Newsrooms and civil society organizations team up

“Though not (yet?) very common in the U.S., projects involving both journalists and civil society organizations — usually advocacy groups, though not always — are a fast-growing trend globally.”

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed more than 50 people for a research project on civil society/journalism collaboration. Though not (yet?) very common in the U.S., projects involving both journalists and civil society organizations — usually advocacy groups, though not always — are a fast-growing trend globally. A subset of collaborative journalism, these projects are almost always topic-driven; corruption, climate change, and women’s health appear to be the most common subjects. Moreover, it’s usually investigative journalism projects that gain the most benefit from partnering with civil society groups.

Why is this cross-field collaboration growing now? At least three developments have converged:

  • First, information producers, especially journalists, can no longer rely on their content being seen via the usual channels. Collaborating with NGOs, universities, data visualization shops, and others helps their content have a broader reach.
  • Second, the nature of investigative reporting in the digital age often necessitates myriad skillsets — technology, data, language and cultural considerations — that a single newsroom might not contain. Civil society organizations can provide this supplementary expertise.
  • Third, given the staggering malfeasance that increasingly sophisticated (and costly) investigative journalism projects are uncovering, there’s less tolerance for subsequent inaction. Involving civil society organizations increases the likelihood that people will be held accountable and/or that policy will change.

While the benefits are somewhat straightforward, these partnerships are obviously not without complications. As part of this project, we’ve cataloged more than 180 journalism/civil society collaborations, and the issues to be worked through vary, depending on the geography of the partners involved, cultural differences, and workflow, to name just a few.

It’s clear that the rules and norms that defined journalism for decades are shifting. We’re seeing new alliances being formed to allow journalism to live up to the ideals that are still at its heart.

Sarah Stonbely is research director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed more than 50 people for a research project on civil society/journalism collaboration. Though not (yet?) very common in the U.S., projects involving both journalists and civil society organizations — usually advocacy groups, though not always — are a fast-growing trend globally. A subset of collaborative journalism, these projects are almost always topic-driven; corruption, climate change, and women’s health appear to be the most common subjects. Moreover, it’s usually investigative journalism projects that gain the most benefit from partnering with civil society groups.

Why is this cross-field collaboration growing now? At least three developments have converged:

  • First, information producers, especially journalists, can no longer rely on their content being seen via the usual channels. Collaborating with NGOs, universities, data visualization shops, and others helps their content have a broader reach.
  • Second, the nature of investigative reporting in the digital age often necessitates myriad skillsets — technology, data, language and cultural considerations — that a single newsroom might not contain. Civil society organizations can provide this supplementary expertise.
  • Third, given the staggering malfeasance that increasingly sophisticated (and costly) investigative journalism projects are uncovering, there’s less tolerance for subsequent inaction. Involving civil society organizations increases the likelihood that people will be held accountable and/or that policy will change.

While the benefits are somewhat straightforward, these partnerships are obviously not without complications. As part of this project, we’ve cataloged more than 180 journalism/civil society collaborations, and the issues to be worked through vary, depending on the geography of the partners involved, cultural differences, and workflow, to name just a few.

It’s clear that the rules and norms that defined journalism for decades are shifting. We’re seeing new alliances being formed to allow journalism to live up to the ideals that are still at its heart.

Sarah Stonbely is research director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

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