effort to work.

Related posts:
At Work With Malawi's Nurses
What Do Patents and Peanut Butter Have To Do With Each Other?

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