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March 16, 2020, 12:54 p.m.

How journalists are working together to cover the COVID-19 pandemic

Across the United States, independent newsrooms are finding ways to share stories, ideas, tips, and knowledge about a virus that doesn’t limit itself to anyone’s audience boundaries.

Having access to accurate information can mean the difference between life and death during a crisis. That’s why right now, journalists around the globe are working around the clock to make sure people in their communities are informed as the COVID-19 virus ricochets through our countries, our towns, and our families.

It’s especially in times like these that collaboration can help. There are so many reasons why collaboration makes sense for journalism right now: We can better support each other, avoid duplication, diversify our coverage, amplify each other’s work and expand our own reach.

As director of the Center for Cooperative Media, I’ve been collecting examples of this kind of cross-newsroom collaboration — both so you can see for yourself what’s happening and perhaps so you’ll inspired to join (virtual) hands with other media-makers in your community. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Oregon news orgs are sharing and cross-promoting stories.

There’s a group of news organizations in Oregon that have worked together on multiple projects over the last several years, including on Rattled: Oregon’s Concussion Discussion and on Breaking The Silence. Now they’re working together again to cover the novel coronavirus.

John Schrag, executive editor of Pamplin Media Group, emailed me to note that more than a dozen news orgs there have all agreed to share and cross-promote COVID-19 coverage. The idea was first floated by Les Zaitz, editor of the Salem Reporter and Malheur Enterprise.

As of late last week, the collaborators included Bend Bulletin, Statesman Journal, Pamplin Media Group, KGW-TV, Malheur Enterprise, KOBI TV, Lund Report, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian/OregonLive, Salem Reporter, Street Roots, Eugene Weekly, East Oregonian, Jefferson Public Radio, Beyond Well and Patch.com.

“Coronavirus will strain even the largest newsrooms as news breaks continuously and into the nights and weekends.” Therese Bottomly, editor of The Oregonian, wrote in a column about the effort. “The collaboration will allow newsrooms to pick up good information from other sources, so they will not need to re-report the same story. We can cover more angles this way.”

First Draft plans a large new global COVID-19 collaborative.

First Draft is best known for coordinating collaborations worldwide to fight misinformation and disinformation, especially around elections. Now the group is pulling together its previous and existing collaboration partners to work on COVID-19.

This is the largest collaboration effort I know of related to COVID-19. Journalists that would like to join may nominate their newsroom using this form.

First Draft has also compiled useful tutorials and guides for responsible reporting on the outbreak.

Resolve Philadelphia launches a digital guide to reframing COVID-19 reporting.

Resolve Philadelphia is a collaborative that supports local journalists in delivering “solutions-focused, accurate, and people-first news and information.” Over the past 72 hours, the organization checked in with its 24 news partners in Philly to see what they needed and where the gaps were. In response, Resolve built a digital guide to reframe reporting on coronavirus.

“Our team hustled to make this resource available to journalists and newsrooms around the country who are responding to the urgent and developing news and information needs of their communities,” Cassie Haynes, co-executive director of Resolve, wrote in an email.

The guide will be updated regularly and includes guidelines for responsibly presenting your story, language recommendations for word choices that improve comprehension, and a set of sharable, social media graphics with quick tips for framing your story.

Resolve is also running a private COVID-19 Slack channel for its partners to share and coordinate reporting, and has offered its editing, data journalism, and community engagement editors to the group, along with its SMS texting platform. One of Resolve’s partners is working to translate the collaborative’s reporting into Spanish to help widen its reach to a critical local audience.

The Granite State News Collaborative postponed a project launch to focus on COVID-19 coverage.

Members of the Granite State News Collaborative were gathered for a remote editorial board meeting March 11 to talk about planning the rollout of the group’s latest project when they realized the ground was shifting underneath them.

“The discussion quickly turned to the growing reality that our outlets were starting to see more demand for COVID-19 coverage,” Melanie Plenda, project manager for the collaborative, told me in an email. “One of the partners said she’d take anyone’s coverage they wanted to share. Right then, we sort of shifted gears.”

The group decided to postpone the launch of its latest project to entirely focus their collective effort on COVID-19 coverage. It also quickly reached out to its funders to see if the group could use its resources to help our outlets report on the crisis, and all agreed.

Among the things the group is doing:

  • All partners agreed to share content, using a shared Google folder that includes stories, press releases, and a plan to coordinate that sharing.
  • The collaborative created a survey to collect questions the public had about the virus in one place, the responses to which are then disseminated to partners.
  • It’s assigned additional stories to freelancers that the partners weren’t able to do themselves.

Next up, the collaborative is considering how it could coordinate pooled coverage of events and announcements that have statewide importance and share a daily news budget.

A new North Carolina collaborative mobilizes for a statewide project.

In North Carolina, the NC News Collaborative quickly began to share content as the COVID-19 outbreak grew in the U.S.

The collaborative is a fairly new group comprised of more than 20 newspapers across the state. Robyn Tomlin, executive editor of The (Raleigh) News & Observer and The (Durham) Herald-Sun, said the group is also working on a large, statewide reporting effort. That project is likely to publish in the next week.

Public radio stations across the Midwest are teaming up to offer shared content.

Side Effects Public Media, a public radio collaboration focused on healthcare, and Indiana Public Broadcasting are working with stations across the Midwest to cover the coronavirus. Its eight partner stations are in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

The group quickly developed a series of features reporting on COVID-19’s impact on schools, senior centers, and churches. It’s also doing a daily roundup of coronavirus news from the Midwest and compiled a popular FAQ, Dave Rosenthal, Side Effects’ managing editor, told me in an email.

It collected questions from audience members and set out to answer the most common in reported radio and online stories.

The Local Voices Network is setting up a database for virtual conversations.

Cortico’s Local Voices Network describes itself as a “physical-digital network designed to bring under-heard community voices, perspectives, and stories to the center of a healthier public dialogue.” In practice, LVN convenes people in the places it works around a “digital hearth” for conversations that are recorded, archived, and shared.

Max Resnik, Cortico’s lead for media and journalism, told me the organization is working on a Zoom recording protocol to encourage more LVN-style conversations. “[We] would love to have our database serve as a collaborative location for conversations for newsrooms working on virus coverage,” he told me in an email. He expects to have more to share soon.

In New Jersey, two news collaboratives are sharing stories and tips.

Finally, the NJ News Commons and NJ College News Commons — the Center for Cooperative Media’s flagship networks of the state’s local and campus media orgs, respectively — are working together to share stories and reporting using Nordot.

We’re also working to organize group calls and virtual peer-to-peer sessions to give our partners a chance to ask each other questions and share tips as they continue to cover the pandemic, including an AMA later this week with Steve Stirling of the Coronaviral newsletter.

What else? Let me know! If you’re doing collaborative work around the new coronavirus, let me know at murrayst@montclair.edu.

Stefanie Murray is director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. A version of this piece appeared on Medium.

Photo of a window in Konstanz, Germany, March 14, 2020 by Michael Kowalczyk used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 16, 2020, 12:54 p.m.
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