Large-scale collaborative projects need to have somebody playing the role of project manager or coordinator. At the very least, you'll need a point person to keep track of partner news organizations and journalist names' and contact information. Depending on the structure of the collaboration, you'll need someone to recruit and onboard new partners, manage data that's been worked on or tips that have been verified, and keep track of stories and impact.
This role can't be an afterthought, and it can’t be “everybody’s job.” It's essential that there be somebody assigned and empowered to manage the project who has the time to dedicate to wrangling partners. "Project management is very important, and it's a completely undervalued position," said Mar Cabra, former head of the Research and Data unit at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "Things don't happen by magic."
It's useful to standardize the information you send to new partners. For Documenting Hate, we sent out a detailed email with information about our Slack group, how to use our tips database, onboarding requirements, language to use in stories and other project resources. We also provided regular trainings about how to use project resources and a link to a recording of a training in our onboarding materials.
Likewise, when the Bureau Local onboards partners, it adds new members to its Slack group, where it provides data files and reporting recipes (see the Reporting and Analyzing Data section below).
At a minimum, you should spell out guidelines about how to use the data you're collecting. For example, ICIJ produces tutorials, provides trainings and has region-specific coordinators to work with reporters in their languages. The organization — which sets an embargo date for all partners to publish — also distributes guidelines ahead of publication about the final round of reporting.
As the lead newsroom, you should also be ready with resources like data dictionaries and documentation so reporters across the collaboration can understand the material. And you will likely understand the limitations of the data better than your partners will. If the data can’t be compared across counties, or if numbers can’t be aggregated to the state level, let partners know that early and often.
Organizations working from a shared trove of data often set an embargo for partners to produce their main round of stories. Crowdsourced projects sometimes embargo their launch announcement. This allows sufficient time for reporting and better coordination between partners, especially if there are a large number of them.
It’s important to zealously overcommunicate embargo dates and terms when talking with partners. Things can get complicated even in small newsrooms, and it only takes one slip-up by a journalist at a partner newsroom who didn’t know a story needed special handling to ruin launch plans for everybody.
Collaborative projects often rely on a shared communication space, like Slack or an internal tool, to have ongoing conversations. For some projects, there are weekly or biweekly calls or Slack chats to discuss reporting, or an in-person meeting. Project managers are also vital to maintaining a regular conversation one-on-one with partners.
Most of the collaborative data projects we’re familiar with have used Slack as a communication system. It is by no means the cheapest or most secure option. A full explanation of using Slack for internewsroom communication is beyond the scope of this guide, but here are some useful starting places from Slack’s own documentation: