November 2015. The sun hangs low over the valley; the spruces are wreathed in mist. I’m in the town of Lillehammer, Norway, along with hundreds of reporters, attending the biennial Global Investigative Journalism Conference.
I look at the colorful timetable in my hand – so many options. Actually, the slots that most appeal to me are the white ones: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
That’s when the reporters talk to each other about what they’re really interested in.
Over my morning eggs, I discuss our respective governments’ security policies with Swedish and Finnish colleagues. During the pasta lunch, a Pakistani investigative journalist tells me about the U.S. drones operating in his country. And as I spear fresh salmon that evening, a French journalist explains how electronic waste from Europe is illegally shipped to Vietnam.
What border-crossing stories can do
Here in the middle of Norway, these journalists are talking in a common language about subjects they’d normally write about in isolation. They’re discussing climate change, immigration, surveillance, and other topics that can’t be pigeonholed as "foreign" or "domestic" news.
Unfortunately, once conferences like this are over, the story-swapping generally stops. Our conversation partners slowly fade away in a graveyard of LinkedIn connections or a scatter of business cards at the bottom of an overnight bag.
Like-minded reporters who share expertise across borders can accomplish great things
That’s a shame. Because like-minded reporters who share expertise across borders can accomplish great things.
Take LuxLeaks, a series of revelations about how multinational companies commit large-scale tax avoidance. Eighty journalists from 26 countries took part in this orchestrated media offensive. By sharing local knowledge, they uncovered a secret financial structure operating on a previously unheard-of scale.
And here’s an in-house example: British journalist Luke Dale-Harris and his Romanian colleague Sorin Semeniuc did a series of articles for The Correspondent on how stolen farmland in Romania ended up in Rabobank’s hands. This week, their investigation was shortlisted for the prestigious European Press Prize.
Wanted: international counterparts
My mission is to transcend boundaries in the way we tell stories and select journalists.
As our manifesto makes clear, The Correspondent doesn’t recognize limits, in the organization or the world. Relevance, not geography, is what guides us.
Our colleagues abroad can make us aware of new angles, important sources and significant developments. They can go places we’re not familiar with or can’t get to.
They’re our eyes and ears, our hands and feet, in other parts of the world. And we can be theirs. Together, we can work on stories with a wider scope and therefore a greater social impact.
Does that mean forgetting about the Dutch angle? Definitely not. In fact, journalistic border-crossing can have a massive impact at the local or national level. Look at the Rabobank series: it might be playing out in Romania, but the banking giant is accountable to customers in the Netherlands.
From now on, I’ll be acting as a story broker. I’ll be looking for kindred spirits abroad interested in writing for us.
Here’s how I see that happening:
- Reporters will write for us on assignment. For example, I’ve asked two Cologne journalists to create an in-depth reconstruction over the next three months to make sense of what took place in their city on New Year’s Eve. Who better to untangle the chaos than reporters on the ground?
- Reporters will work with us on joint projects. I’m looking for partners in crime to collaborate with our regular correspondents. For instance, my colleague Dimitri Tokmetzis and I will be conducting a large-scale investigation of the European surveillance industry with a number of journalists in other countries.
- Reporters will suggest story ideas and develop them for us. Our journalistic radar bleeps all day long, but we get most of our inspiration from other people. We welcome pitches from journalists abroad.
How you can help
Are you a journalist interested in working with The Correspondent in one of these ways?
Or do you know our correspondents’ Finnish, South African, Chinese or otherwise non-Dutch counterparts?
If so, let me know, so we can make more room for border-crossing journalism. Send your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s build partnerships for exchanging stories so we don’t have to rely on conference salmon-spearing.
English translation by Laura Martz and Erica Moore.