How collaboration makes your work better

Jun 14 2013

When you listen to the Shakira Pandora Station for five days in a row, you find a it’s only a little bit of Shakira mixed into a whole lot of other (pretty terrible) music.

Last week was my first week back at Reese News Lab, and my second back in America. I spent last semester abroad, studying journalism in Rabat, Morocco. It was an eye-opening and life-changing experience–in both the most and least cliche ways possible.

Now, Morocco’s a hard place to get over–which brings me back to Shakira. For me, Shakira takes me back to dancing on a friend’s terraced roof top as night falls, wandering tight spice-scented streets, and splashing in the salty Atlantic waves.

So, while I researched STEM topics, emailed teachers and wrote stories last week, I kept the Shakira Pandora Station on in the background.

My relationship with that Pandora station mirrored my relationship with my work last week. I did a lot of weeding and put on my patience cap. I continually had to go back to replace left-out “=” or “>” symbols while creating a data table. I played phone tag with a teacher that I had been set on interviewing. I was getting things done, but in an almost tedious way–perhaps, in retrospect, more aligned with the slow pace of Moroccan life than the bustle of the American work week.

This week, I’m determined to be better. I have yet to turn to the Shakira Pandora; I missed out on too much with my headphones in. I’m done being the one who has to say “wait, what?” when suddenly the newsroom erupts into laughter. I’m here now and I’m starting to get the hang of STEM reporting.

If there’s anything that’s become obvious in the past weeks, it’s the value of my colleagues. And to shut them out with Shakira, would be to commit a grave mistake. In one week alone, I have learned so much from them. When I found a cool graphic novel math textbook, but didn’t want to do a generic profile of the book, a discussion with a coworker, Hetali Lodaya, led to a much stronger story idea. Anna Starnes helped walk me through the This Week in STEM formatting process. Courtni Kopietz has put up with my incessant “wait does [insert random sort-of-science subject here: ex. archeology] count as STEM?” questions. John Clark and Meghan Horton came to the rescue when I wanted to make my STEM summer programs data table searchable, but didn’t know how.

All of this has shown me how collaboration is essential to journalism. In fact, the reason why I love journalism so much is because it’s a field that requires you to ask questions. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you have to be willing to listen to the world around you and ask questions about what you hear.

All of that being said, we don’t have to forget about our Shakiras either. I learned useful things in Morocco–patience being a one major example–and just as each of my colleagues bring useful and essential skill sets and perspectives to the table, so do I. So though I don’t listen to Shakira Pandora anymore, the world and the lessons that she echos for me will always be a part of my work. She’ll just be tucked in with all of the lessons that I learn from the rest of the STEM team and everyone else I meet.


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