It’s not often that I get choked up reading an e-mail message from a fellow journalist.
But that’s what happened when I got a message from Pedro Rojas, executive editor of La Opinion, the Spanish language daily in Los Angeles.
I had asked him whether we could share the Spanish translation that La Opinion had given us of California Watch’s story on homeland security with other papers that were going to run the story the next day.
“Go ahead,” Pedro wrote. “We should learn to share in time of challenges.”
Pedro Rojas was an example of what the downsizing of the media, along with the imperative to work in multimedia formats, has wrought: a potentially game-changing shift from the media’s dominant ethos of competition to a much more collaborative one.
Earlier in the day, we had provided California Watch’s story on homeland security to La Opinion, with a customized LA angle; we waived our normal fee in exchange for a translation of the article, which Pedro provided us in an astonishingly swift three hours — and we posted it on our web site. Our article appeared, in Spanish, on the front page of La Opinion the next day, 9/11.
La Opinion’s gesture underscored the power of collaborative journalism.
We encountered other similar ones as we assembled a story that ultimately ran simultaneously in over two dozen newspapers.
The lead paragraph of the story described homeland security equipment purchased years ago in Marin County that had never been used. The Marin Independent Journal sent a photographer to take a photo of the unused equipment — and gave us permission to share it with all our other media partners, again without charge.
Dan Noyes, the investigative reporter at KGO TV in San Francisco, was simultaneously working on a television version of our story. He was able to convince Matthew Bettenhausen, the acting secretary of California’s Emergency Management Agency to speak with him. Bettenhausen had avoided talking to Schulz for months, despite repeated requests.
KGO placed the entire unedited interview with Bettenhausen on its website — and allowed us to post it on our website. They also promoted our story in a news story that led KGO’s 11 p.m newscast, sending readers to our website for multimedia features on ours.
As we approached our deadline, California Watch reporter George Schulz wrote a memo on homeland security spending in San Joaquin County for the Lodi News Sentinel, which helped News Sentinel reporter Jordan Guinn write a detailed sidebar to accompany Schulz story.
These are the kinds of collaborations that California Watch is counting on happening in the months ahead: news organizations sharing resources, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways.