January 23, 2020

A version of this story ran in our weekly newsletter on the transformation of local news, Local Edition. You can subscribe here.

Working with other people in your newsroom is bound to be tough at some point. But most of us keep at it because the work is rewarding and also they pay us. Collaboration with people outside of our own workplaces is a whole different thing.

It can increase resources and reach to better serve communities and feel like trying to communicate in a different language while herding cats, tending toddlers and juggling knives.

It’s also what’s happening right now among 22 newspapers in North Carolina with the North Carolina News Collaborative. NCNC was first dreamt up by several editors at competing publications. You can read more about how it started, what it’s done so far and how it might grow.

There are a lot of great examples of local, national and industry organizations working together right now, from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network to Report for America to projects on housing, elections and climate change.

But what does it take to make those projects work?

“One of the key things that any ongoing collaboration really needs to have from the beginning is project management,” said Stefanie Murray, the director of the Center for Cooperative Media.

Yes, that’s a single person to serve as the point of contact, she said, who manages the collaboration and its partners and is, in some cases, independently employed.

“That’s the No. 1 key to success.”

In October, Murray wrote on Medium about the increase in people hired to manage collaborations. She wrote:

“By the Center’s rough count, there are likely close to 30 people around the U.S. who have jobs that are centered on managing journalism collaboratives, either in a part-time or full-time capacity.”

Related: 14 steps to use collaborations to create better journalism and boost revenue

In North Carolina, a different editor serves as project manager for each project, said Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of the News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun and McClatchy’s Southeast Regional Editor.

“That is the biggest challenge in collaborations – project management and relationship management,” she said.

You also need a sense of trust, Tomlin said, clear guidelines and boundaries.

In North Carolina, editors started with something easy – sharing content, said Katie Wadington, news director of the Asheville Citizen Times and project manager for NCNC’s next collaboration. They established monthly check-ins, set ground rules, and started thinking about projects they could work on together.

“It’s an exercise in trust,” she said, and includes the assumption that everyone’s operating with the same journalistic and ethical principals and a shared spirit of wanting to do great journalism.

“We have learned that it’s important to have clear roles and responsibilities,” Tomlin said, “and a lot more communication.”

Related: These cities may be Super Bowl rivals, but their newsrooms teamed up

Here are some resources from the Center for Cooperative Media if you and your newsroom are ready to start this kind of work:

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org. She can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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