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Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

“How we treat each other as journalists and the relationships we form when working together are central to the success of the reporting, and in forging new paths for our industry.”

In recent years, collaboration among news outlets has gone from anathema to en-vogue. Joint media projects have surfaced stories that newsrooms could never have produced individual, resulting in exemplary and impactful reporting. For a profession rooted in competition, this represents a seismic shift in how we conceive of ourselves and our role in the world. We’ve proven we’re capable of changing an ingrained habit in service of our communities.

So far, much of the collaborative journalism work has been among national news organizations, or between national newsrooms and a local outlet to co-report one-off stories. I predict a shift in 2019, toward local news collaborations among a variety of partners built on sustained reporting and engagement on issues that matter deeply to our communities.

Full disclosure: I know this is underway. As editor of Broke in Philly, a collaboration among 22 newsrooms doing solutions journalism on poverty and economic mobility in Philadelphia, I’ve had the privilege to watch this idea — lots of newsrooms in one market or region together tackling a topic of vital importance to their community — percolate worldwide. In 2018, journalists in over 15 cities in the U.S. and researchers from three continents reached out with interest in this model. In several cases, these folks are taking steps to form a long-term, issue-based horizontal collaborations.

As these new projects blossom, our cities, towns, and regions will reap the benefits. When newsrooms foster diversity of thought and perspective by working with one another, we are more likely to produce stories that reflect the diverse perspectives of our communities. Collaborative reporting is then more likely to have impact, because we reach more people and wield greater influence as a team.

But what we’ve learned in Philly is that it’s not just the product that matters — it’s the process too, especially if you want to collaborate beyond one story or series. How we treat each other as journalists and the relationships we form when working together are central to the success of the reporting, and in forging new paths for our industry. As collaboration continues to spread, 2019 will be a year of pursuing shared reporting structures that embrace equity over equality.

Those two words are often conflated. Equality assumes that we all come to the table with the same level and scope of power. It would be like thinking that a town’s flagship newspaper, a digital first start-up, and a hyperlocal representing a neighborhood that has been mis- or under- represented by mainstream media would all need the same level of support to work together, or that we would expect similar outputs or contributions from everyone. But journalism does not operate in a space devoid of the power imbalances that exist — and aggressively report on — in society at large.

So we turn to equity — which recognizes power dynamics, and allows for flexibility in collaborative processes to ensure that each partner is valued for their strength. Equitable collaborations create flexible structures and build in support for everyone’s limitations. It means crafting a project that is not one-size fits all, but as-many-sizes-as-needed for the success of each participant and the team as a whole.

We know that the stories produced by collaborative reporting are richer because of our differences. That’s why we do it. In 2019, we’ll take that to the next level by realizing that collaborators should adopt methods that embrace those distinctions too — rather than quell them.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky is the co-executive director of Resolve Philly.

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