Contracts, MOUs and Other Formal Agreements

At this point, you might think it’s time to bring in the lawyers. While your corporate rules or culture might push for it, contracts and other formalities can create unnecessary complications. Collaborations need to move quickly, and they need to be able to evolve as new partners come on board and as the stories demand; corporate process can be too slow and timid to support the ad hoc nature of a collaboration.

ProPublica believes that collaborations are at their best when they’re arranged by journalists putting stories first. Simple emails between editors — or in a pinch, a one-page memorandum of understanding — covering how the collaboration will work may be enough.

Recognizing that informal arrangements might be a tough sell in your newsroom, here are some examples of how others have handled formal documents.

While written agreements may be unnecessary, a clear explanation of any ground rules is still important, especially when partnerships include newsrooms of different sizes.

"It's figuring out how to set ground rules that creates a more level playing field rather than assuming we're all coming to this from the same place," Friedman-Rudovsky said. "So establishing mechanisms whether it's through the shared funding that we have or other ways that makes it feel like no matter what sort of resources your outlet brings, you are just as much of a valued member in this."

The Bureau Local, a United Kingdom-based network that does collaborative, investigative data journalism, sets out a relatively simple agreement when it onboards partners. Partners must sign off on the agreement in an email or through a Google Form. Here's how the group describes the process in their resource guide:

"All interested collaborators must agree to Bureau Local terms before they get access to the investigation. They must agree to a) the embargo date set out by the Bureau Local b) credit the Bureau Local in their work c) share their findings with other collaborators d) adhere to any guidance or caveats we put on the data/evidence we provide.

Once potential collaborators agree to these terms (in writing or on a digital form) they are invited to a private channel on our online platform, Slack, and are given access to our reporting recipes and data files."