Establishing Partnerships

Heather Bryant, founder and director of Project Facet, a platform for journalism collaborations, says that it's important that partners recognize each other's different motivations from the beginning of the planning process, and that clearly communicating goals, roles and expectations is key.

"I found that the groups that have really made it work are the ones that have doubled down on the effort to clearly communicate with everybody and try to meet people where they are and ensure that everybody knows what's going on," she said. "I feel like any effort you invest in communicating and making sure that everybody who's participating is informed is a value you definitely get a return on."

Once you agree to a partnership, Murray's recommendation is that all parties consider some key questions ahead of time. Most important for the purposes of this guide, are all potential partners on board to share data?

Here are some questions you may want to consider.

  • Will you produce content separately and share it?

  • Will you analyze data together and share results?

  • Will you set embargo dates and a joint publishing schedule?

  • In addition to sharing data, will you also share reporting resources and findings?

  • Will you share readership analytics, like web traffic and social shares?

  • Will you coordinate social media promotion?

  • What shared terminology will you use, if any?

  • How will this be funded? Who’s paying for what?

  • Will you use shared images or logos?

  • How will the editing process work?

  • How will you distribute each other's content, if applicable?

  • How will you give credit and describe the partnership in each partner’s medium?

"I encourage folks to think through as many of those things as they can at the beginning so that you're not building the plane while it's in the air as much as possible," Murray said.

Regardless of the size of the coalition you'd like to create, it may be a good idea to start out with a small, core group of partners to more easily win trust from other newsrooms you'd like to recruit. It's a much easier sell if you already have at least one other newsroom signed on.

Once you've decided on what you want to investigate, there are a few considerations you should take into account when building partnerships:

  • Trust

  • Geography

  • Specialization

  • Reach

  • Scale

Building trust is one of the most challenging parts of collaboration, since there are often concerns about competition. It's essential to explain the terms of the collaboration and the mutual benefits involved. For example, Documenting Hate is an exclusivity-free project where tips and resources are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. You don't need to necessarily adapt this approach, but this is how we allow for a level playing field. It may take some time to build trust, meaning multiple conversations, meetings or calls, so you should take that into account. Experts say it's easier to do first-time collaborations with people you already know and trust.

"Collaboration requires that you are participating in good faith and that you trust the people who are going to be there," Project Facet's Bryant said. "Participating in a collaboration is an act of trust and it's an act of courage, and you're doing that because of what you can accomplish together that you could not do by yourself."

The size of your coalition will depend on the geography of the issue you're trying to tackle. Do you want to have contacts in the entire country? Or do you only need to focus on particular areas? Or is the project limited to a specific region? You don't need dozens of partners to be effective, but you do need to cover your bases in terms of geography.

You'll also want to think about what kind of audiences partner newsrooms have. It's not just geographic coverage — demographics matter, too. Think about what kind of communities you're trying to cover and where those communities get their news.

Next, you need to think about reporters who are stars or experts on this beat. Can you get them to participate? If not, what can you offer to more general assignment reporters to help them build this beat? Documenting Hate offers written and recorded training materials as well as regular webinars and trainings to participating journalists.

The individuals working on the project are incredibly important. Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, the co-executive director of Resolve Philadelphia, an organization created to build journalism collaborations in the city, says she's found this to be the case. "Something that's made it work for us is just there's been the right people at the table," she said. "It's not just institutional buy-in, but literally folks who come to the in-person meetings that we have every four to six weeks are eager to be there and want to work together and are collaborative in spirit and that's really helped."

Finally, if you're looking to build a coalition with more than five partners, you might want to consider assigning someone to manage the collaboration as part (or all) of their job. It will be difficult to scale up the collaboration without someone whose job it is to coordinate.

Bryant also recommends that partners meet in person, if possible, to help strengthen trust. She also said there are collaborations that create smaller teams made up of representatives from the different organizations, which can help with relationships and more efficient communication.

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