The Collaborative Journalism Summit in Chicago May 19-20 gathered an array of media and academic leaders, journalists, and collaborators for lightning talks, workshops and participatory discussions. Conversations highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with journalism collaboratives — including funding, structure, goal-setting, communication and much more.

Industry collaboration is a core pillar at Local Media Association, and several LMA staff members attended the event both in-person and virtually. Here they share the top takeaways that resonated with them, which include lessons for all local media.

The scaffolding of collaboratives is the key to sustainability

Penny Riordan • director, business strategy and partnerships, LMA

Penny Riordan

When trying to understand the impact of collaboratives, think about the scaffolding of the group. That’s one of the learnings in the research about Solutions Journalism Network collaboratives from Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro and Caroline Porter. Collaboratives that are robust and sustainable have strong scaffolding, which includes things like a community-first value system, high degrees of trust with members, and commitment to the collaborative as an entity.

The “true flowering” of a collaborative happens when the group engages on a deeper level, starts to see positive funding and policy outcomes, and finally grows their commitment to engage with the community or audience. The researchers noted that in this study, they saw collaboratives who started with fewer members seemed to have a stronger foundation in the long run. More mature collaboratives are defined as groups who have been together more than 5 years.

One learning that surprised the researchers was that, while the goal of the collaboratives was primarily to do journalism together, the content didn’t have the most impact. Journalists working together was what changed the minds of the audience.

“Ultimately, this is a story about building new connections at an ecosystem level that changes things,” Hansen Shapiro said.

Universities, news organizations must be prepared to ‘pivot’ in collaborations

Rob Collins • project manager, Oklahoma Media Center


Universities and news organizations must “collaborate or die,” but they also must “be prepared to fail and pivot” in new collective partnerships. That message was delivered Friday at the Collaborative Journalism Summit in Chicago by Mark Berkey-Gerard, associate professor of journalism at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

Berkey-Gerard’s research identified more than 100 student/professional partnerships in various forms and examined how these collaborations contribute to journalism education and news content.

These collaborations boasted four main benefits: student journalism training, expanded newsroom size/capacity, an infusion of youth into news organizations, and coverage of underserved communities.

“[Students are] filling undercovered areas of local news that stretched news organizations cannot,” the study found.

To succeed, the study suggests shared values and objectives for students in formal agreements. Students should be appropriately supervised and mentored with a dedicated coordinator managing expectations of the partnership to ensure deliverable content to share among the collaborative.

“It is so important to not fall into the trap of covering breaking news,” the study found.

Collaboration takes time to grow, but trust the process

Michael Crowe • editor and project manager, Covering Climate Collaborative


Sometimes the most successful long-term collaborations do not see immediate success, but collaboration is about sticking to the journey, not the destination. The ones that endure believe in their ideals, and continue on the road of growth, even if not that’s not instantly successful or profitable.

Mollie Kabler of CoastAlaska mentioned that when they first began to combine back-office services for public radio affiliates across the state, it didn’t save them money. But over time, the setup became more successful and cost effective, and is now an efficient model of shared overlap services while maintaining local and editorial independence. Similarly, Cassie Haynes of Resolve Philadelphia shared this wisdom for collaboratives: know what your funding plan is, and double down on it. “Trust the Process,” as the saying goes.

Trust is integral to successful collaboratives

Dana Piccoli • project manager, News is Out


Trust is hard-won and can be difficult to come by, but it’s a vital part of what distinguishes a successful collaboration. Change Agents, is a podcast collaboration between community organizers in Chicago and emerging journalists of color. Members of the pod attended and spoke about the importance of building trust, not only among themselves, but the communities they are looking to serve.

For the Change Agents, and those who want to emulate this environment of trust, finding a team you enjoy working and sharing with is key. When working with the community, listening, showing transparency, and a genuine desire to be an agent of change goes a long way to building a lasting relationship with trust at its core. With both sides fostering a foundation of trust, the road to success is all that easier.

Change Agents weren’t the only journalists who spoke of the value of trust. Keynote speaker Marina Walker Guevara’s thoughts about trust are something that make a profound impact on me personally, especially as someone new to the collaborative journalism world. “Trust is confidence in the face of risk that the other person will do the right thing.”

Follow more from the Collaborative Journalism Summit on Twitter with #CJS2022 and discover resources from the Center for Cooperative Media .