PBS's MediaShift's Carrie Lozano discussed collaboration between Frontline, ProPublica and NPR. The three news organisations came together to work on Post Mortem, an examination of flaws in death investigation in America. Susanne Reber, NPR's deputy managing editor of investigations, called the project an "unprecedented moment in journalism" in terms of the number of people involved and the amount of content produced. The joint effort resulted in an episode of Frontline, a series of NPR stories and a number of online and print pieces by ProPublica and Californian Watch.
Lozano discussed some of the challenges the people working on the project faced, some of them generalising to co-operative journalistic endeavours in general. She sees collaborating as a different form of journalistic work that comes with different kinds of challenges, making it "exciting, promising and a little messy."
Above all, collaborating is a way to share limited resources, which was exemplified in the production of Post Mortem. "[ProPublica] are generating real investigative reporting. We want Frontline films to be infused with investigative reporting, but can't always afford the resources to generate the digging, so in this way, we share resources," said Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline's senior producer. Moreover, through NPR, millions of listeners could be reached.
There are several factors speaking for intensified forms of journalistic collaboration, but there are also issues that have to be addressed to make sure the work moves ahead smoothly. The challenge of keeping a large number of people informed of the process alone can be daunting, particularly if they are scattered across the country or, even worse, the globe.
Although some challenges depend on the nature of collaboration, Lozano points out that certain questions should always be answered beforehand: "Among them are questions like: What's the story? Who is telling what story? Will the same story be replicated across platforms, or will they be distinct? And can each platform get the material it needs to make it all worth it?"
Media upstarts and nonprofits have been quicker to adopt new reporting and publication models than old media, Lozano noted. It is becoming more and more common to see media companies form partnerships over stories instead of competing to break them. As a recent example of the trend, she mentioned AP's decision to invest in distributing news from nonprofits to newsrooms.
MediaShift will in the near future publish more information on the topic of collaboration. Discussing collaborative journalism certainly seems like a good idea, as it is clearly gaining ground as a form of reporting. The recent releases by WikiLeaks, for example, though not products of collaborative journalism in the true sense of the term, happened in co-operation with several newspapers. They also illustrate some of the problems that may follow, as former partners have now become increasingly hostile towards one another. Also the fact that last week a second Pulitzer Prize went to ProPublica, which is known for its collaborations, highlights the trend.