So, we’re one introduction class and two (official) classes into the semester, and we’ve pretty much established that collaboration is highly encouraged in DH. Not sure if “ownership” is the right word for me to input in the title, but I’ll just go along with it. Feel free to help me find a better term as you read through this post and interpret what I’m trying to get at.
In this week’s class, we discussed what exactly it means to “collaborate” for DH. I brought up my experience at the NYC Media Lab’s 2018 Summit that Anca and I attended, where my group at a particular workshop spent more time educating each other about the intricacies of artificial intelligence (AI) since not many of us were too familiar with AI. Now, thinking about my example in retrospect, that’s great and all from the context of just sharing ideas and helping one another understand different perspectives, but how do we bring that to the context of an actual project?
I thought about this some more after class and realized that collaboration is actually embedded in many fields that involve the use of writing and/or digital media, but the difference here is it’s less recognized as collaboration. Naturally, as a journalist and emerging digital campaigner, the following examples I’ll provide are in those contexts.
A news organization that actually has a newsroom of some sort will likely have a lengthy editorial process for each article prior to publication. The Excelsior, one of Brooklyn College’s student newspapers, looks something like this:
- A writer submits his/her article to a section editor.
- The section editor edits the article and forwards the article with new edits to a copy editor.
- The copy editor edits the article and forwards the article with new edits to the editor-in-chief or managing editor.
- The managing editor makes the final edits.
I’m sure even larger organizations like the New York Times would have an even more complex editorial process, but you can see that this — journalism — somewhat involves collaboration. I italicized “somewhat” because if we’re looking at the process from the standpoint of sharing ideas and new perspectives (like in my example from NYC Media Lab ’18), that part is missing unless the writer actually sees each step of the process and is able to learn from the edits made at each step. And, as I hinted at earlier, in the big picture, this isn’t really recognized as collaboration. The writer will get the byline that goes with the article that has all the final edits, and there will be no mention of all the editors involved — aside from their names being listed on the masthead of the publication. Still, I do view journalism as a collaborative field, and l’d argue journalists can’t become better journalists without all of this collaboration.
In terms of digital campaigning, it’s very similar. I intern on the digital team at Everytown for Gun Safety — “Everytown” for short — and occasionally help draft email campaigns. Obviously, as an extremely beginner digital campaigner, I can’t just write something and have it sent out to the masses. There’s a very long approvals process that begins with the campaigner I wrote the draft for, reviewing my work and explaining to me why he/she made the changes he/she did.
I’m often told that this kind of work I do at Everytown will help build my portfolio of email campaigns I’ve written, but sometimes I stop and think: Did I really “write” this? It’s not that the email I draft looks so drastically different after a full-time digital campaigner makes changes, but there are some intricacies and details I may not be familiar with for a particular state or campaign since I’ve only been at Everytown for a few months. My missing familiarity often leads to very specific changes in the copy of the email campaign, and sometimes I think presenting the final email campaign that’s sent out as my own is somewhat misrepresenting what is actually my work. And, as someone in class brought up, it’s not such a simple process of pointing to which paragraphs in the final product were what I wrote… because that’s just not what the collaborative process entailed.
Maybe “ownership” is the right word then, because I’m trying to figure out what exactly I can call as my own.