A record number of news organizations in Oklahoma partnered with each other this summer on projects reporting on underserved communities.

Oklahoma Media Center funded the collaborations. OMC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supports and strengthens Oklahoma’s local journalism ecosystem and spurs innovation through statewide collaboration that benefits diverse audiences.

Since Inasmuch Foundation and Local Media Association launched the statewide collaborative in 2020, OMC has grown to more than 25 Oklahoma journalism collaborators, including digital news outlets, newspapers and broadcasters.

In 2021, OMC collaborated on the “Promised Land” project to cover the aftermath of the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling. OMC also partnered with the Oklahoma-based Native American Journalists Association to provide ethics and best-practices training on reporting about Indigenous issues. 

NAJA then awarded OMC a $40,000 project fee to cover labor, data access and other research expenses associated with measuring the impact of the Indigenous training.

In 2022, OMC distributed NAJA’s project fee to its news organizations producing collaborative coverage of subjects ranging from mental health, marginalized voices or corrections issues in Oklahoma. OMC collaborators described these new projects with show-and-tell updates in monthly meetings this year. Here are some of the highlights:

Big If True and VNN

Big If True and VNN, the Verified News Network, collaborated on the “FATE” (“From Adversity To Entrepreneurship”) learning series to explore barriers for passionate people trying to overcome generational poverty. The collaborative project included an urban event in Tulsa and a rural event in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

Brittany Harlow, VNN director and lead journalist, said she realized the project needed in-person events for community learning and online surveying. The series also required contextual reporting to explain the incarceration, addiction, mental health and treatment histories of Indigenous Oklahomans.

“And I knew I couldn’t do all that by myself in this capacity with the bandwidth that I had,” Harlow said. “And so I reached out to Mollie [Bryant of Big If True] because I know that she has a really great track record of doing this kind of in-depth reporting on these community issues.”

Bryant, editor of the nonprofit news partner, said she did three in-depth stories synched with the events Harlow coordinated to serve as an educational component to VNN’s programming.

“One of the biggest benefits for me was advertising,” Bryant said. “So Brittany helped me. She kind of taught me how to do advertising on Facebook properly.”

Bryant said that shared knowledge was important for marketing Big If True’s rebranding this year.

Curbside Chronicle and The Frontier

The nonprofit journalism organization The Frontier and the magazine Curbside Chronicle, a program of the nonprofit Homeless Alliance, collaborated again this year. The subject was how Oklahoma regulators allow utilities to charge hefty deposits for people with poor credit or a history of late payments. This marked the duo’s second collaboration funded by OMC after the 2021 Innovation Fund.

Nathan Poppe, editor of Curbside Chronicle, knew the serious subject matter required a journalist capable of understanding nuance while interviewing multiple sources. 

Frontier Staff Writer Kayla Branch said stakeholders experiencing hardship like homelessness, legal, mental health or addiction issues are vitally important to interview. However, those sources are sometimes difficult to locate, and it’s hard to convince them to trust journalists to write about their personal experiences.

“But working with someone like Nathan who already has an existing relationship with people going through these types of situations can kind of bridge that gap,” Branch said.  

“That’s been the biggest help for me when it comes to collaborations like this.”

NonDoc, Griffin Communications, Mvskoke Media and The Frontier

NonDoc, Griffin Communications, and Mvskoke Media collaborated on a primary debate for Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in Bartlesville with The Frontier fact-checking the information to help inform voters.

NonDoc Editor-in-Chief Tres Savage said his nonprofit news organization has collaborated on debates with Griffin since 2018.

“NonDoc has tried to make political debates popular again,” Savage said.

Ryan Welton, Griffin’s director of digital content, said he works with collaborating news organizations to stream and partner on social media to amplify the audience of Oklahoma debates. He was “able to pipe it through to other Facebook pages” to increase viewership and engagement.

KGOU and Oklahoma Watch

KGOU and Oklahoma Watch explained their reporting partnership about whistleblowers alleging embezzlement and fraud at a Tahlequah nonprofit that championed Indigenous women. 

Whitney Bryen, an investigative reporter and visual storyteller at Oklahoma Watch, and KGOU Reporter/Producer Hannah France collaborated on the investigative project.

“Oklahoma Watch was really the force behind that story,” said Logan Layden, KGOU managing editor. “KGOU kind of came in after there was already some reporting that had been done and hopefully helped them reach some more people with the story.”

Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor Mike Sherman said reporters share a sense of confidence and support when working together to ask difficult questions in unwelcome areas. 

“We also were seeking a different platform,” Sherman said of expertise offered from KGOU in the collaboration. “We want these stories to be heard when people are in the cars or on the treadmills. It’s a big ask for us. Sometimes these stories are 2,000 words.”

KOSU and Osage News 

Osage News Editor Shannon Shaw Duty and Allison Herrera, Indigenous affairs reporter/producer at KOSU, held a listening session about new Oklahoma laws surrounding reproductive health care along with issues Indigenous women experience when getting prenatal and postpartum care.

While the initial instinct of journalists is to report information, Herrera said it’s important to acknowledge the significance of listening to what people are experiencing at the beginning.

“This is the first in a series of conversations that we want to do,” Herrera said. “We recognize that this is a difficult conversation to have.”

Shaw Duty said word of mouth spread from the community conversation. Residents reached out to Shaw Duty with regret for missing the listening session. Some shied away from discussing personal issues in public but had a lot of opinions and wanted to talk later.

“Even just showing the community that we were having that conversation — even though they didn’t want to be there in person — we came out with potential sources for later that we could speak with for stories or just information-gathering purposes,” Shaw Duty said.

This was the first community listening event of its kind in Osage County, which is Oklahoma’s largest by land area, Shaw Duty said.

“We are a very rural community, and there are a lot of Indigenous citizens here,” Shaw Duty said. 

“To be jumping off with such a topic as women’s reproductive rights, it was pretty groundbreaking in my opinion. I think it set the stage to show the community that we’re serious about providing a public service and that we care about the community.”

The Lawton Constitution, the Comanche Nation and The Duncan Banner 

The Lawton Constitution collaborated with the Comanche Nation and The Duncan Banner on a series of stories about efforts to preserve an Indigenous language.

“I think it was a real positive project for us and also particularly for The Duncan Banner,” said Dee Ann Patterson, editor of the Lawton publication. “News organizations are always looking for content that’s local for them but they also might not have the resources to do. And so we were in a position at that point where we could do the heavy lifting of it and do the actual work, and then the other ones got to benefit from us, so I think it was a positive project for all of those involved.”

The Oklahoma Eagle and Mental Health Association Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Eagle, a publication centered in Tulsa’s Greenwood and Black Wall Street area for more than a century, collaborated on coverage in north Tulsa with the nonprofit Mental Health Association Oklahoma

“The subject of mental health is something that we’ve been trying to get at for a long time,” said Managing Editor Gary Lee. “And we’re really grateful to have the resources to finally be able to break into some reporting in the area.”

Lee said the collaboration with Mental Health Association Oklahoma was important to get a good picture of the situation and what’s being done to address it.

“They gave us insights into how we could find data and how we could get access to certain case studies involving people in the community who were in this field, including patients,” Lee said. “And as many of you know who have done reporting in this area of mental health, it’s really hard to get access to people who are affected or afflicted.

“Besides the access, they did agree to share our story on their social media and in other ways.”