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Tips for building networks to reach audiences, drive impact

By Stratton Marsh

The impact journalists can create in their communities is often dependent on how widely their reporting is consumed.

In their efforts to gain traction that might spur positive change, journalists might not realize just how many of their colleagues are working on the very same issues in other communities or parts of the world.

Opening lines of communication with fellow reporters and newsrooms – to share resources, brainstorm how to address common problems, and expand their audiences – is one critical step journalists can take to enhance the impact of their work. Doing so, however, requires investments of time and effort to be effective.

ICFJ Knight Fellow Laura Zommer, cofounder of the fact-checking organizations, Chequeado and Factchequeado, kicked off this year’s Empowering the Truth Summit, run under ICFJ’s Disarming Disinformation program, with a discussion about how journalists can build networks to reach larger audiences and create more impact.

Why journalists should build networks

Journalists should build networks with one another to reach and appeal to wider audiences. Connecting with colleagues in other regions and countries can help them share their work faster and more effectively. It can also help reporters find colleagues who care about the same issues and with whom they can collaborate.

“The main idea that I want you to take away [from this session] is that we need partners,” said Zommer. “We need networks. We need more collaborations in journalism because sources are never enough for the impact we want to have.”

How journalists can think about their networks

Journalists should approach their work with a sense of humility, understanding that their expertise doesn’t extend to every field or geographic location. When groups of people with different skill sets come together with a common purpose, they can achieve goals that they otherwise couldn’t do alone.

It’s important to be strategic when partnering with others. Journalists should ask themselves:

What work am I not as confident in my ability to carry out?

Who is doing that work better than I am?

When answering these questions, journalists can get an idea of how to assemble their network. The best alliances are complementary and bring a diverse array of perspectives, which journalists can leverage to create stronger content with broader appeal.

When building their networks, journalists should include fellow reporters and even professionals in other fields. Find people from different countries, who speak different languages and specialize in different topics.

For instance, since launching in 2010 to combat disinformation in Argentina, Chequeado has grown tremendously. In 2021, it teamed up with the Spanish fact-checking organization, Maldita.es, to create Factchequeado, a new initiative to counter mis- and disinformation in Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. Today, Factchequeado collaborates with fact-checking groups and media outlets to spread their work and continue to grow.

Working to build diverse networks is also a way to combat polarization and encourage debates among members of the public with different viewpoints.

“You can think whatever you want. You can like right or left, but any deliberation needs to have some common space to have that disagreement,” said Zommer. “The problem with polarization is that the debates start to disappear because the people in the poles are just having these conversations with themselves.”

Tips for building networks

Lay out deadlines, rules, and expectations for everyone involved. Do this at the beginning, so that everyone knows what is expected of them upfront.

Determine who is in charge. This is critical for keeping a network running – especially when it comes to inevitable disagreements. Issues must be addressed as they arise so they don’t multiply and create more problems for the working dynamic.

Persistence is key. No network will run smoothly from the beginning; keeping goals in mind when resolving issues is important. A network’s aims may include long-term initiatives, collaborations, and resource channels for participants. A network doesn’t have to sunset after just one initiative.

Invest to fully realize the benefits of a network. Useful networks will take time and energy to create. Journalists must find suitable partners, collaborate and share resources, as well as deal with social dynamics and disagreements. If they set goals and invest accordingly to achieve them, their efforts will pay off.

Start brainstorming your network today with these 3 steps:

Identify five potential allies that could help you boost your work.

Find their contact information and strategize about how to approach them.

Reach out with a compelling message to arrange a meeting.

Disarming Disinformation is run by ICFJ with lead funding from the Scripps Howard Foundation, an affiliated organization with the Scripps Howard Fund, which supports The E.W. Scripps Company’s charitable efforts. The three-year project will empower journalists and journalism students to fight disinformation in the news media.

 

Marsh is a programs assistant at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). She recently was a Fullbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, where she taught English.

 

 

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