The importance of collaborative reporting opportunities in an increasingly freelance industry

Introducing myself as a journalist has carried a new weight this year, in the shadow of fake news and Trump’s “evil media.” More than ever, we so badly need the support and solidarity of our colleagues, just as many of them are being laid off with shuttered publications and thinned out bureaus. It’s a heavy time to be a journalist, not only because of the world around us, but the internal struggles of our industry – and that weight is increasingly thrown onto the shoulders of freelancers or isolated regional correspondents.

Once cozy compounds in landscaped green zones, or strings of serviced hotel rooms, today’s foreign bureau is more often than not the cheapest cafe with the fastest WiFi. Business overheads like digital security, insurance and training are often afterthoughts in the form of cautionary horror stories passed along in Facebook forums and Twitter feeds – easily ignorable clutter until it’s too late. And I would need much more than a Tumblr post to talk about how sexism, harassment and abuse flourishes in this unregulated environment where there is no HR department or anyone to confide in for fear of losing your clients.

I fell in love with journalism because of the human connection it involves at every level – in reporting, in editing and formatting the work with a team, and in publication. And yet, there’s a funny place in the middle of all that connection for a freelancer – isolation. The editor and teams you work with are often several time zones away, the internet is full of trolls, and often the industry is so competitive that you’re unsure which freelancers based nearby you can trust to review your work.

Anna Spelman out shooting at the crack of dawn in San Pedro Sula 

I know my experience is not unique or exceptionally bad, but representative of a growing norm – something again confirmed with conversations with the other fellows on my trip. I think recognition of these challenges is necessary, and it hit me on this trip how important it is to have opportunities like the Adelante fellowship that focus not only on training and reporting, but collaborative, supportive reporting environments and community.

The benefits of the opportunity where overwhelming: to have insurance, to have a security contractor, to have reliable, exceptional fixers and drivers, to have time to report deeply without draining my own savings, and to come home from the field each day to a table full of people eager to hear what you got and to give you supportive, constructive feedback so you can go out and be a better journalist tomorrow – normally I’m lucky if one of those things is present on an assignment, and I just spent 15 days having all of those things every day. I honestly never knew that the ability to work like this existed and was accessible to me, and experiencing it has truly been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.

I think the actual fellowship formed between the women on the trip and the broader IWMF family, is not just a benefit, but critical to sustaining a journalistic career in these times. With these women to rely on, I am most certainly a better journalist. As we leave Honduras today, we all feel certain that the trust formed the past 15 days will carry far into the future, and that we will all be better for it.

Combatting the increased isolation and independence of journalists might seem fluffy compared to some of the larger issues the industry is facing, but as we’ve learned this year in trying to combat pervasive sexual harassment in the industry – there is power in coming together. The deep fellowship formed with our colleagues on this reporting trip will keep us safer in the field, it will keep us sane and supported, it will keep us in an industry where we are a minority, and our reporting will be stronger for all of these things.

I felt like it was worth writing about this because I believe that this kind of advocacy is desperately needed and almost nonexistent, and I can’t thank the IWMF enough for providing it.

– Emily Kinskey