#55: collaborative journalism and intricate ecosystems
notes from #CJS2022 and a prompt on communities of practice
A quick note from Chicago this weekend, where I attended the Collaborative Journalism Summit. There was too much good stuff to process so quickly, so I’m just going to share a few notes below, since collaborative journalism is a key cluster I’ve been following.
But first, if you are brand new to the idea of collaborative journalism, here’s what you need to know. It’s as straightforward as it sounds: it’s the practice of executing journalism using a cross-entity approach.
Think: the Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is often cited as the largest collaborative reporting project in history (100 media partners). But smaller scale, incredible collaborations are constantly happening throughout the country and world in formal and informal ways. The conference, hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, brought together many people who are formalizing this conversation, exchanging best practices and imagining how to scale this way of approaching journalism.
Here is what is interesting about it. Journalism (as a practice) has long been limited by its business model because competition between outlets to “break stories” and “get scoops” ahead of each other is inherently a challenge to the practice of gathering information in the service of the public. Which is why the nonprofit news world and its key funders have taken a leading role in evangelizing this way of approaching journalism, though of course it can be practiced by for-profit and nonprofit newsrooms alike.
Incidentally, the (deeply inspiring) conference keynote was delivered by Marina Walker Guevara, executive editor of the Pulitzer Center and previous deputy director of ICIJ, who lead the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, two of the largest collaborations in journalism history. The recording will be made available soon. What I adored about her message was that in journalism, collaboration gives us a sharper image of the evolving crises we are living through.
Here are some things collaborations (in general, not just in media) can do:
seeing things more clearly (more vantage points)
deepen understanding (shared synthesis & insight building)
better decision-making (participatory voting processes)
action generation (less analysis paralysis)
fundraising (groups can get money individuals may not)
sustainability (best practices codified and replicated)
network building (more people you can trust)
inclusion & power redistribution (more stakeholders in power)
Below are some quick notes & links on aspects of collaboration I jotted down this week.
🥬 Collaborative journalism
Primer: Why newsrooms are collaborating to take on ambitious reporting projects (Nieman Reports)
Stefanie Murray, Director of the Center for Cooperative Media (the conference host), wrote an excellent primer in Nieman Reports last week. A great place to start if you are new to this subject. And if you want to dig through some actual examples, she explains how:
Since 2017, the center has been tracking collaborative journalism projects as part of a broader program to study and advocate for more partnership in journalism. We have identified more than 40 permanent collaboratives in the U.S. alone, a few of which have become their own non-profit organizations. We have also tracked more than 600 collaborative efforts that range from one-time reporting projects to deep cross-border investigations in a public database.
And here are three takeaways on the topic with my rough notes:
1) Diversity of collaboration participants on every level is crucial
There are tons of great examples of journalists working with community members or community members learning how to do journalism that are peppered through the links above. In other words, your collaborator doesn’t have to be in your network or industry; you can invite them in and even train them.
For larger media collaborations, diversity in geography, access points and experience are crucial for filling gaps.
Cross-industry collabs are so helpful for the “what to do next” question: for example, the 1619 Project Education Network consists of educators, journalists, and historians figuring out how to create and share curricular resources based on the 1619 project.
Things I want to learn more about:
crazy huge interdisciplinary collaborations
deeply integrated intergenerational collaborations
2) Respond to information needs instead of editorial outcomes
For example, Solving for Chicago, a collaborative of 20 newsrooms covers how “essential” work has been reshaped during the pandemic to fulfill a need.
Tayo Help, an editorial help desk for trustworthy, culturally relevant information to help Filipinos navigate the pandemic is another need-based project.
Recently, RevLab at The Texas Tribune, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and Spotlight PA launched the Statewide News Collective, which is a community for newsrooms who cover entire states to support each other.
Stories of Atlantic City runs a Community Reporter Fellowship (modeled after Documenters) which trains community members to report and fill information gaps where traditional journalism methods don’t reach the AC community.
3) Increase the forces and capacity of collaboration project managers
It’s hard to lead these kinds of projects. See this from Pearls of Wisdom from Savvy Project Managers, which is a collection of insights of project managers of solutions-focused news collaboratives:
An effective project manager of a collaborative must be part coach, part cheerleader, a persuader and a mediator, a sympathetic ear and a relentless driver, a whiz at interpersonal relationships, and to top it all, possess strategic as well as operational capacities that must often be deployed simultaneously.
In a collaborative setting, the project manager is nobody’s boss and yet must get participants to meet deadlines and commitments. In a collaborative setting, the project manager must have the sensibility to push the group to experiment and be bold, and yet know when the time is or is not right for a new challenge. In a collaborative setting, the project manager must reconcile disparate perspectives to create team cohesion. In a collaborative setting, the project manager offers inspiration when the project is not advancing as smoothly as anticipated.
Things I want to learn more about:
how to sustain relationships after a collaboration ends
how to make a collaboration engaging when the outcome isn’t deliverable-based (but intangibles)
This might get meta but one of the biggest unspoken professional losses of the pandemic has been losing access to our communities of practice (or the chance to find new ones easily). Being at an in-person conference for the first time in ages made this so apparent.
So, today’s prompt is this: How might we take the first steps to find a new community of practice?
Doesn’t matter your field, whether it is for your craft, your education or your profession, but I invite you to consider whether you have communities of practice in your life: trusted collaborators (or dream collaborators), mentors, stakeholders who are invested in the same subject as you but have a completed different vantage point. Pick one person and take the first step to reach out to them! Might even be an old friend.
As a side note: In terms of civic (and news) engagement, the shift from consumer to producer that I witnessed in so many of the examples shared also had the incredible side effect of creating more informed news consumers who were able to sustain interest in journalism because they were now doing it themselves.
I’ll leave you with some words from Dr. Richard Schwartz, father of the internal family systems model in psychology, which makes an incredible case for seeing even our inner worlds as systems or communities. Doing so has certainly deepened my awareness of the intricacies of social ecosystems in a way I want to continue exploring.
From his 2021 book No Bad Parts:
When we simply turn our attention inside, we find that what we thought were random thoughts and emotions comprise a buzzing inner community that has been interacting behind the scenes throughout our lives.
Just like with external ecologies, changes in one aspect can have unforeseen consequences. This is far less likely, however, if you think in terms of systems—then the consequences often can be foreseen and preempted or dealt with from Self. Of course, this map doesn’t just apply to inner systems. It has been used effectively to understand and work with families and corporations, and I believe it applies to human systems at any level. Systems of parts and people tend to polarize, form protective alliances, and exclude or cut off from each other whenever they are traumatized and lack effective leadership.
An excellent case for internal healing + external capacity building for communities of all types.
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