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April 25, 2019, 8:12 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Collaboration jackpot: How three local journalism projects in Europe are getting more bang for their buck

A case study into local news collaborations in Italy, the U.K., and Finland suggest some methods that any newsroom can use.

As resources have shrunk, collaboration between and within newsrooms has skyrocketed. This isn’t a “do more with less” scenario, but rather true-blue teamwork using the skills, abilities, tech, and yeah, money pooled between entities to ideally do journalism with a much more powerful punch.

This approach has especially resonated in local media environments, where competitors have turned into collaborators and there’s actually a guide for local-national collaborations. But European examples of collaboration are a bit understudied, the authors of a new Reuters Institute report write, and the lessons from three distinct types of collaborations in three European media markets can, well, add to the greater collaborative conversation about…collaboration.

Joy Jenkins, a postdoctoral research fellow at Reuters, and Lucas Graves, Reuters’ acting director of research, picked apart the logistics, benefits, and challenges of operating this trio of teamwork. Over 31 interviews in late 2018 and early 2019, they analyzed:

  1. The Bureau Local in the U.K. (with an adopted offshoot in Germany, Correctiv.Lokal), an ongoing network of journalists and non-journalists working on topic-driven projects,
  2. L’Italia Delle Slot in Italy, a short-term investigation into gambling in Italy by startup and legacy publications, and
  3. Lännen Media in Finland, a regional content-sharing setup.

Let’s get this point out of the way: Collaboration will not singlehandedly save local news or the journalism industry. “People involved in these initiatives are hesitant to suggest that they offer the definitive solution to the problems facing local news, and they do not aim to replace the news industry in the cities and towns where they operate. They also expressed uncertainty about the sustainability of their efforts,” Jenkins and Graves write. But:

Another benefit of collaboration was the resulting articles, with respondents frequently noting that working as part of larger, more diversified networks allows them to produce more in-depth, context-driven, and in some cases interactive content. In the case of the Bureau Local and ‘L’Italia Delle Slot’, the availability and integration of large-scale data sets allows journalists to enhance their reporting and situate local issues within national trends.

And collaboration doesn’t just involve newsrooms, but potentially community members, tech and data folk, and academics as well in the process of reporting, producing, and distributing the news. (Kathryn Geels, director of the Engaged Journalism Accelerator, suggested thinking of the BBC’s local democracy reporter network and Google’s Digital News Initiative as partners instead of competitors. That’s one option.)

There are many ways a collaboration can take shape, which is why the authors chose these different projects in these different markets. Jenkins and Graves pull apart the arrangements, goals, and follow-throughs of each of the three, highlighting specific smart ideas. Here’s one from each that stood out to me:

  1. L’Italia Delle Slot made sure to start everyone on the same page: “To aid the reporting process, which took two to three months, [a partner newsroom’s founder Raffaele] Mastrolonardo and [data scientist and partner Alessio] Cimarelli created reports for each local newsroom, including data about their city as well as tables with data on the top 20 cities in their surrounding region and an interactive map. The reports served as a starting point for the local journalists, who could decide how to frame the story and what types of sources to interview, while the Visual Lab assisted with producing videos and other multimedia elements. Mastrolonardo and Cimarelli ensured that the data were presented clearly in online infographics and interactive features.”
  2. The U.K.’s Bureau Local created a deliberate space for participants to troubleshoot the system (similar to City Bureau’s public newsrooms): “The Bureau Local has also begun hosting one-hour ‘open newsrooms’ on the Slack channel. Rachel Hamada, one of the Bureau’s community organizers, said the open newsrooms focus on a particular topic but also include opportunities to highlight recent work by network members and ‘do a bit of troubleshooting together’. Open newsrooms have explored how to glean additional information from a postcode or address, challenges associated with court reporting, and how to effectively involve communities in journalistic work.”
  3. Lännen Media’s distributed approach isn’t necessarily top-down: “Lännen Media newspapers have focused on co- operating through sharing national and international news, which results in more resources for them to focus on creating high-quality local and regional content…. Although Lännen Media reporters are headquartered in multiple cities, because they focus on writing articles to reach broad audiences, they are careful not to overemphasize location in their reporting, instead focusing on sources and topics with broad interest and appeal.”

The report has many more nuggets of collaboration ideas to steal from these projects. Read it in full here.

Image of a slot machine used under Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 25, 2019, 8:12 a.m.
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