Credit: Joe Amditis.

How journalists are working together to cover the COVID-19 pandemic

Collaborative journalism has the power to make a big difference during times of crisis like this

Stefanie Murray
Center for Cooperative Media
7 min readMar 16, 2020

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Having access to accurate information can mean the difference between life and death during a crisis.

That’s why right now, journalists around the globe are working around the clock to make sure people in their communities are informed as the COVID-19 virus ricochets through our countries, our towns, and our families.

It’s especially in times like these that collaboration can help.

There are so many reasons why collaboration makes sense for journalism right now: we can better support each other, avoid duplication, diversify our coverage, amplify each other’s work and expand our own reach. I started collecting examples so you can see for yourself what’s happening and perhaps get inspired to join (virtual) hands with other media-makers in your community.

Here’s what I found so far:

Oregon news orgs share, cross-promote stories

There’s a group of news organizations in Oregon that have worked together on multiple projects over the last several years, including on Rattled: Oregon’s Concussion Discussion and on Breaking The Silence. Now they’re working together again to cover the novel coronavirus.

John Schrag, executive editor of Pamplin Media Group, emailed me last week to note that more than a dozen news orgs there have all agreed to share and cross-promote COVID-19 coverage. The idea was first floated by Les Zaitz, editor of the Salem Reporter and Malheur Enterprise.

As of late last week, the collaborators included Bend Bulletin, Statesman Journal, Pamplin Media Group, KGW-TV, Malheur Enterprise, KOBI TV, Lund Report, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian/OregonLive, Salem Reporter, Street Roots, Eugene Weekly, East Oregonian, Jefferson Public Radio, Beyond Well and Patch.com.

“Coronavirus will strain even the largest newsrooms as news breaks continuously and into the nights and weekends.” Therese Bottomly, editor of The Oregonian/OregonLive, wrote in a column about the effort. “The collaboration will allow newsrooms to pick up good information from other sources, so they will not need to re-report the same story. We can cover more angles this way.”

First Draft plans large new global COVID-19 collaborative

First Draft is best known for coordinating collaborations worldwide to fight misinformation and disinformation, especially around elections. Now the group is pulling together all of its previous and existing collaboration partners to work on COVID-19.

This is the largest such effort I know about to date related to COVID-19. Journalists that would like to join may nominate their newsroom using this form.

First Draft has also compiled useful tutorials and guides for responsible reporting on the outbreak.

Resolve Philadelphia launches digital guide to reframe COVID-19 reporting

Resolve Philadelphia is a collaborative that supports local journalists in delivering “solutions-focused, accurate, and people-first news and information.” Over the last 72 hours, the organization checked in with its 24 news partners in Philly to see what they needed and where the gaps were.

In response, Resolve build a digital guide to reframe reporting on coronavirus.

“Our has team hustled to make this resource available to journalists and newsrooms around the country who are responding to the urgent and developing news and information needs of their communities,” Cassie Haynes, co-executive director of Resolve, wrote in an email.

The guide will be updated regularly and includes:

  1. A guide to responsibly presenting your story.
  2. Language recommendations for word choices that improve comprehension.
  3. A set of sharable, social media graphics with quick tips for framing your story.

Resolve is also running a private COVID-19 Slack channel for its partners to share and coordinate reporting, and has offered its editing, data journalism and community engagement editors to the group, along with its SMS texting platform. One of Resolve’s partners is working to translate the collaborative’s reporting into Spanish to help widen its reach to a critical local audience.

Granite State News Collaborative postpones project launch to focus on COVID-19 coverage

Members of the Granite State News Collaborative were gathered for a remote editorial board meeting March 11 to talk about planning the rollout of the group’s latest project when they realized the ground was shifting underneath them.

“The discussion quickly turned to the growing reality that our outlets were starting to see more demand for COVID-19 coverage,” Melanie Plenda, project manager for the collaborative, told me in an email. “One of the partners said she’d take anyone’s coverage they wanted to share. Right then, we sort of shifted gears.”

The group decided to postpone the launch of its latest project to entirely focus their collective effort on COVID-19 coverage. It also quickly reached out to its funders to see if the group could use its resources to help our outlets report on the crisis, and all agreed.

Among the things the group is doing:

  • All partners agreed to share content, using a shared Google folder that includes stories, press releases and a plan to coordinate that sharing.
  • The collaborative put together a survey to collect questions the public had about the virus in one place, then they are disseminating that info to the partners.
  • Assigned additional stories to freelancers that the partners weren’t able to do themselves.

Next up, the collaborative is considering how it could coordinate pooled coverage of events and announcements that have statewide importance and share a daily news budget.

New North Carolina collaborative mobilizes for statewide project

In North Carolina, the NC News Collaborative quickly began to share content as the COVID-19 outbreak grew in the U.S.

The collaborative is a fairly new group comprised of more than 20 newspapers across the state. Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of The (Raleigh) News & Observer and The (Durham) Herald-Sun, said the group is also working on a large, statewide reporting effort.

That project is likely to publish in the next week.

Public radio stations across the Midwest team up, offer shared content

Side Effects Public Media, a public radio collaboration focused on healthcare, and Indiana Public Broadcasting are working with stations across the Midwest to cover coronavirus. Its eight partner stations are in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.

The group quickly developed a series of features reporting on COVID-19’s impact on schools, senior centers and churches. It also is doing a daily roundup of coronavirus news from the Midwest and compiled a popular FAQ, Dave Rosenthal, managing editor for Side Effects, told me in an email.

It collected questions from audience members and set out to answers the most commons questions it was seeing in reported radio and online stories.

Local Voices Network setting up database for virtual conversations

Cortico’s Local Voices Network describes itself as a “physical-digital network designed to bring under-heard community voices, perspectives and stories to the center of a healthier public dialogue.” In practice, LVN convenes people in the places it works around a “digital hearth” for conversations that are recorded, archived and shared.

Max Resnik, Cortico’s lead for media and journalism, told me that the organization is working on a Zoom recording protocol to encourage more LVN-style conversations.

“(We) would love to have our database serve as a collaborative location for conversations for newsrooms working on virus coverage,” Resnik told me in an email. He expects to share more soon.

NJ New Commons and NJ College News Commons sharing stories and tips

Finally, the NJ News Commons and NJ College News Commons — the Center’s flagship networks of local and campus media orgs in New Jersey — are working together to share stories and reporting using Nordot.

We’re also working to organize group calls and virtual peer-to-peer sessions to give our partners a chance to ask each other questions and share tips as they continue to cover the pandemic, including an AMA later this week with Steve Stirling of the Coronaviral newsletter.

Ensia shares content with The Guardian, others to come

Mary Hoff, editor in chief of Ensia, emailed to tell me that a story her team did on the connections between emerging diseases and ecosystem health was shared with The Guardian and Scientific American and likely will be picked up by others. (Here’s that story: ‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?)

Mary told me that French and German outlets have reached out for (and received) permission to translate and republish the story, as well.

Ensia, which describes itself as a “a solutions-focused nonprofit media outlet reporting on our changing planet,” regularly partners with other news organizations on content-sharing and collaboration. More info if you’re interested can be found here.

Carolina Public Press activates its Emergency News Team

Late last week, Carolina Public Press launched its Emergency News Team, which News and Community Partnerships Manager Stephanie Carson told me is “a multifaceted initiative to help ensure all North Carolinians have access to information about COVID-19 and its community impact across the state.”

The team is focused in part on increasing the amount of coverage of COVID-19 for the Carolina Public Press, but is also available to collaborate with other North Carolina news outlets to help expand their ability to produce news related to the virus.

The team works on first-come, first-serve basis, with first priority given to news organizations located in and serving rural North Carolina. All content will also be available to news organizations across the state for republication and/or rebroadcast.

Covering Climate Now adds coronavirus angle to coverage

In “The Climate Beat” newsletter this week from the collaborative Covering Climate Now initiative, the group offered four stories on connections between the new coronavirus and our changing climate for republication.

What else? Let me know!

If you’re doing collaborative work around the new coronavirus, let me know: murrayst@montclair.edu.

👋 Want to learn more about 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 database of collaborative journalism projects, which is currently being updated.

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

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a 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, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 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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Stefanie Murray
Center for Cooperative Media

Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.