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The unwritten rules of cross-border journalism


The unwritten rules of cross-border journalism

Picture of Stella Volkenand
Stella Volkenand — Marketing and Communications Manager
September 28, 2018

Hostwriter’s Bernadette Geyer on how to start your collaborative reporting project

Cross-border journalism is a method of many perks. Journalists who include perspectives from other countries in their investigation open up new connections and maximise their story’s reach — often without the need to travel to every location themselves.

While setting up collaborations with colleagues abroad is not a method reserved only for major media outlets, it is not an easy task to do on your own. Aside from being aware of unwritten rules, organisational and intercultural skills are also required.

This is why we talked with Bernadette Geyer from Hostwriter, the non-profit collaborative platform that connects journalists worldwide. Here are her essential tips for journalists looking to start a cross-border project that she shared with us:

What are the advantages of going across borders for journalistic projects?

Cross-border project “A Girls’ Game” recently won the Hostwriter prize for their outstanding collaborative reporting.
Cross-border project “A Girls’ Game” recently won the Hostwriter prize for their outstanding collaborative reporting.

We see cross-border journalism as a tool to overcome national bias and prejudice, ultimately contributing toward better informed, more accountable and democratic societies.

One of the strengths of the cross-border journalism method is that it can change the practice of journalism from competition to collaboration. This will result in more stories being published about underreported regions and topics, greater diversity in voices represented in journalism, less bias in news and improved trust in journalism.

If a journalist decides that they want to cover stories that take place in remote countries — what is the very first step to take?

Talk with another journalist in the remote country to discuss your story idea. They might be able to help you see if you have missed any important aspects in your idea or to recommend specific people that you could interview.

They might even be interested in collaborating with you on the story, in cases where you might not know the language and need a reporter who can understand and translate information for you.

Are there some non-written rules that they need to consider?

Actually, there are a lot of unwritten rules to be considered. First and foremost is the idea that in a cross-border collaboration, the journalists are all equal partners. Journalists involved need to establish a code of ethics they will follow. This may change depending on the regions involved in the story.

Members of the research team will need to put together their own rules regarding the budget, the allocation of resources, and other such considerations.

Another major unwritten rule is: don’t steal other journalists’ stories!

That’s for the Don’ts. What about the Dos for a successful cross-border collaboration?

1. Meet your collaborators at eye level. Reporters from different regions will also bring different viewpoints and practices based on their experience. Respect that resolving differences is part of the collaboration process.

2. When putting together your team, make sure everyone is on-board with and excited about the story. It will make it much easier for team members to fulfil their responsibilities and meet deadlines.

3. Put together a research plan at the start, including a budget, division of tasks, and benchmarks. Considering publications that will be targeted for the story should also be part of the planning stage.

Grantees Petra Sorge, Julia Wadhawan and Sunaina Kumar reporting on “Silicosis — The Silent Killer”.
Grantees Petra Sorge, Julia Wadhawan and Sunaina Kumar reporting on “Silicosis — The Silent Killer”.

What are the things that people tend to forget, but are very important?

Journalism practices in different countries can be influenced by factors such as the political environment and historical industry traditions. Journalists tend to forget that what is considered a standard reporting procedure in one country may be very different in another.

Eager to dive into your first cross-border project? Here are some handy resources for you:

  • Hostwriter
  • EJC Funding newsletter with monthly grant deadlines, tips and tricks
  • Cross-border journalism: The successful example of a German-Indian collaboration
  • Brigitte Alfter, author writing on the cross-border journalism method
  • Media Landscapes, expert analysis on the state of the media around the globe
  • Global Investigative Journalism Network
  • Journalismfund
  • Journalism Grants
  • Netzwerk Recherche


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