Collaboration Central: Best Practices

    by Jenny Xie
    September 12, 2012
    Collaborative journalism may take more time and effort, but it can also bring greater resources and exposure. This guide to best practices will help you navigate the multifaceted collaboration process. Photo by "o5com on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/o5com/5220980008/ and used with Creative Commons license.

    Since launching this past February, Collaboration Central has covered a remarkable number of projects that illustrate what it means to work together in journalism today. Here, we roundup the best practices for collaboration and will continue adding to this list as new successes emerge.

    Planning a Collaboration

    Plan, plan, plan. Take the time to understand your partner's requirements: What do they need to produce the best possible stories for their media?" -Carrie Lozano
    • “If I’ve learned anything about managing collaborative investigative journalism, it’s that planning matters. As ProPublica editor Robin Fields… put it, if you ‘frontload’ your decisions, ‘you can spare yourself at the end’ — and, I would add, along the way.” – Carrie Lozano (5 Practical Tips For Setting Up A Collaborative Reporting Project)
    • “Plan, plan, plan. Take the time to understand your partner’s requirements: What do they need to produce the best possible stories for their media? Where might there be conflicting needs, and how can those conflicts be addressed?” – Carrie Lozano (Best Practices for Collaborative Investigative Reporting)
    • “…There are logistical, reporting and editorial issues that can and should be addressed up front. Among them are questions like: What’s the story? Who is telling what story? Will the same story be replicated across platforms, or will they be distinct? And can each platform get the material it needs to make it all worth it?” – Carrie Lozano (Highs and Lows of ‘Post Mortem’ Collaboration Between Frontline, ProPublica, NPR)
    • “There were conflicts over breaching timing agreements and even disagreements about how logos would appear. These scenarios, the industry experts surmised, could be avoided with a written agreement that lays it all out, particularly one made early on in the partnership. The veterans of collaboration also recommend establishing a point person or manager of sorts to assign out all other various tasks — everything from filing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to fact-checking and legal review.” – Leah Bartos (Dispatch from IRE: Important Lessons from Investigative Collaborations)
    • “Partners need to have a shared vision and goal for their collaborative work. Collaborations aren’t created equal, and motivations for doing them won’t be constant, but each time you engage in a partnership you should be on the same page about the big picture. ‘It’s like marriage,’ one attendee pointed out. Yep. And a shared vision and goal will help ride through the rough patches.” – Carrie Lozano (Getting Real About Collaboration)
    • “Henriques, who was among some of the first in the NYT to participate in collaborations more than a decade ago, said collaboration participants must go into the partnership with a clear set of guidelines on what’s acceptable before the project starts. In a collaboration between Henriques and ABC News’ Brian Ross, they negotiated on, for instance, who had the rights over what and who would have the last word on the collaborative venture.” – Rosa Ramirez (Can Mainstream and Ethnic Media Collaborate?)

    Building a Collaborative Team

    • “…Whether you’re collaborating with other media outfits or working within your own newsroom, a focus on teamwork and leadership skills is imperative to fostering a culture that can sustain collaborative work; without it, people will burn out and collaboration will falter.” – Carrie Lozano (Best Practices for Collaborative Investigative Reporting)
    • “Leadership is needed: With an understanding of what it entails, what can we do to ensure that collaboration survives? [Ulrich] Nettesheim emphasized the importance of things like team charters, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses (at the individual and organizational level) and making a commitment to give and receive feedback.” – Carrie Lozano (What Is Collaboration Anyway?)
    • “[Garrett] Oliver said his collaborations have all succeeded because he doesn’t start with a goal in mind — he begins with the collaborators. He’s worked with North End Grill in Manhattan and Stumptown in Brooklyn because he likes the people and their products. ‘I like the idea that you decide who you want on the bus with you, then you decide where the bus is going,’ Oliver said. Sometimes different expectations about costs, revenue or goals can challenge collaboration, but liking your collaborators makes it easier to communicate through those problems.” – Colleen Newvine (Collaboration Central to Brooklyn’s Food and Drink Community)
    • “At [Investigative Reporters and Editors], one of the more celebrated interpersonal relationships was that of Daniel Zwerdling (NPR) and Miller (ProPublica) on their joint reporting on traumatic brain injuries in the military. Zwerdling told me it’s worked out because they have chemistry — just like you’d want in a personal relationship. On a panel at IRE, Miller said his partnership with Zwerdling has been one of the best. And this is why: “It’s almost like [you’re] colleagues in the same newsroom. And that’s how you have to start to think of your partners if you’re going to have a smooth partnership.” – Leah Bartos (Dispatch from IRE: Important Lessons from Investigative Collaborations)
    • “In addition to the technical experience that each organization contributes, the Lab benefits from having participants with different job functions. Each organization has two to three people on the call with an expertise in technology, editorial or community engagement. The perspective that each brings could help the Lab create a more nuanced approach to the development of its application, as well as one that has built-in buy-in across departments and organizations.” – Katie Kemple (Media Consortium Pushes to Increase Innovation)

    Communicating with Project Partners

    • “‘When more than three organizations collaborate,’ Media Consortium Executive Director Jo Ellen Green Kaiser advised, ‘it’s most efficient to have an intermediary.’ Some advice on how to make collaborations work reveals real barriers to consider. For example: Pick a project manager from each collaboration partner and make sure they’re in regular contact.” – Emily Harris (The Costs and Benefits of Collaboration)
    • “In successful partnerships, communication is key. Even if you’ve already written down your agreement in the courtship phase, the project invariably will change, and open communication throughout is essential. Some panelists recommended weekly conference calls when working in long-distance relationships, but most prefer meeting face-to-face. The more trust and openness you can establish at the beginning, the smoother the release of the stories at the end.” – Leah Bartos (Dispatch from IRE: Important Lessons from Investigative Collaborations)
    • “People were enthusiastic when they left the kick-off meeting, but then they returned to busy offices, overflowing inboxes, and lengthy to-do lists. In other words, it was going to take more than goodwill to drive the project forward. Specifically, success was going to require Formal Communication Channels: For the election project, partners relied on the phone and email to stay in touch with each other, and with me. This time around, I introduced Basecamp, a project management tool from 37 Signals. I made it clear at the outset (and in partner contracts) that participation on Basecamp was a requirement. Sound harsh? Yes, but I knew I was dealing with busy people who needed extra prodding to remember to share information outside of their own shops.” – Amanda Hirsch (Lessons on Collaboration from EconomyStory, ElectionProjects)
    • “In the PopTech video, Matanovic describes the tension that inevitably arises in any collaboration between pragmatism and idealism — between the people in the room who want to focus on what’s doable, and others who want to focus, instead, on articulating a full-bodied vision of what should be done … The key to resolving this and other tensions, Matanovic said, is to establish clear ground rules for discussion that steer the group toward active problem-solving, and away from simply advocating pre-existing positions.” – Amanda Hirsch (How the Pomegranate Center Is Transforming Communities Through Collaboration)
    • “‘You have to be aware of who you’re dealing with and how you are perceived. If you choose to ignore those cultural differences, then you lose that reporter,’ she said. ‘Without any bad intention, you alienate them and, in the end, you will lose the investigation.’” – Rosa Ramirez (Tobacco Underground: A Lesson in Collaborating Across Borders)
    • “…Deciding to trust and respect your partners on a collaborative project opens up so many doors; by contrast, insisting upon the superiority of your own ideas just tends to keep doors hammered shut. Once you start treating collaborators’ ideas as worthwhile, and focusing on how to build upon these ideas, you start to get somewhere. Things start happening.” – Amanda Hirsch (What Journalists Can Learn About Collaboration from Improv Comedy)


    • “‘No one knows Los Angeles as well as the organizations and individuals working and living in the area,’ Devis wrote to me via email. ‘By bringing them in and engaging them in every step of the content development process, Departures provides an authentic, accurate and fresh take on the issues and stories most affecting the city.’” – Amanda Hirsch (KCET’s ‘Departures’ Exemplifies Community Collaboration)
    • “Here are eight lessons our team learned from working citizen contributors on a major and fast-moving news event: 1. Know why you are working with your citizen contributors: As citizen journalism becomes part of the coverage of our news organization, it’s important to differentiate our offering and create meaningful community editorial. It’s no longer good enough to simply feature a citizen’s content in a silo. To collaborate with our community in unique ways, we must develop clear editorial goals and integrate them into our storytelling.” – Kim Fox (8 Key Lessons the CBC Learned Working With Citizen Journos)
    • “Once a reading is complete, [New York Theatre Workshop] uses a feedback technique called the ‘Critical Response Process’ created by artist Liz Lerman. The process is composed of a series of questions that pass between the creative team and audience members, with the goal of giving the creative team useful feedback…” – Christa Avampado (The Art of Collaboration Inside the New York Theatre Workshop)

    Add Your Own


    What are we missing? What have you learned from participating in or leading collaborative projects that you wish someone had told you at the outset?

    Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

    Tagged: collaborations crowdsourcing digital tools newsrooms non-profit partners tips

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