Collaborative Journalism Summit: Culture, values and workflow are key pain points when it comes to collaborative reporting projects

By Aimée La Fountain

When newsrooms work together across company lines they can create dynamic, comprehensive stories with more depth than any one news organization could have produced on its own.

But collaborative projects also present their own series of obstacles.

Journalism professionals from across the country gathered at Montclair State University to tackle this subject, during a panel titled “Pain points: What makes collaboration hard and how to address it.” The discussion was part of the Collaborative Journalism Summit, which took place May 4–5 and was hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media.

The panel included four representatives representing news organizations, cooperative networks and academia.

“Our organization is rooted in collaboration,”said Aimee Rinehart of First Draft. That news site began with nine founding partners and today works with about 90 news organizations, both large and small, in order to create content.

One pain point that Rinehart noted was having morning meetings using Slack, a third-party communication platform, in order to coordinate rather than talking in-person because the journalists were located in various countries. It underscored the importance of having a cohesive process in place to avoid a sense of disconnect between newsrooms. “Part of the collaboration is really getting to know each other,” Rinehart said.

Scott Klein of ProPublica described the nonprofit news organization as having “collaboration in its DNA” and said that ProPublica needs to work with large news organizations in order to have its desired impact.

Klein warned that partnerships don’t imply that there will be less work involved or that it will be easier. “Doubling the number of editors on a story doesn’t make it go faster,” he said. “It makes it go slower.”

Odette Alcazaren-Keeley of New America Media said improving collaborations is an ongoing process. She cited clashes in culture and values between partners, particularly when working with ethnic media. Alcazaren-Keeley pointed out that respect of each other’s individual expertise and resources is crucial. “Trust and respect is vital to partnerships between ethnic media and mainstream newsrooms,” she said.

Jon Funabiki, a professor at San Franscisco State University and executive director of Renaissance Journalism, said that his organization didn’t begin doing collaborative work, but made the shift after recognizing its value.

The pain point Funabiki mentioned was of equity and “the big guys verses the little guys,” meaning divisiveness between groups such as large nonprofits and smaller newspapers. Funabiki said that the “little guys” tend to be underfunded and have less capacity, but are deeply rooted in their communities. “This comes up a lot and is a big issue,” he said.

The panel then delved into areas where their partnerships failed.

Rinehart said that First Draft experienced problems with language barriers and had limited time to fix them. They were using four English-speaking platforms but most of their partners spoke French. “We really had to look into that quickly and redevelop all these tools in French,” she said. If time allowed, she would’ve preferred to consolidate it down to one platform that everyone could use.

Klein said one aspect he wished ProPublica would have done differently for its “Electionland” project was that no one was put in charge of tracking stories to measure their success and impact.

“We had to almost research ourselves (afterward) to see what really worked and what didn’t,” he said.

Alcazaren-Keeley said some of the hardest situations for her arose when primary members of New America Media weren’t regularly on the ground in certain cities where reporters were stationed.

Funabiki said his biggest struggle is with scheduling, especially when it comes to estimating the time needed to complete a project.

“We don’t really have the capacity to do everything we want to do,” he said. “We’re good at dreaming, but my confession is we can’t always do everything we dream about.”

Author Aimee La Fountain is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.

About the Collaborative Journalism Summit: The Collaborative Journalism Summit took place May 4–5, 2017 at Montclair State University. It was an international symposium on collaborative reporting projects and cooperative news networks. The summit was hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media and presented by Google News Lab and the Rita Allen Foundation, and is sponsored by the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Montclair State University and the Rita Allen Foundation.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit

Featured image: Photo by Harald via Flickr (edits made in compliance with Creative Commons)