Here are the top 10+ journalism collaborations of 2021

Stefanie Murray
Dec 17, 2021 · 8 min read

Every year in December, I whine to my colleagues about how hard it is to select the best 10 journalism collaborations of the year. But every year it’s true, and getting even more so. (Just search for “collab” in the LION Publishers or INN lists of award finalists to get a feel.)

So this year, you’re getting 13 instead of 10!

The sheer volume of impactful, interesting and useful collaborations among media makers around the world has been increasing exponentially. The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University tracks collaborations, and we’re close to surpassing 600 in our database. Keep sending them our way, and we’re sure to hit 1,000 soon.

Here you go: Take a look at 10+ of the best journalism collaborations in 2021, selected by staff at the Center and nominated from folks on our collaboration managers listserv, a review of stories we’ve posted on collaborativejournalism.org and from our followers on Twitter. They are in NO particular order!

1. Pandora Papers

The largest journalism collaboration in history definitely makes this year’s top 10 list. The Pandora Papers, run by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, involved more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories over the course of two years.

The investigation revealed “the secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians and high-level public officials in more than 90 countries and territories, including 35 country leaders.” The work was based on the most expansive leak of tax haven files in history, including 11.9 million financial records containing 2.94 terabytes of confidential information from 14 offshore service providers.

The Pandora Papers revealed new details on international corruption scandals, including bribery by the Brazilian contracting giant Odebrecht S.A., the #FIFAGate soccer scandal and many more.

2. OpenLux

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project led a global team including 17 partner news organizations to examine Luxembourg’s corporate register, focusing on “ultimate beneficial owners,” or UBOs, of companies there for a project called OpenLux. The stories it uncovered are fascinating.

Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, as measured by its geographic size and population, yet it attracts trillions of dollars in foreign investment. The secrecy it affords investors investors and companies make it vulnerable to money laundering and an attractive tax haven for the rich.

The project used newly released public records to show people linked to corruption in Venezuela spent millions on luxury properties in the Caribbean, to find companies owned by people with ties to an influential Italian mafia, and discover that American stars including Angelina Jolie and Tigers Woods have companies in Luxembourg.

3. Oceans Inc.

Oceans Inc. is the latest project from the Environmental Reporting Collective, a cross-border network of journalists and newsrooms from more than a dozen countries who environmental crimes.

It is a look into the world of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, uncovering issues such as forced labor, unsolved deaths at sea, environmentally destructive fishing practices, the geopolitics of fishing in the South China Sea and more.

A total of 23 journalists based in more than a dozen countries participated. One important note: All Oceans Inc. content (except the illustrations) is available to be translated, adapted and republished for free under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC 4.0).

The first piece in the series, Fishers on the Frontlines, involved journalists in five countries across the South China Sea exploring how local fishers have been impacted by illegal fishing and the ongoing maritime territorial dispute.

4. Tapped Out

Tapped Out is an investigative collaboration examining water issues in the Western U.S., coordinated by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

The first series of articles published in May and the second series was published this month.

The first series generated immediate impacts, including how a story on water shortages in Gallup, New Mexico helped to free $3 million in federal money to bring water to Gallup and surrounding communities. (The funding had been granted but not yet spent.) Another story about a sinking town in Central California (co-published in The New York Times) generated significant attention, too.

5. Criminalizing Kids

Criminalizing Kids is a project that published in September, led by the Center for Public Integrity in collaboration with Univision and USA Today. It examined the disparities that students of color and those with disabilities face when it comes to encounters with law enforcement at school.

CPI, Univision and USA Today reported on the the issues from a national angle while another dozen covered the disparities from a local perspective.

The result was a series of damning stories that clearly scrutinized the use of law enforcement and courts to respond how kids behave at school.

6. Printing Hate

Kathy Best knows how to pull together impactful student-led journalism collaboratives like few other professors in the the U.S. do.

She’s the director of the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, which in October joined University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of Arkansas (whew!) to begin publishing more than 30 stories examining the racist pasts of U.S. newspapers.

The stories were published on Capital News Service’s Howard Center website, on the National Association of Black Journalists’ news site and on Word in Black, a collaboration of the nation’s leading Black news publishers.

Students from the universities students spent most of this year reviewing archives and interviewing descendants, experts and historians as they chronicled the power that white-owned newspapers held and how they harmed the Black community.

7. Barren Mile

Barren Mile examined food insecurity in Black American communities and how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue of what activists call “food apartheid.”

New York Amsterdam News, The St. Louis American, Black Voice News and the Atlanta Voice, in collaboration with Report for America, produced the series, the first collaborative national enterprise story by multiple Black publications since the 1960s.

Barren Mile published shortly before Thanksgiving, noting how one in four Black Americans experienced food insecurity in 2020, which is three times the rate for white households.

8. Critical Condition

100 Days in Appalachia, National Geographic and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project came together to produce Critical Condition, a three-part series that examined how the closure of hospitals in rural Appalachian communities was affecting local communities in the wake of COVID-19.

The stories focus on dire conditions in three counties in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, including a county where two of three hospitals have been closed and the last remaining facility has only one doctor.

However, the stories are not only an examination of what’s been lost; they also look at the resiliency of the communities profiled and the solutions that the residents have devised.

9. WHYY’s N.I.C.E. (News & Information Community Exchange)

WHYY’s N.I.C.E. (News & Information Community Exchange) is a mutual-aid journalism collaborative based in Philadelphia. Launched in March 2021, N.I.C.E. brings together “grassroots news and information content creators” to learn new skills and share knowledge to help better cover hyperlocal news in their communities. The collaborative also seeks to build better relationships between WHYY, its staff and people who live in Philly.

N.I.C.E. started hustling from the start and made quite an impact in its first 9 months in existence. The group has been highlighted in numerous journalism events and articles, including one by the Tow Center for Journalism and the Lenfest Institute, and was one of four finalists in Local That Works, a national competition.

The first cohort of N.I.C.E. partners included Emma Restrepo of Dos Puntos Radio, Conrad Benner of StreetsDept.com, Sajda Purple Blackwell of PQ Radio 1, P.O.C. (Proof of Consciousness) of Mad or Nah / Revive Radio, and Nora Elmarzouky & Yaroub Al-Obaidi of Friends Peace and Sanctuary Journal.

10. The New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative

In April 2021, two solutions-journalism focused groups — one in New York and one in Southeast Michigan—joined to form the New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative. It’s the Solutions Journalism Network’s first interstate collaborative.

The collaborative focuses on an extremely underreported topic: caregiving, funded by a grants from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.

NYMI SOJO now has 32 news and community partners and launched a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. It recently added three staffers including a new data coordinator who is building a “Caregiving Coverage Data Center” that the collaborative hopes to use to generate revenue for long-term sustainability.

11. Stanford School Enrollment Project

The Stanford School Enrollment Project was set up to collect, process, and standardize local enrollment data, which was then made available to journalists in the U.S. The result is a rich dataset that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

It began as a partnership between Stanford University education experts, The New York Times, EdSource, the Colorado News Collaborative, OpenNews and Big Local News, a project of Stanford University’s Journalism and Democracy Initiative.

Stories that emerged from this dataset included an August story detailing how kindergarten enrollment dropped 10% nationwide in 2020, and localizations in California, Colorado and other states.

OpenNews also created a helpful story recipe for journalists to use to help access and parse the data.

12. Unaccounted

Unaccounted was the name of a collaborative issue of Marquee, a Louisville, Ky.-based digital magazine published in August. Partners included TAUNT, Southerly, Queer Kentucky, and Press On.

The stories examined people who are ignored, marginalized, or made to feel forgotten in the identity of Kentucky, including Black Kentuckians who fought in the Civil War, people currently in solitary confinement, and people whose lives are being ravaged by historic flooding. The pieces are intimate and striking.

13. URL Media

URL Media launched in January of 2021. Standing for “uplift, respect, love,” the network is meant to be a decentralized, multi-platform network of high-performing Black and Brown media organizations. The members share and collaborate on content, distribution, and other resources “to enhance reach, expand revenue and build long-term sustainability.”

Eight news organizations across the U.S. are part of the inaugural members of the network. URL was launched by Sara Lomax Reese and S. Mitra Kalita.

“As we look ahead, we are excited to continue to build out this network of high performing community media, serving Black and Brown people, owned by Black and Brown founders, and disrupting power structures,” URL’s latest newsletter said.

👋 Want more collaborative journalism?

You can subscribe to our collaborative journalism newsletter for more updates and information. And of course, we invite you to visit collaborativejournalism.org to learn more about the topic of collaborative journalism — including our growing database of collaborative journalism projects, which is currently being updated.

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

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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