Coordinating Tips With Partners

Each participating newsroom’s success depends on both their responsiveness and their willingness to share a pooled resource.

ProPublica’s Documenting Hate and Electionland projects were based on a few simple principles:

  • It's an exclusivity-free zone.

  • To avoid harassing tipsters with a deluge of phone calls from reporters, entries in the database are claimable on a first-come, first-served basis. Tips can be revisited later, but only after the original journalist is finished reporting it out or attempting to contact the tipster.

  • Tips that arrive through a specific media organization are given as first dibs to that media organization.

In the case of Documenting Hate, there's a partner manager (me!) to play traffic cop, manage the tips and give out contact information for tipsters. If everyone has access to contact information, the onus is on the participants to respect the first-come, first-served rule.

Our new tool Collaborate supports marking records as having been claimed. It is set up so that reporters can see who is working on which tips, which tips have already been verified and which haven't been reported on yet. There's also a space for reporters to put notes in more detail about what information they've gathered. This is really important for keeping track of progress on tips.

Occasionally, there are breaking tips that multiple people want to jump on. Usually the way that plays out is the first one to request to work on the tip publishes it first, and other outlets then might cite them or do separate reporting.

If you'd prefer to come up with a different system for claiming tips, just make sure that everyone is on board from the beginning.

It's also important to strike the right balance in communicating with partners about the project and ongoing reporting.

"It's respecting the fact that these folks are really busy and that for them to pay attention to what's going on, communication has to be easy and streamlined and direct," Friedman-Rudovsky said. "It has to be sort of enough information for them to know what's going on but not too much so that they feel overwhelmed and burdened by that."