After two decades of professional news partnerships, John S. Knight Fellowships-informed collaboration and random acts of inspiration with other journalists, I’ve compiled a list of what smart people have taught me — when I was smart enough to pay attention. Here are 15 tips, 13 of them learned the hard way.
Before You Partner
- Understand the problem: What is it you want to accomplish? What and who do you need in order to get it done with excellence? What’s preventing it now? What outcome are you looking for? Clearly articulate it before taking up with a collaborator.
- Define wild success: It’s possible to stumble into greatness. But it’s more likely if you set your sights on it.
- Assess yourself (honestly): What do you bring to the table? What’s your pitch to the partners you want? What’s the value you add to their work? Which things are you great at? Which ones are you not so great at? (Or even clueless about?)
- Scout around: Who are the specialists you know or have heard of who you REALLY want to get into your sandbox? What do you have to offer? Do you have enough to offer to make a collaboration worthwhile to THEM?
- Reality check: Do your collaborators share your aesthetic, values and ideals for the work you want to accomplish? If not, will the differences be positive or will they get in the way?
- Writ of Partnership Formulae: How formal is the partnership/collaboration? Who in the organization needs to be aware? Think through legal implications of working together – what you might risk (a lot, potentially) without a legal agreement and when it might slow down the energy and flexibility and ability to simply walk away.
- Who does what here?: Who owns the relationship? If everyone does, no one does. (#ProTip: This is a particularly insidious form of coll-aberration)
- Open your mind: Not the way we do things here? Maybe that’s a good thing. You’ve never done this before? Well, then for sure, trying it IS a good thing. At least once. Just keep your end goal in mind.
- Hi! Now What?: Communicate formally, through an agreed upon process (even if it’s just two longtime collaborators) as well as informally – and often (like to text “great job!”) Plan meals when possible. Be people together. It will ease the rough parts.
- My partner is amazing!: Be generous with public praise for partners. There are many, many unofficial ways to make a partnership work. Try to offer some. Don’t be stingy with credit. You will more than bask in the glow of your partners’ happy success.
- Own up: When working with a new partner particularly, admit what you don’t know. You may THINK you are a world-class bullsh*tter but you probably aren’t. (#ProTip: The longer you wait to ask, the more embarrassing it’s going to be.)
- Measure: It’s hard to know where you have come from without a starting point. Take stock to see what is working, what’s it’s costing, and whether the stated aims are being met. CELEBRATE WHEN POSSIBLE.
- Be real: OK, so it didn’t quite work out the way you hoped. Take the time to talk it out before walking away. What didn’t work? Why? What did you learn about this whole process?
- Tell others: You’re a journalist. Write about it. Or record it. Share the spirit of collaboration and help others learn through your successes (and your not-quite successes.)
- Did I say share a meal? Add drinks. Laugh.
This post originally appeared on the website of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University. Applications are now being accepted for the 2015-16 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program. The Knight Fellowships foster journalistic innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Each year, 20 individuals from around the world get the resources to pursue their ideas for improving journalism.