Miriam Ascarelli asks a question during one of the lightning talks at the 2018 Collaborative Journalism Summit. Photo by Tom Franklin.

Collaborative Journalism Summit: With 5 minutes on the clock, journalists share their collaborative experiences

By Jared Kofsky

The news business is known for being a fast-paced industry. Just like working quickly under deadline in the newsroom, journalists provided an overview of their collaborative reporting projects at lightning speed during the “lightning talks” of the Collaborative Journalism Summit at Montclair State University on May 11.

Representatives from media outlets and academic institutions from all over the United States — from Macon, Georgia to Missouri to Montclair — were given five minutes to tell conference attendees about their efforts to partner with other outlets and institutions in order to improve local reporting.

For instance, Lee van der Voo from InvestigateWest discussed how the outlet partnered with the Pamplin Media Group and student journalists to investigate concerns over concussions at Oregon high schools. The reporters filed public records requests with all 235 high schools in the state and used Excel to track the statistics that they obtained.

Meanwhile, Pamplin’s Executive Editor, John Schrag, shared with the audience about different collaborative project in the Portland area that aimed to investigate the homelessness crisis in this part of the northwest. Calling himself a “collaboration czar,” Schrag described how Pamplin worked alongside several stakeholders, freelancers, and publications in order to give the crisis more attention. While he stated that the project was only a “partial success,” Schrag said it was a “huge learning experience” for Pamplin’s future collaborative efforts.

Another lightning talk speaker was Rachel Glickhouse of ProPublica, who spoke about the Documenting Hate project that the non-profit outlet is conducting with a variety of news outlets, including college newsrooms.

”We decided to model it after Electionland as a type of distributed reporting project,” Glickhouse stated, explaining that while Documenting Hate has already received over 5,000 tips, journalists engaging in this type of collaborative reporting should “always go for quality rather than quantity.”

While most of the projects discussed during the lightning talks occurred hundreds of miles from Northern New Jersey, one took place just hundreds of feet from the presentation hall. Joe Amditis of the Center for Cooperative Media and Montclair State University journalism student Lataya Rothmiller told attendees about the Election Night Open Newsroom hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media and NJ Spotlight on Nov. 7, 2017. The event not only brought on-campus media outlets like WMSC Radio and The Montclarion together to collaborate, but also saw editors and reporters from news organizations across the state such as New Brunswick Today and Brick City Live join the reporting effort.

Students held weekly meetings in advance of the event and, when it was over, 26 journalists worked together to produce a live map of election results and an on-air newscast.

“It ended up being a more than 2-hour live broadcast,” Amditis told the audience.

Other projects that were mentioned are in their infancy, but presenters are hoping that these efforts will have bright future. Dennis Moore from Mississippi Today shared how his outlet is partnering with Raycom-owned NBC affiliate WLBT in order to conduct public service reporting on issues impacting the Magnolia State, while Andi McDaniel and Jeremy Bernfeld from WAMU in Washington, DC previewed the upcoming Guns & America collaboration, which will involve nearly a dozen public radio stations nationwide.

Clearly, although it was not possible to learn about all of the details associated with every project in just five minutes, attendees walked away from the lightning talks with a better understanding of many types of collaborative journalism projects that they can implement.


Jared Kofsky covers New Jersey government, economic development, real estate, transportation, and more for Jersey Digs.

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 CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.