By Matt DeRienzo • LMA Consultant
The concept of collaborative journalism isn’t just having a moment. Because of past successes (from community-building behemoths such as Resolve Philly to collaborative work winning Pulitzers) and market forces (shrinking newsrooms and a shift toward reader revenue), it’s becoming a crucial and permanent part of the local media ecosystem.
Now attention is turning to how local collaboratives can secure sustainable funding for them, and making sure that ethnic and community media partners are treated equitably as corporate chains and larger players jump on the bandwagon.
These were among the themes of the 2020 Collaborative Journalism Summit, held virtually May 14 and 15 instead of the original plan of Charlotte, North Carolina, and organized by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.
Stefanie Murray, the center’s director, said the conference, with more than 750 people registered, was the largest of its kind, drawing people from across the country and the world. Videos of sessions, notes from the conference, slide presentations and more are available at collaborativejournalism.org for those who could not attend.
Dozens of new collaborative journalism projects have been announced since the beginning of the year, and the COVID-19 crisis is leading more news organizations to partner with outlets they would have once considered arch-rivals, with the aim of serving their community and protecting public health. And collaboratives that were organized around different topics in the past, Murray said, are reactivating or shifting to tackle COVID-19 coverage.
And that’s one of the biggest benefits, according to Glenn Burkins, publisher of Q City Metro, an independent online news site serving Charlotte’s African American community: You build long-term relationships of trust with other journalists that can be leveraged to better serve everyone’s audiences.
The Center for Cooperative Media, which maintains a massive database of past and ongoing collaborative journalism projects, expects to see more foundation funding of collaboratives, as well as experiments with revenue models that could facilitate permanent regional partnerships.
Local Media Association is involved in two such efforts announced recently — in Chicago, with funding from the Google News Initiative, and in Oklahoma, with funding from Inasmuch Foundation.
The Oklahoma effort will be focused on COVID-19 coverage. The Chicago collaborative will be focused, in part, on creating a revenue model for collaboratives from the start of the process, with funding and staff to support the work. In the past, most collaboratives have started with informal partnerships between news organizations working together around a specific reporting project, and sometimes grow to the point where money is secured to hire a dedicated project manager and other staff.
A recurring theme of the 2020 Collaborative Journalism Summit was equity. The Center for Cooperative Media recently published a guidebook to building equity in collaborative journalism projects, authored by veteran journalist Angilee Shah.
More large, mainstream news organizations, including chain-owned newspapers and broadcasters, are joining regional collaboratives, Murray said, and it’s important that they approach the work with respect for smaller partners.
That means focusing on community information needs and filling those gaps, not simply looking for a way to make up for newsroom jobs that have been cut.
When news organizations in Charlotte launched a formal collaboration, Burkins said that his much, much smaller Q City Metro had an equal say to the dominant daily newspaper in town, McClatchy’s Charlotte Observer.
“What can we do collectively together that we can’t do individually ourselves?” should be the main question, said Charlotte Observer Editor Shelly Chisenhall.
“Collaborations have become easier and more tolerable for journalists as our industry has changed,” said David Boraks, a reporter with Charlotte public radio station WFAE. “We can’t get to everything, and we want our readers to have it.”
Jim Yarborough, publisher of Q Notes, which serves Charlotte’s LGBTQ population, said that each partner in the collaborative, including the smallest outlets, brought something to the table. For example, his publication was the only one that had the space to publish the complete version of some of the long-form reporting the collaborative did on affordable housing in print.
WFAE was able to amplify other outlets’ work by putting them on air, and La Noticia was able to do reporting among a Spanish-speaking population in Charlotte that no one else could reach.
“The only people who care about competition is us, the journalists, not the audience,” said Nate Morabito, an investigative reporter with Charlotte TV station WCNC.