Partnerships are how we:
Do the work that we lack the RESOURCES to do by ourselves
Create pathways for PARTICIPATION and do journalism FOR & WITH people.
Foster DIVERSITY of thought and perspective.
Obtain and provide EXPERTISE needed to explore and understand complexity and nuance.
Expand the REACH and IMPACT of valuable work that is needed in communities.
Create ACCESS to new topics, regions and sources without duplicating efforts.
Marshall INFLUENCE and POTENTIAL that we might not have alone.
Focus ATTENTION on critical events and issues through coordinated effort.
Sustainably INNOVATE through shared learning and mutual support.
Build TRUST with our communities and create ACCOUNTABILITY for ourselves, our organizations and our field of work.
When we talk about collaboration it’s often through the lens of facilitating desired outcomes but there is a deeper and more meaningful reason to collaborate. If there is to be a future for journalism, a role to play in an informed, functioning society, it requires the work of journalists to be of service to communities.
But true service can neither be imposed or bestowed, it can only come through cooperation, partnership and inclusion. It requires reframing journalism from being about something or someone to being created for and with someone.
Collaboration won’t solve all of your newsroom’s problems overnight and it’s not necessarily going to make your job easier. But what it will do is create the capacity and the ability to do things that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise and to connect you with people who should be a part of the process.
It’s important to keep in mind that the institutional culture change required to collaborate effectively is still happening and there’s a lot to consider when approaching the idea of how you might manage your collaboration.
Some of the larger conversations in the space are on the nature of collaborative partnerships with the historical context of newsroom dynamics when it comes to the histories of national and local newsrooms, newsrooms of low diversity and newsrooms that better represent their audiences and communities, newsrooms of vastly different resources and capacities, not to mention the complexities of cross-border collaborations or newsrooms collaborating with non-news partners.
It’s a very rare instance that you will be collaborating with a partner that operates exactly on the same playing field as your own organization. Those differences will require intentional planning and collective discussions of some of the questions in this workbook.
Collaborative partnerships must be true dialogues and partnerships, not an extractive dynamic or attempts at token representation. There is much progress left to be made on these fronts. As you move forward in your collaborations, embrace the work required to build quality professional relationships with the people that you want to work with. More than workflows, technologies or the specific projects, collaborative endeavors rise and fall on the communication and trust between partners and the generosity that we can show each other.
There’s no specific path to success in collaboration any more than there is a specific path to success in journalism at large. This is an ongoing process to be continually refined and improved. But collaboration is one of our best opportunities to succeed in our work in a time where every newsroom is under incredible pressure. We’re underfunded, overworked, under fire, under staffed but we want to do our jobs well and the world needs us to. Collaboration is how we can do that.
With this workbook, hopefully you find yourself better equipped to address some of the big questions in considering, designing, managing and assessing a successful collaborative journalism project.
More than anything else, I hope you acquire these essential components to effective collaboration: the necessary trust and relationships among your team and partners, an openness and clarity about your shared goals, and a clear direction that you can all move forward in together.
About This Workbook
This workbook is intended to help you and your partners organize and make decisions that will guide you in designing and engaging in effective, equitable and meaningful collaborative projects.
There are a million possible details to account for when it comes to designing, managing and learning from a collaboration. This workbook is structured to walk you through the big decisions that will set you on the right path and introduce you to ideas and examples for ways you can collaborate. Every collaboration looks different, the goal is to help you figure out what will work best for you and your partners.
The following pages are designed such that you have space to use this book in planning your next collaborative project. The sections are structured to encompass the four significant phases of a collaborative endeavor.
Collaboration exists in many forms with a wide range of goals. It can be a formal arrangement with the paperwork to back it up or an impromptu phone call that turns into years of helping one another out. There is no one right way to do it and the only wrong way is to never consider it at all.
Collaboration isn’t necessarily the right option for every project, but it’s certainly one that’s always worth discussing. Much like any other format or approach to reporting, collaboration is a tool that can elevate the quality and impact of a story.
When collaboration is the right option
If you have a project in mind, an awareness of your potential partners, a clear sense of your goals, realistic expectations for how collaboration will contribute to your success and the requisite capacity and buy-in, you’re on the right track to pursue a collaborative project.
The true power of collaboration comes from the people involved. Being truly collaborative means putting in the work to build and maintain good relationships. It’s not only about finding partners you would benefit from working with but also ensuring that a partnership with you is beneficial to your partners.
What collaboration could look like for your organization
If you’re just getting started or you’re thinking of expanding your current collaborative efforts, it can be helpful to think about how collaboration might play a role in your reporting. Here are a few examples of how collaborations are unfolding in newsrooms.
Sharing photos, audio, video or some other piece of content.
This commonly takes the form of a newsroom sharing a photo or other piece of content with another newsroom to integrate into their own coverage. The content should always be used in a mutually agreed fashion regarding attribution and linking back.
Presenting content from a partner to your audience and vice versa.
One of the most potentially powerful forms of collaboration with the least amount of extra effort is sharing content with another newsroom to publish on their platforms. For small and local publishers, this is a way to put stories in front of a bigger audience. Depending on the level of coordination that exists, this can also help with more strategic use of resources.
Strategically covering a large story so that resources are well deployed.
We’re working in an age of big stories with increasing amounts of data and complexity. It’s getting harder for any one newsroom to be capable of sufficiently covering a complex story by itself. Coordinating coverage across newsrooms for thorough expert coverage that preserves local perspective is a high-impact form of collaboration.
Contribution to a Larger Product
Contributing individual reporting to a larger project not possible independently.
Most commonly seen in the public media space, contribution to a larger project is another form of collaborative journalism.
Getting feedback and review on complicated reporting such as complex data sets.
Traditional fact checking is hard to apply to data-driven stories. As is commonly the case, small newsrooms often don’t have enough people with the skills to vet the methodologies and data.
Each partner contributes to a story uniquely.
A little less work intensive than joint reporting, this is separate because while the partners are working on the same story, they are working on different outputs. This form of collaboration is most beneficial to newsrooms that have different core platforms such as a radio station and a newspaper.
Joint Event Hosting
Multiple newsrooms planning and managing a news event.
This is an area where different media operations in the same community especially have a chance to shine by uniting to provide an enhanced level of coverage for their audiences through creating news events in the community.
Referring partners to people with expertise needed for a story.
Every reporter has their go-to people for policy expertise, context and reality checks. Helping out fellow reporters with connecting them to quality sources is a low-cost form of collaboration.
Combining resources to fund the cost of a reporter for a specific topic or location.
Few small newsrooms can afford their own correspondent in another location, or a reporter focused on a topic that’s important to an audience but perhaps is only important at certain times. When newsrooms need a reporting presence but for whatever reason cannot afford or justify that additional position, joining together with another newsroom to support that position and share their content can be a viable solution.
Putting a reporter into a partner newsroom either to learn or for better access to a story.
A change of scenery is always helpful and newsroom embeds are a way to accomplish this. This can either be a mechanism to gain a different kind of access for a story that a reporter is already doing or a method of giving a reporter a chance to work on stories for their host newsroom and learn from their colleagues.
Back End Resource Consolidation
Optimizing resources in the back end in order to more fully support or fund the news operation.
This is similar to a shared reporter collaboration, however it is a more complex and long term partnership. Back end resource consolidation is a way to strategically use resources. It is more cost-effective to hire a couple of people to take care of the needs for multiple small newsrooms than for each newsroom to hire someone for each of these positions.
Reporters from different newsrooms working together on the same final product.
This is distinct from Parallel Reporting in that this is the direct collaboration by reporters working on the same piece of content. This one can be harder. It’s meshing partners with potentially different editorial processes, editing standards and approaches to reporting. But it leads to stories reflecting a greater depth of knowledge and a wider, more diverse set of sources contributed by each reporter.
Serving as a safety or backup to newsrooms/reporters in areas/situations where they cannot publish or cannot publish safely.
This involves the most trust and communication of all the partnerships but can have major impact, especially for small newsrooms.
Coordinated FOIA /Lawsuits
Newsrooms supporting each other/freelancers in information requests.
Governments and companies are working harder than ever to limit access to information. Supporting each other in ensuring access is a no-brainer for collaborations that matter.
Domain Expertise Training
Sharing expertise of a newsroom via training opportunities with others.
Newsrooms often cultivate people and teams with excellent skills in specific areas. Hosting training workshops to help spread those skills to other newsrooms is how we elevate the quality of stories coming from more newsrooms.
Making the most use of the unique aspect of partners.
Newsrooms often see journalism through a limited sense of what the end result will look like and how audiences will access it. Working with different partners creates an opportunity to bring new ideas about what forms journalism can take and how it can be distributed in different and more accessible or engaging ways.
What level of involvement makes sense for your organization
In research from the Center for Cooperative Media, Sarah Stonbely identifies two parameters that she considers the two biggest factors in how collaborations are organized:
“We have identified two of what we think are the most important elements by which collaborations are organized: duration of time, and degree of integration among partner organizations.
As both of these increase, the level of commitment required to make the collaboration work also increases. Using these two variables, we have identified six different models of collaborative journalism.”
Like any endeavor made up of multiple people with their own demands and responsibilities, any decisions you can make in advance of working together reduces the number of decisions you’ll have to make in the moment. This prior planning makes it easier for everyone to share an understanding of what’s going on and what the workflow is. An efficient and effective collaboration is one where partners have come together to make decisions about how they will work together and to learn about each other so that the work comes from a place of mutual understanding.
This design phase should accomplish multiple things:
Each of these questions can be explored further depending on how much detail your organization needs to establish for the project. However, even short answers to these questions can help shape the direction of the project.
If you’re at the point where you have a project, partners and a rough idea of how to proceed, it’s time to think about the day-to-day logistics of working collaboratively.
The complexity of your reporting should guide the level of complexity of your workflow and tool set.
Co-creating: When partners are actively creating content together, co-producing stories and everyone needs to be informed about the status of the content. This requires being able to communicate about the editing process, final reviews and publishing.
Coordinated: This is a bit simpler as your editing process is likely more contained within your team and your responsibilities to your partners are more about communicating what you’re doing and your timeline.
A helpful framing for thinking about workflow and tools is to consider the needs of your collaboration.
When you’re at the point of assessing the status of your collaboration, it’s an opportunity to really think about what’s worked and what hasn’t and turn that information into actionable lessons. Here are a few questions to guide the process of either a post-project evaluation or a check-in during the project.
Learn and improve
The information in this workbook is the product of years of conversations and learning from some of the smartest and hardest-working people seeking to help newsrooms collaborate better. A collaboration is as only good as the people working on it and the same is true for learning about collaboration. And in this community, I’ve been very fortunate to interact with so many who’ve been incredibly generous with their time and collaborative experiences.
A special thank you to Stefanie Murray who has worked tirelessly alongside her team, Joe Amditis and Sarah Stonbely, to make collaborative journalism into a practice that is truly benefiting newsrooms and communities.
A special thank you to the advisory board for Project Facet: Tim Olson, Dustin Bleizeffer, Katherine Rowlands, Stefanie Murray, Melody Joy Kramer and Marcia Parker.
Thank you also to the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund for their support of Facet and newsroom collaboration.
About the author
Hi, I’m Heather Bryant, the founder of Project Facet. I started in journalism in Alaska where I learned firsthand the incredible power and value in newsroom collaboration. I’m a journalist, software developer, and designer and I am completely fascinated by the processes that underpin our work and how we not only make them better but also make them truly can make them better in order to serve our communities and live up to the ideals of quality journalism.
I’ve been studying and consulting on editorial collaborations for most of my career. As a 2016-2017 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, I researched how to make collaboration more effective, equitable and inclusive. My work is now branching into public facing and community inclusive collaborations facilitating the participation of the public in editorial conversations. I’ve worked with the Membership Puzzle Project studying how newsrooms can create responsive and inclusive dynamics with low and no income audiences. I also work closely with the Center for Cooperative Media to create resources for journalists and news organizations interested in collaborative journalism, including running the Collaborative News Slack and writing guides and giving training and workshops about tools, workflow, design, partner dynamics and other aspects of collaboration.
@hbcompass | hbcompass.io
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Much like collaboration, this workbook is a living process that can be constantly evaluated, refined and updated. If you have any feedback, ideas or comments on the content of this workbook or ideas for how it could be even better, please tell us about it.
www.projectfacet.org/workbookfeedbackDownload the Workbook (pdf)