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Election projects around the world show the power — and necessity — of collaborative journalism

A look at three important projects, with ideas about how you can localize them

Elections have always been ripe opportunities for news organizations to work together for the benefit of the communities they cover.

This year there are several notable efforts spanning the globe that include fact-checking, day-of coverage coordination and more. These kind of projects produce journalism that couldn’t otherwise be done by individual newsrooms, especially in today’s climate of continued downsizing. I think it’s worth highlighting them, especially in advance of the U.S. midterms — there are several ideas here that could be used locally on a smaller scale. Let’s take a look at three big ones.

Electionland: Covering voting access, election integrity

When ProPublica and its partners launched Electionland in 2016, it quickly became the largest single day, single-topic collaboration in U.S. history. (You can read an excellent full case study with lessons learned and best practices here) The project that year was meant to solely cover problems at the voting booths on Election Day.

Electionland is back this year, with a slightly expanded focus given what’s been happening over the last two years: it’s a collaborative intended to cover voting access, cybersecurity and election integrity in the U.S. midterm elections.

Make it local: Being part of Electionland is an excellent trade-off for local newsrooms. Pretty much every newsroom in the country that is planning to cover its local elections should sign up as an Electionland partner. Doing so gets you access to alerts about problems in your area, data, training, access to a private Slack group and more. You agree to follow up on tips sent to you, share a link to your published work with ProPublica and help promote the project. If you haven’t signed up yet, do so here. (Disclosure: The Center is an Electionland supporter and we actively promote the project to our NJ News Commons network.)

North Carolina Fact-Checking Project launches thanks to new funding

Fact-checking and verification efforts are under way in several countries (more on that below) and a new one was just announced in North Carolina.

Thanks to funding from the Local News Lab — a Democracy Fund-supported initiative — the Duke University Reporters Lab is launching the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project with partners the News & Observer and the Reese News Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Another disclosure: The Center also receives Democracy Fund funding, through its New Jersey Local News Lab).

The North Carolina project is focused on this fall’s state elections and will extend into the 2019 state legislative session. The goal is to provide fact-checked content for publications and broadcasters statewide. (Which is amazing!)

Make it local: Obviously, if you are in North Carolina, you should know about this and perhaps get in touch with the Reporters Lab for more info. Otherwise, the project could be a great blueprint for other states or municipalities to adopt. Maybe you tackle it by legislative district instead of on a statewide level; reach out to other news media in your coverage area and see if you can strike up an arrangement to fact-check certain races this fall and share fact-checked content. One way to tackle this is to focus on political ads, for example, posts on social media by candidates or speeches given at campaign events.

Comprova, the latest collaborative from First Draft, starts publishing in Brazil

Last week the election collaborative Comprova began publishing in Brazil. It’s the latest project hosted by First Draft, which — if you don’t know — is an incredible Shorenstein Center project focused on using research-based methods to fight mis- and disinformation online.

This new collaborative involves 24 newsrooms that will work together to verify misinformation online related to the elections in Brazil, set for Oct. 7 and Oct. 28.

Particularly notable about this effort is the shared use of the WhatsApp Business API. Using WhatsApp in a collaborative way — all the partners will promote a single number — will help reporters at newsrooms across the country “review and respond to incoming messages at scale,” First Draft said. About 120 million people in Brazil use WhatsApp. (Electionland is doing something similar, using a single text-based system to collect tips from the public; all the partners will promote the same number to the public in that project, too).

Comprova has many similarities to the fantastic CrossCheck in France, another First Draft project. And like it did with CrossCheck, First Draft plans to study the impact of Comprova and release the results along with a full case study. (Read the full CrossCheck report here).

Make it local: Verifying and debunking mis- and disinformation online is quite a bit more technologically challenging than straight-up fact-checking, but it can be done. You can scale an effort like Comprova down to the local level like this: The first order of business is to take First Draft’s free, online verification course to get an understanding of what you’re looking for. The read the CrossCheck report to get an understanding of what works and what doesn’t in these kind of projects. Team up with another news outlet (or two, or three) in your area to share the work. Have one point person from each news org join a shared Slack channel, where you’ll do all your communicating.

Agree to promote a shared spot to collect tips from the public (does someone have a Groundsource account you can use, or maybe you’ll use a single email inbox?), agree who will do what work (will you equally rotate tips as they come in?) and agree how you’ll publish what you verify or debunk (will you each just post on your own sites and share?). Then start promoting, verifying and publishing.

What else?

What other interesting election collaboratives are happening out there this year? Let me know — email murrayst@montclair.edu and I’ll add them to this post. And if you use one of the ideas above, please let me know that, too!

Studying and promoting collaborative journalism is a key project of the Center for Cooperative Media. For more information on collaborative journalism, I encourage you to visit our site collaborativejournalism.org, where we track such projects around the world. You’ll find an archive linking to lots of stories about collaboration, our collaborative journalism database, a link to sign up for our collaborative journalism newsletter and more.


Stefanie Murray is director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at murrayst@montclair.edu or @StefanieMurray.

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, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jersey and the Abrams Foundation. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.