Collaboration is the future of impactful, sustainable enterprise journalism — and here’s why

Last year, some 400 journalists from 107 media organizations in 76 countries joined forces to investigate and analyze more than 11.5 million leaked documents. Their investigation, known as the Panama Papers, was published worldwide earlier this month.

The Panama Papers marked the biggest leak in whistleblower history. Analysis of such a huge trove of documents was only possible because such a large group of reporters and editors — led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — worked collaboratively on the project.

Similarly, this week staffers at the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a collaborative project about violence and neglect in Florida mental hospitals.

This kind of teamwork is the future of sustainable enterprise journalism. Collaboration is key in a time when resources are spread thin and news organizations are competing for people’s attention rather than against each other.

We’ve been pioneering such collaborative, networked journalism here in New Jersey.

Around the same time “John Doe” was reaching out to reporters at Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Center for Investigative Reporting was busy working with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University to drum up a coalition of its own.

Dubbed “Dirty Little Secrets,” our investigation involved multiple publications and otherwise-competitive media outlets working together to uncover sources of toxic contamination in the Garden State.

What we found was astonishing.

An early map created by Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC as part of the Dirty Little Secrets investigation showing all the known contaminated sites in New Jersey. Data Source:

Our collective reporting uncovered more than 14,000 known contaminated sites scattered across the state, roughly 1,700 of which are located in areas vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rises. Abandoned gas stations and dry cleaners, diesel exhaust hazards, underground oil tanks, contaminated fish, privatized clean-up efforts, disproportionate contamination in low-income areas — the list goes on.

We were able to take a big topic, divide the work, get it done, then come back together to share our findings. Granted, all group projects have their issues, but we accomplished a lot more in a shorter time period than would have been possible if only one news outlet was involved.

We worked together for the public interest rather than competing against each other for our own interests.

We were successful because we worked together for a common purpose. Our shared goal was to inform our communities and make an impact. That’s what makes these kinds of projects so valuable — and it’s why networked, collaborative journalism is here to stay.

This blog post is part of Dirty Little Secrets, a series investigating New Jersey’s toxic legacy. Participating news partners include New Jersey Public Radio/WNYC,WHYY, NJTV, NJ Spotlight, Jersey Shore Hurricane News, WBGO, New Brunswick Today and the Rutgers Department of Journalism and Media Studies. The collaboration is facilitated by The Center for Investigative Reporting, with help from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State.

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