Collaborations always start with the intention to create quality content that none of the parties can produce individually. However, benefits never come without challenges – especially when collaborating with competition. In NICAR 2017, the “Collaborating with the competition” panel brought together Crina Boros, Sandhya Kambhampati, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein and Ben Wieder to discuss how working with a rival news organization can be not as bad as it sounds.
Our four panelist have all experienced intensive collaboration with competition in data journalism projects. Coming from different backgrounds and working in different cultural and social environments, they introduced to the audience some works they’ve done with collaborating with other journalists and shared their wisdoms on how to make that work.
Wieder, a Data Reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, started the panel by sharing his experience collaborating with other news organizations on almost every story he has worked on for the Center. Wieder described himself as a “Slack skeptic” before his experience in collaborating across newsroom, but said he is now fully aware of the importance of effective and efficient communication.
You can’t have a good collaboration without communication. Communication is essential. You’re not gonna do good reporting if you don’t communicate effectively.” Wieder said.
The years of working for small newsrooms on investigative stories have driven Kelly to take their months of hard work and amplify it by collaboration. Kelly described his approach as “start small and discrete” and shared how one of his collaborations came together while he was working in a Spanish language newspaper with the Chicago Tribune. First, they translated some of the stories the Tribune has done which are of interest to their readers. The second level was they reported on the same issue and co-published. From there, they developed more extensive plans and started on a six-month project published in two languages about the diversity of central Illinois.
“It’s okay to start with something small and concrete, have successes, and from there, build forward,” Kelly said.
Kambhampati, a data journalist, suggested having a well-prepared data structure and some questions ready for your collaborators. You should also have a data dictionary and queries ready if you’re anticipating working with other data developers so they can replicate your work and you can fact-check each other.
“First of all, you need to know what the skill set of the other team you’re working with is. Be clear on what the expectations are from both sides.” Kambhampati said.
Effective collaboration was further challenged when Boros worked with journalists from different countries speaking different languages. Boros is a London-based freelance data who was all too familiar with collaborating with other journalists. She emphasized on two points that can make collaborations work: Sharing and trust.
“The moment you park your ego at the door, because your story is so much bigger than you and your ambitions, you are focusing on speaking the truth to your audience, speaking the truth about the bigger system,” Boros said.
The panelist all suggested reaching an agreement on copy write issues with the other journalists and newsrooms before starting a collaboration.