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July 7, 2015, 9:59 a.m.
LINK: shorensteincenter.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   July 7, 2015

Most media has traditionally been defined by geography — local newspapers and local broadcasters building up to national networks and national magazines. Before the web, people in London and New York got nearly all their news from different news sources — not to mention people in Tokyo and Tulsa, or Buenos Aires and Beirut. But as the world grows more interconnected, doesn’t our media need to keep up?

bill-buzenbergThat’s the argument made by Bill Buzenberg is a new paper out of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Buzenberg is famous as former top executive at the Center for Public Integrity and NPR, and he wrote the paper while spending last semester as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Journalism has fallen behind the way the world is organized. We live in a globalized society. Goods and commodities come to us from all over. Environmental consequences clearly cross borders. Multinational businesses are organized globally, with financial transactions as well as infractions also global. Crooks and hackers are cross-border too, with the World Wide Web as their oyster of opportunity while nearly every person, home, business and community is hyper-connected. In Internet parlance, climate and crime are at scale; journalism has traditionally not been organized that way.

We get events-based coverage from seemingly everywhere an earthquake, a hurricane, or a public health disaster strikes. A number of national wire services and a few thousand foreign correspondents do important work, but they are spread thinly around mostly capital cities on six continents.

News of the world is covered mostly by nation-state-based journalism, along with wire services, but they cannot easily provide the necessary robust investigative clout needed to see today’s borderless world in hundreds of places and thousands of ways simultaneously. It is difficult for any single reporter to follow secret transnational money flows, for example, or the adverse effects of global warming in every region. A global vision, using the latest technologies, is needed to make better sense of our cross-border world and to report it cogently for citizens wherever they may be on the planet. In short, the press is increasingly outmatched and outgunned, as well as underinvested, just when a bigger global watchdog is needed more than ever.

Buzenberg outlines a few recent successes in that vein, largely thanks to the collaborative International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. (We wrote about one of those collaborations — 86 journalists in 46 countries! — in 2013.) He also outlines the difficulties that are a natural part of any collaboration at that sort of scale.

The fact is, American news organizations of all sizes could collaborate much more with other media organizations, including their competition, on local, state, regional or national enterprise or investigative stories. Many more collaborations are taking place today, but they are mostly small and too often regarded as troublesome. Meanwhile, a much deeper investigative push is possible when multiple newsrooms reach out and join forces.

The attitude that “we know best” and “we do it all ourselves” is an increasingly antiquated notion in the digital age when knowledgeable members of the public and colleagues at other news organizations could be brought into an effective journalistic process in new ways to become part of a more robust collaborative investigative effort.

Bill Kovach, former Nieman curator and the co-author of the classic Elements of Journalism: What News People Should Know and the Public Should Expect, believes collaborations of all kinds can be one of the best ways to preserve the journalism of verification, certainly as ICIJ has shown on a global scale. Newsrooms are shrinking around the world as advertising and subscription business models succumb to disruption. Kovach says global collaborations like ICIJ can be “the bridge to take us to the next economic model to stabilize journalism,” in order to keep costly, in-depth investigations alive on a global scale. These collaborations could also energize investigative journalism on a local, regional, state or national level.

Here’s audio of Buzenberg discussing his paper on a Shorenstein podcast:

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