Monday, January 20, 2020

Collaboration emerges as an effective business model

 Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said just before signing the Declaration of Independence, "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

News publishers have taken this idea to heart with a trend toward collaborating as a means of survival when so many economic forces are working against them. Collaboration, rather than competition, allows small, vulnerable news organizations to spread the risk and cost of journalism that challenges the powers that be and serves the public interest. 

When they collaborate, small newsrooms get access to at least three scarce resources: time, in the form of help from other organizations; expertise, in the form of people who know how to do things they don't; and money, because the combined organizations can sometimes attract grants that none of them could by themselves.

One example: Nieman Lab reported on the Institute for Nonprofit News's collaborative investigation on the lack of hospitals and health care services in rural America. Twelve news organizations in seven states participated.

Hospitals in rural areas of the U.S. have been closing as population declines, much as local news media have been disappearing. The Institute for Nonprofit News, founded 10 years ago, has 230 members and promotes sharing of resources and expertise that support investigative journalism in the public interest. The funding comes from a variety of national and local foundations and nonprofits.

These nonprofit news organizations are trying to replace the journalism lost by the closing of thousands of local news outlets caused by the digital disruption of advertising by tech platforms, mainly Facebook and Google.

Versión en español

"Flee, migrate, give birth"

A group of four news organizations in Latin America --La Vida de Nos, Mutante, Distintas Latitudes, and GK-- recently pooled resources to do a three-part series on a crisis in Venezuela, where thousands of women have died in childbirth for lack of adequate hospitals and health care.
The economic and political crisis in that country has driven many pregnant women to flee to nearby countries, such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, where they can get the care they need. Thirty-five journalists and media specialists from these organizations collaborated on the series, with the support of Oxfam and the Gabo Foundation.

In the U.S., several other collaborative efforts are under way.

An organization called States Newsroom aims to replace the loss of coverage of state government in capitals around the U.S. A report in Axios detailed how the organization, now with operations in 14 states, plans to expand to 20 more in the next 18 months.

States Newsroom is a nonprofit and makes all its content freely available. It gets its funding from foundations and charities, according to the report in Axios.

Nieman Lab just reported on the crowd-sourcing collaboration between the investigative news site ProPublica and more than 180 news organizations to document hate crimes. They received 6,000 news tips of bias incidents or hate crimes and published some 230 stories.

ProPublica has been a leader in collaborative, crowd-sourced journalism and has published a handbook on how to execute such projects.

The LenFest Institute of Philadelphia, the nonprofit that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, has also been promoting collaborative efforts, including one with National Geographic and local news organizations on water quality issues in the Ohio and Delaware river watersheds.

Seven news organizations will be cooperating on the Ohio River reporting; 10 worked on the first report on the Delaware River watershed.

Risk, reach, and resources

Collaborations help small, local news organizations solve three problems. One of them is risk: investigating powerful people and institutions can expose a news organization to various retaliatory legal action. Having multiple partners spreads the cost of that risk and makes it harder for an investigation's subject to claim bias or libel by an individual journalist or publisher. 

The small newsrooms also get greater reach, exposure, and attention to their work, which can attract talent and partners.

And finally,  as mentioned above, collaboration helps small newsrooms solve the problem of scarce resources--time, expertise, and money.

This is strategy that works, and we will see much more of it in the coming years.


Connectas nurtures investigative journalism in Latin America
Investigative journalism: a great return on investment
100 digital news startups in Latin America show paths to sustainability

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