Oct 26, 2021 - Technology

Too big to cover alone: Newsrooms team up

Illustration of four unique hands with pens contributing to the same hand-written scribble
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

News outlets are increasingly willing to work together on big, multifaceted stories — including this week's reporting on leaked documents from a Facebook whistleblower.

Why it matters: Collaborative efforts help bring more resources to bear on complex stories, some of which require a global reporting effort. But they require high degrees of coordination, and competition can sometimes get in the way.

Driving the news: The "Facebook Consortium," a name given to a group of roughly two dozen news outlets that agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, made its big editorial debut Monday.

Unlike more established news collaboratives, the group was formed quickly and had to set its own publishing terms, which were hard to manage in real time.

  • Parts of the group's embargo fell apart Friday night, and some participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.
  • A public relations firm representing Haugen sent the materials to the group of outlets on October 10th, Axios reported. The group collectively decided when to publish their findings and when to go to Facebook for comment. The group used a shared Slack channel to communicate.

A more traditional news collaborative, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ, typically spends years working on major investigations — including the 2016 Panama Papers, The China Cables and most recently, the Pandora Papers.

  • The consortium uses a specialized secure platform to house all of the work from participating journalists.
  • It requires that all journalists upload whatever they uncover, and works with data analysts to put documents into a searchable format that is available for every journalists in the consortium.
  • Some international projects also have to overcome a language barrier, as journalists from multiple countries try to communicate with each other.

What they're saying: A slapdash effort like the one behind the "Facebook Papers" won't be able to undertake "the truly deep and global kind of reporting that really makes these kind of stories much better," said Michael Hudson, a senior editor at the ICIJ.

  • But that also allowed it to publish newsworthy information quickly, and each participating news outlet was able to put its own stamp on the work.
  • "Lots of news judgments made may not be exactly the same," Hudson said. "That’s valuable."

What to watch: Whether they're big, tightly coordinated efforts or ad hoc collaborations, these kinds of reporting partnerships are becoming more common.

  • The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project is a global news collaborative that covers organized crime. It's taken part in some of the ICIJ's investigations, as well as the Pegasus Project, a multi-newsroom investigation into ways powerful people used software from Israeli security firm NSO Group to spy on journalists, activists and others.
  • The Associated Press has set up a local news collaborative called StoryShare, to help newsrooms quickly share information about COVID, as well as other hot-button topics, like climate change and gun violence.
  • Several other local news collaboratives in Colorado, Chicago and elsewhere have come together in recent years to share resources.
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