Does This Project Make Sense for Collaboration?

The first step you should take is to decide whether collaboration makes sense and to put together a case for it to present to your own newsroom.

"There's many, many reasons that you might seek a partner, but it's important to think about why," said Stefanie Murray, the director of the Center for Cooperative Media and an expert on journalism collaborations.

According to Murray, five of the most common reasons collaborative projects start are:

  • A big event, such as an election, is coming up that is too complex to be covered well by a single newsroom.

  • A crisis is looming, or has happened, such as in a breaking news situation.

  • A newsroom has an idea for an enterprise topic that makes sense across newsrooms with different audiences and expertise.

  • A newsroom is having trouble cracking a story on its own and thinks bringing in more reporters may help

  • A newsroom has received resources or funding [to do a collaborative project].

Murray recommends that when considering partners, you will first want to evaluate what kind of help your newsroom needs from potential collaborators. You might want to seek partners to shore up weak spots in your own newsroom. Do you need more reporters? Help dealing with records requests? Do you need access to expertise such as data analysis? Language skills or access to communities you have trouble reaching? Or do you see the partnership simply as an audience acquisition strategy and are looking to partner with the biggest-traffic source you can find?

Before you get started, it's well worth weighing the costs and benefits of the collaboration. It's better to say no up front than to join and not fully participate, or have to back out.

Collaboration may not be right for everyone, or for every project. You shouldn't partner simply for the sake of partnering — you have to be willing to buy into the overall goals of the project and be fully willing to participate and share. You shouldn't join in order to rely on other newsrooms to do work for you; pitching in is part of any collaborative process.

Managing a collaborative data project takes time. If you don't have the time to commit right now, it may be best to wait.