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April 11 2012


Live Coverage of the Collab/Space 2012 Event

We are using ScribbleLive for our live coverage of the Collab/Space event all day April 11. Check in throughout the day for updated tweets, quotes, photos and video.

Keep up with all the new content on Collaboration Central by following our Twitter feed @CollabCentral or subscribing to our RSS feed or email newsletter:

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March 29 2012


Creating a Taxonomy of News Partnerships

In collaborative journalism right now we can see media theorist Clay Shirky's urge towards vast experimentation manifested. The journalism partnerships emerging around the country vary in size and type, and the practices that define those partnerships are still being negotiated and hashed out in newsrooms and communities.

Some partnerships bring together very different news organizations in order to provide expanded coverage, while others coalesce around similar newsrooms to cut down on duplicative efforts. Some focus on local or hyperlocal news, while others focus on regional and national reporting. Some bring the resources of multiple organizations together to focus on one issue in depth, while others partner with the public to capture a range of different angles on one issue.

This diversity in approaches to collaborative journalism is one of its strengths -- and one of its great challenges.

A Collaboration Framework

Journalists, editors and managers at news organizations are trying to navigate the parameters of these new kinds of partnerships as they happen. Developing a framework to categorize journalism collaborations is useful as practitioners look for lessons and models to replicate and build on. The dynamics between different newsrooms, and their various motivations for partnering, shape how a given collaboration is structured. While some collaborations may defy categorization, a few basic partnership models have emerged:

  • Commercial News Collaborations: These partnerships tend to be contractual agreements between commercial news organizations such as television stations and newspapers. They are often defined by the legal deals that structure them: Shared Services Agreements, Local News Sharing Agreements, Newspaper Broadcast Cross-Ownership, Joint Operating Agreements, etc. Many of these agreements consolidate resources, equipment, production and even newsroom staff. These kinds of commercial partnerships and near-mergers pre-date the larger collaborative trend we've witnessed across newsrooms since 2008.

  • Non-Profit and Commercial Collaborations: These partnerships are usually between public or non-commercial entities and a private news organization. This model gained significant attention during the Comcast-NBC merger debates because Comcast promised to expand local news coverage on NBC stations through partnerships with non-profit journalism organizations. Other examples include the New York Times' local news partnerships with non-profits in major media markets and sites like California Watch, whose model is based on these partnerships. In these arrangements, the commercial news outlet often serves as the distributor of content the non-profit produces. However, more complex and expansive non-profit and commercial reporting collaborations are also emerging.

  • Public and Non-Commercial Collaborations: These partnerships connect multiple public media outlets or bring public radio and TV stations together in collaboration with other non-profit newsrooms. The networked nature of the U.S. public media system, in which stations across the country are both producers and distributors, has meant that partnerships within the system are built into the DNA of the organizations. In recent years, innovative public media producers have built on that history and taken collaboration to the next level. We have also seen inventive partnerships between public media broadcasters and non-profit digital news startups.

  • University Collaborations: University partnerships with local news organizations are engaging journalism and mass communications students in hands-on reporting efforts that are producing some great journalism. This model takes many forms, from curricular-based service-learning efforts to campus-based investigative reporting workshops, and involves both commercial and non-commercial news organizations.

  • Community and Audience Collaborations: Journalists are also collaborating with their communities in new and important ways. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding -- as exemplified by projects at The Guardian, ProPublica and public media's Public Insight Network and Spot.Us -- are finding new ways for audiences to contribute to the funding, research and editorial decisions that shape the news. At their best, these projects are not just transactional, wherein the audience hands over something (money, information) and gets something in return (a story or other journalistic product); they are transformative for both journalists and participants -- as in the case of Departures, a web-based documentary series about Los Angeles developed by public media station KCET in close partnership with community members.

This taxonomy focuses primarily on editorial collaborations around the production of specific news products; however, each collaborative model listed above also encompasses cases in which news organizations can and do collaborate around shared infrastructure. Examples of infrastructure-driven collaboration include: broadcasters sharing equipment, such as news helicopters; two non-profits sharing the costs of developing a mobile app; and universities acting as fiscal agents for journalism organizations. Organizations like J-Lab, the Media Consortium and the Investigative News Network are all helping facilitate both editorial and infrastructural partnerships.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

silver-bullet.jpgToo often, in debates over the future of journalism, we get caught up looking for a silver bullet -- the one business model to rule them all. Some debates about collaboration echo this narrow focus, assuming there will be a universal set of practices or guidelines that newsrooms can replicate and scale across the country. The categorization above should highlight the vastly different approaches to journalistic collaboration that exist.

We are still at the early stages of experimentation with large- and small-scale collaboration across the news and journalism ecosystem. Partners differ, motivations differ, needs differ and funding differs. This list isn't meant to suggest that news organizations only draw lessons from partnerships that most closely resemble their own -- indeed quite the opposite is true: We should be drawing on the lessons from across models, but we should do so with an awareness of the unique context of each collaboration. Each of the various models outlined above present unique challenges and opportunities that deserve to be unpacked and detailed in more depth.

Do you think these five categories are comprehensive or would you add others? Or would you suggested categorizing collaboration more by the type of journalism than the structure of the newsroom? For example, we might reorganize the list above to highlight similarities and differences between collaborations organized around investigative reporting, niche journalism, covering local beats, etc. Let me know how you would organize the field in the comments below.  

Photo of silver bullet by Flickr user Ed Schipel.

Josh Stearns is a journalist, organizer and community strategest. He is Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director for Free Press, a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization working to reform the media through education, organizing and advocacy. He was a co-author of "Saving the News: Toward a national journalism strategy," "Outsourcing the News: How covert consolidation is destroying newsrooms and circumventing media ownership rules," and "On the Chopping Block: State budget battles and the future of public media." Find him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

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February 28 2012


What Is Collaboration Anyway?

Journalists, by nature, tend to be fiercely competitive, racing to break the news before their rivals. Given that tendency, anyone who's engaged in a journalism collaboration knows that it's an extraordinary endeavor. That's why it's worth stepping back and identifying what we really mean when we say we're collaborating.

At the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, we've spent the last 18 months focused on that very question in our project Collective Work, which is developing best practices and other resources to help support and encourage collaborative investigative reporting.

When we began the project, little had been written about the subject (there's been much more attention since), so we began interviewing multiplatform editors, reporters and educators about the fast-emerging trend. To date, we've talked to more than 50 industry professionals who've made clear that collaboration means different things to different organizations and experts. Often, what's dubbed collaboration is actually something else, like crowdsourcing, syndication, aggregation or even sharing.

Collaboration as a category of convenience is notable, even in the realm of media jargon. But it's understandable. Unlike more abstract terms -- synergy, convergence, transmedia -- it conveys something new, positive, concrete and universally understood. As the antithesis of competition, it's a not so subtle way of saying: "We're doing something new!"

But from the perspective of building strong business models and infrastructures that support collaborative endeavors, making a distinction matters.

Towards a standard definition

So what does collaboration really mean?

The definition that my colleagues and I have adopted emerged from Collective Work's primary case study: the Investigative Reporting Program's collaboration with PBS Frontline, ProPublica and NPR for the series "Post Mortem," an ongoing in-depth look at death investigation in America, which I described in an earlier post. Based on that experience and our previous partnerships, we are focusing on projects where reporters, editors and producers from different news organizations work as a team to produce and publish original, in-depth, multiplatform stories.

This definition reflects what we think is truly groundbreaking about collaborative efforts and points to an area of reporting that has both untapped potential and plenty of kinks to work out. While collaboration itself doesn't solve the question of how to pay for the reporting, it does put more resources toward a story, resulting in more (often better) coverage that reaches wider audiences than one organization could manage on its own.

Focus on the fundamentals

The benefits may be obvious, but there's a lot to learn about this new way of working. The reality is that the evolving media landscape, limited resources and fast-breaking nature of news don't always allow for methodical planning, processes, training or staffing. Collaboration, in particular, doesn't operate with the same workflow efficiencies that are the hallmark of getting daily newspapers on the newsstand.

Ulrich Nettesheim.jpg

Not to mention that transitioning from a competition-based, solitary work culture to a more open and team-oriented one doesn't happen with ease, which is why we sought the insight of Ulrich Nettesheim, an organizational psychologist, executive consultant and lecturer on leadership and high-performance teams at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

According to Nettesheim, we journalists are not alone in the march toward collaborative work. Technical disciplines, such as business, science and journalism, are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, and a premium is placed on teamwork.

"Part of the world of work means that you have to be able to be a member of and lead teams," explained Nettesheim. "That's a skill set that's no longer optional or nice to do. It's a requirement."

Like assumptions about collaboration, understanding the concept of "team" seems a no-brainer. But from an organizational perspective, Nettesheim emphasized that teamwork has a specific meaning: It requires shared goals, high interdependency of tasks, and strong relationships.

Hearing this gave me a framework for understanding the breakdowns in collaboration that I had both witnessed and heard about. It also clarified why collaboration is not an accurate description for many media partnerships.

Nettesheim helped me discern that what journalists often refer to as collaborations are actually transactions. Transactions between media organizations don't require the same relationships or interdependency that collaborations do.

ca-watch.jpgTo understand the distinction, California Watch is a good case study. Associate editor Denise Zapata explained that part of its model is to allow partners to regionalize statewide stories, either by mining data that California Watch provides or reframing a story with a localized angle. While the process may require some back-and-forth, it's largely a systematized transaction. But when California Watch recently pooled money with partners to send a reporter to Spain for a story that they all shared, that was a collaboration.

Given the industry's quest for sustainability, and the desire among forward-thinking journalists to institutionalize collaboration, correctly identifying and naming transactions would be a helpful business strategy. After all, transactions are potential revenue streams, which makes them easy to justify.

Leadership is needed

With an understanding of what it entails, what can we do to ensure that collaboration survives? Nettesheim emphasized the importance of things like team charters, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses (at the individual and organizational level) and making a commitment to give and receive feedback.

It was heartening to hear. It confirmed that if we look beyond our own industry for collaborative modeling, there are promising solutions to what can make the process inefficient, frustrating and an easy target for editors who haven't quite bought in.

But all of this will only happen with strong, vocal leaders who are open to reflection and understanding the dynamics of teamwork. With all the hats that editors and news executives currently wear, it seems like a difficult, if not impossible, task. So when I asked Nettesheim how media organizations could develop and nurture leadership skills, I was relieved that he hedged on a precise formula and instead gave a digestible example.

"The single best definition of leadership I learned from coach Jack Clark," he explained, referring to UC Berkeley's rugby coach whose team has won 22 championships since 1984.

"It's simple and powerful. 'Make those around you better.'"

As journalists try to make journalism better, Collaboration Central wants to hear from you. How do you define collaboration?

Carrie Lozano is a Bay-Area based journalist and documentary filmmaker. She is currently the project director for "Collective Work" a Knight-funded project about collaborative, multiplatform investigative reporting at the Investigative Reporting Program, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also directing and producing a documentary film with Charlotte Lagarde about jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch.

Collective Work is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Copyright 2012, The University of California at Berkeley.

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June 27 2011


Liquid Newsroom - Nearby and global in its impact. A look into the future of journalism.

Many people have stopped reading newspapers on a daily base. Circulation figures are on the decline worldwide. Don't worry. It is a declining interest in a content presentation form not in reading. Demand for stories is still high. While on the move many already prefer access to stories worth reading at the time they like and wherever they are. But the stickiness to a specific story brand, a specific publisher, is also likely to lose its strength. Highly connected and globally aware, people are open for changes, new reading experiments, and experiences. We are already living in the era of News3.0.

Liquid Newsroom :: a typical working day

A (near) future day - my smartphone is always on. Push services send me short little messages of breaking news to my little device making information available wherever I am and at any time of the day. The latest push notification tells me, without going into too much detail, that the dictator in the North African country has now been arrested. It is enough to catch my attention. My tablet in my pocket allows me to read the follow up on the news online while driving through a rural area in Southern Bavaria, Germany. So far it is only a ticker message without much more concrete information and more and more questions pop up. Who has confirmed the news? Are photos already available as visual evidence or video footage to support what I read before?

The story is *hot* enough for me to decide to open a Liquid Newsroom, a virtual on-demand environment for collaborative writing. I label the topic *Northern Africa* and set up the topical *room* for it on-demand and in real-time. I quickly check my social network of trusted news sources - people in the area of interest, Nothern Africa to see whether anyone can be reached and can provide me with details or material. When the new topic working space on the Liquid Newsroom platform is opened, a new portal front-end comes into existence, where readers connected to the Internet via PC or mobile devices can easily check in to stay informed. The Liquid Newsroom is not run by a publisher, it is an on-demand network for publishing news as a team that can vary over time, only conneted via the topic they like to address.

A first flow of information hits my virtual desktop in the *Northern Africa" newsroom. News sources have started to pick up the story. But now it is time to guide my readers through the growing stream of information and update it, analyzing the value added by each of the new stories coming in. I publish the information I have gathered almost immediately to the front-end to create a constant flow of what's new to readers who opt-in to the content stream e.g. subscribing to the feed via their smartphone devices. They do not stay in a passive mode. Some are concerned about what's happening and return questions via the integrated Q&A-button in their smartphone app. The questions from the readers connected to the topic stream provide a constant feedback in the editing and updating process. Together with real-time statistics (active views, reading, retweets, and the like) monitored on the screen as well, I decide which stories to follow up. In the meantime, friends working and living in the East and West Coast of the US have joined my *Nothern Africa* Liquid Newsroom to work on the stories as well.

I'm exhausted after hours of curating and am happy to pass the story lead on to these colleagues, knowing that they will pass it on in turn to Asian colleagues at the end of their day. In the virtual room we've already started to exchange thoughts via live chat, simultaneous editing of articles, and voice-over IP calls. Our discussion is interesting enough that we decide to make our editing process transparent on the corresponding website, so that readers can watch the process flow. It is time to relax and yes I know that after a few hours of sleep I will be back again.

Note: the platform is already in development. If you are interested please drop me a note and send me an email to steffen.konrath (at) im-boot.de

My article has been published in " I Read Where I Am. Exploring New Information Cultures." Compiled by Mieke Gerritzen, Geert Lovink, Minke Kampman. Graphic Design Museum, Breda Valiz, Amsterdam.

September 09 2010


Public Media API Could Be ‘Engine of Innovation’ for Journalism

Journalists from American Public Media, Public Radio Exchange, Public Radio International, PBS and NPR have spent months scoping out how they would create an online pipeline to share and distribute public media content on any platform.

Their goal is to create a “Public Media Platform” — an open API that would allow public media organizations across the U.S. to share content with one another, with application developers, and with independent content creators and publishers.

Along with giving people greater access to content, the Public Media Platform would make it easier to aggregate and package different news organizations’ stories on major news events such as the BP oil disaster and the earthquake in Haiti.

“If you really want to follow a story across all the public media producers, there’s no simple way to do that, and there needs to be,” Joaquin Alvarado, senior vice president for digital innovation at American Public Media, said in a phone interview.

“Folks spend a lot of overhead time going between sites, and I think we need to start producing an efficient pipeline to connect the dots between the various threads of interest.”

It’s possible to curate such coverage by hand, but an API is a technological solution. Essentially, APIs, or application programming interfaces, enable software programs to communicate with one another, allowing data to be shared and used in various ways.

“Engine of innovation”

Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of digital media at NPR, has helped lead the six-month-long planning phase, which costs $1 million and is scheduled to end in December. (The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided the majority of the funding, while the rest came from in-kind donations.)

Wilson said in a phone interview that he hopes the API will encourage greater collaboration among public media outlets and make it easier for them to innovate and push their content in front of new audiences.

“We see this as an engine of innovation, and we’re really trying to create something that will spur others to innovate and develop compelling applications for the public,” said Wilson, a member of Poynter’s Board of Trustees.

“There’s a great amount of content for radio and the Web that resides in lots of different places,” he said, “and that’s locked in lots of different systems now.”

Throughout the planning phase of the project, Wilson has drawn on his own experiences with NPR’s API, which gives outside parties access to more than 250,000 stories dating back to 1995. Since it launched two years ago, the API has contributed to an 80 percent increase in NPR.org’s total page views, Wilson said.

Enabling collaboration

NPR’s API is a critical part of NPR’s Project Argo, a new online journalism venture aimed at producing in-depth, local coverage on topics such as politics, public safety and climate change. The 12 NPR member stations that are part of the Argo network will share stories through NPR’s API.

Joel Sucherman, program director of Project Argo, told me in an e-mail that sharing content via APIs is becoming increasingly important as public media outlets look to expand their reach.

“It’s important that public media organizations ensure that we reach audiences wherever and however they want to consume content — terrestrial radio, TV, online, mobile, wherever,” Sucherman said. “And we think through the power of public media networks, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.”

Robert Bole, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s vice president of digital media strategy, hopes to spread the word about the Public Media Platform in a South by Southwest Interactive panel he proposed last month. He said in a phone interview that ideally, the platform will encourage public media to collaborate more with developers and programmers. 

There’s already a lot of collaboration among public media outlets. Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace for distribution and licensing of public media content, partnered with NPR last year to create a portal for information about H1N1. The FluPortal, as it was called, was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and served as a resource for stations covering the outbreak.

“We had to manually assemble that,” said Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX, by phone. “That’s the kind of thing that would be easy to launch in a more timely fashion once something like the platform exists.”

Shapiro said he can think of several other ways PRX could use the Public Media Platform — for instance, to build an iPhone app featuring content from many public media organizations. Currently, that would take a lot of effort.

Shapiro emphasized the importance of creating a service that involves a broad range of public media outlets.

I really err on the side of openness and inclusiveness,” Shapiro said. Public media, he said, is uniquely suited for this work because of its public service mission — “to make sure content that reflects public dollars is accessible in the most broad and relevant way possible.”

Planning for future business models

Those involved in the planning phase of the project have talked at length about establishing a set of business rules around the distribution and use of content. The goal, Wilson said, is to find a way for news organizations to share content without dramatically undercutting their existing businesses.

“I think there’s an assumption on our part that the business models and the rules may change over time,” Wilson said, “but we need a starting point and one that will encourage people to experiment with the kind of sharing that [the API] will facilitate.”

Wilson emphasized that the API will be built incrementally so that it’s easier to assess what works and doesn’t work and then make adjustments along the way. Several people have been involved in the planning phase of the project and are working to determine the next steps.

There’s an advisory board that consists of public media journalists, as well as a technical advisory board made up of journalists from outside public media, such as ProPublica and Publish2. Each of the members is assigned to one of three committees — a leadership committee that is figuring out the business rules; a planning committee creating a document explaining how the API will come together; and a proof of concept committee that will build a live prototype of the API.
As of right now, there’s not enough money to continue beyond the planning phase. Wilson estimated that the API would cost several million dollars to build. “We don’t have a dollar figure yet,” he said, “but it will be relatively modest compared to the historic investments made in pubic broadcasting.”

The success of the Public Media Platform will likely depend not just on the content in it but also on whether people actually use it.

“I think I would measure success in two ways: by the number of different content producers that ultimately elect to use this and put their content in it, and by the number of institutions, organizations and individuals who make use of what’s available and put it on their sites,” Wilson said. “My hope is that this would stimulate some real creativity.”

August 02 2010


4 Digital Tools to Improve Your Government Coverage

Monday and Tuesday, about 40 journalists are gathering at Poynter to learn how they can use free digital services to cover government more effectively. They’ll learn how to share and annotate documents, share data on politicians and lobbyists, understand voting patterns and create data visualizations.

We live blogged four presentations about:

  • Sunlight Foundation: How to use data to cover politicians, lobbyists and campaign contributors
  • Tableau: How to use data visualization to tell interactive stories

The live blogs are archived below. You also can view a live stream of the seminar through 4 p.m. ET today.

Archived blog from the Tableau presentation:

Archived blog from the DocumentCloud, Sunlight Foundation and Patchwork Nation presentations:

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