ALAN: Hey, everyone. I think we’re going to get started. A few people joining us. And so you’re in our newsroom collaboration session. There’s another one if you need to talk about this and more next — yet tomorrow?
ANDRE: I think it might be the same time.
ALAN: Different people, not us. So if you don’t like us, maybe you’ll like them. So my name is Alan Palazzolo and I work at the Star Tribune and I help work on Electionland, for the elections and did a little bit with documenting hate, both large, and multinewsroom collaborations and, yeah.
ANDRE: And I’m André Natta and I’m currently the digital media producer for WBHM which is the news station in Birmingham, Alabama. And in that role, I am also the former digital media coordinator for the Southern Education Desk which is a former Corporation for Public Broadcasting collaborative effort that was a seven-state effort to cover educational issues. And in addition to serving in the newsroom, and soon to be a 2018JSK fellow, studying in part, this topic on a regional scale.
ALAN: So we’re hoping to talk about newsroom collaboration, what the benefits are, what the challenges are, how we can get past this. We can try a couple exercises to hopefully get you out of the — maybe get you moving around a little bit. Couple things to keep in mind that you probably already know but just to make sure since we’re doing conversations and talking to each other. You know, always be kind to each other. Try to listen more than you talk. And yeah…
ANDRE: That’s about it.
ALAN: And plus all the other regular SRCCON stuff that you’ve already heard.
ANDRE: So would we like to ask them to stand up in and join us in the middle of the room?
ALAN: Yeah, and so we’re going to into spectrogram thingamabobs, that I actually don’t know the term and I didn’t invent this activity. But if you’ve done this. So the spectrogram is we’re going to ask a question that’s an A or B sort of thing. And one side will be A, and one side will be B and you stand where you feel on that spectrum and then we’re going to ask you how you feel. So our first one’s real simple: Do you think it’s easy or hard to collaborate with other newsrooms? We’re going to do easy over there, hard over here, anywhere in between. Everyone’s gonna go in the middle.
ANDRE: You shouldn’t have given them the middle option.
ANDRE: I know!
ALAN: Come on. Imagine there’s a line over down there in the middle. Okay. Is there anyone that’s not in the middle?
ALAN: You’re not physically middle but anyone that doesn’t want to be in the middle. You want to go more with someone at the end who wants to say why they chose that? Look…
AUDIENCE: It can’t be easy if there’s a good point person or project manager that can sort of take the lift for everybody.
AUDIENCE: And if you can demonstrate results, you can get more buy-in.
AUDIENCE: And if both organizations communicate well with one another and sort of set the right expectations and both have incentives to work together, like, we’re a national place and you’re a local place, let’s team up and, like, use the best parts of us. We’ve had great success with stuff like that.
ANDRE: It’s not “easy” easy. So it’s been easy —
AUDIENCE: It’s easier if you do that kind of work.
AUDIENCE: It’s doable.
ANDRE: So it’s easy for two — for working with a big and a small. Is it easy to work with multiple groups? Of varying sizes?
AUDIENCE: If it’s clear what the expectations are for each one because there is a role that they’re fulfilling in that sort of thing, not if they’re all trying to do the same.
AUDIENCE: Whereas I would say… we’re a public radio station that collaborates with a commercial television station. Some pieces are extremely easy. You know, the piece, can we use this audio, and say, and credit you? And they’re like, of course, those are, like, simple but then there are other pieces that are like, we would like to talk about this in advance and when it runs on yours, or you’ll run in advance on one of ours. And it turns into this big it’s like, it’s this big, if it’s not this, not that, and if we can’t have it by this time of day in this newscast. So parts are easy and parts are extremely hard.
AUDIENCE: The thing that I’ve found is it isn’t the act of collaborating with another news organization, it’s not that difficult. It’s the logistics of getting both leaderships to agree to collaborate in the first place that I find to be the trickiest thing. That’s where most of the collaborations that I’ve tried to enter into, when they’ve been scuddled, it’s because of managing egos, and people having that engrained competitive mindset that I haven’t really experienced that as much in my career, but people that have been in the industry longer than that.
ANDRE: I saw some more head-nodding going back that way. Anybody?
ALAN: Anyone on the more harder side that…?
AUDIENCE: I’ll just say that I think that in many organizations, collaboration, even within the organization is hard and let alone, outside of the organization. So I would be curious for people who are on the easy side, if they’ve felt like good cultures of internal collaboration drove successful outside collaborations.
ALAN: All right. So our next question. Line down the middle. Do you feel you have many or few opportunities to collaborate with other newsrooms?
ANDRE: So many are down there. A few down there.
ALAN: So I guess no one feels like they have no opportunities.
ANDRE: I’m not at the end. That’s the end.
ALAN: But what has you down there?
AUDIENCE: But well, the last newsroom that I worked in was the Wall Street Journal and, for us, I think it was — in my experience, we didn’t have many collaborations with other newsrooms and I think, mainly there’s, like, a competitive blockage to that, right? Like, you know, people were — I think there was sometimes the newsroom leadership would be very like leary of this in a big, you know, competitive newspaper, you know at the national level, versus, I could imagine it’s very different for a small organization, or a digital only one, or a non-profit. So I think the business model can define a lot of the, you know, even the possibility of collaboration. Some of them probably are a lot better.
ANDRE: I guess we continue moving down the line. Anybody? Anybody in the middle want to talk? Is this more of a case of not too many, or not enough?
AUDIENCE: I’d say for me, I work at the AP, so we have, like, member newspapers that we work with to, like, distribute data and visualizations but we have an even bigger problem even within just the AP, and our borough of collaborating sometimes, I do graphics, and a lot of times, it’s like, invite all the visual, storytelling pieces. We have stories and video. We have graphics are visual, too. So sometimes — so I am in the middle of both where it can be difficult in our own newsroom but it’s also like giving AP member, member-state members, give what they need if there’s a rise, too.
AUDIENCE: I work for a small non-profit news outlet in Pittsburgh and we’ve had really — I’ve had a good collaborations finding an institute for non-profit news and I’ve had good collaborations working with other data and developers, and other media outlets and we all kind of use the same code for different projects. We’ve also had really terrible collaborations with other media in Pittsburgh where we hook up to a new data project, or something cool, and then, we have a design about how it’s all gonna work, and then divvy up the work, and then we end up doing all the work, and they basically are in at the end. So I’ve had good experiences for the most part.
ALAN: Anyone think that they have too many opportunities?
AUDIENCE: I have found that — so I was just at a non-profit public radio, so taking advantage of the membership system was awesome. And in facting, the more that I was using tools built for other stations and the more that I was convincing the leadership that, yes, this thing that you love on our home page, that was loved by PPMA, and that thing that you love was at PMC, so the more that I showed how the collaboration system was working, they would ask me more. They would ask me like, well, can you tap into that network and find something real quick? Well, yes, but I need help with that. So maybe in that regard, maybe there was too much opportunity but I did find that the more I showcased how well the collaboration’s working, the people started to kind of get work.
ANDRE: Interjecting that was similar to my experience, too. We’ve had a lot of opportunities. And I think in my case, it was not always communicating very clearly within those opportunities and maybe not giving credit where credit was due in a very effective way. I think that would have a big impact on whether people saw it as truly successful even with the amount of work. So…
AUDIENCE: I was gonna say from a members perspective from this past year, I think there was about 43 easily findable, like, “this is a collaborative project”-type project, including a minimum of two newsrooms, or a 107 newsrooms saying, that this was a collaborative project within this past year.
ANDRE: So it is becoming more — or at least it’s becoming more visible.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, yeah. More visible and one of the interesting things that I learned was that some of the parishes in Electionland that were public media were discovered because they had collaborated before and that’s how they found initial partners was looking for partners that they had engaged before because they happened they would be engaging in that way.
ALAN: All right. Our last spectrogram thing question is: Do you feel it’s okay to collaborate with non-newsrooms organizations that aren’t necessarily journalistic organizations, or maybe even journalist organizations that maybe have different standards than you, or different ethical standards, not necessarily better or worse. So going outside of what you consider to be the core of maybe journalism. Do you feel it’s okay to do that in collaboration?
ANDRE: So we’re going to do yes up here, and no back there?
ANDRE: Let’s do that. Yes up front, and no, varying degrees of no. I like this. I like this. A lot of responses.
ALAN: So there’s no one at “no.” Does anyone want to say why they aren’t.
AUDIENCE: Well, I just want to point out one category of partnership, which I think could be specially fruitful for any organization of any size, which is an academic partnership. Finding researchers, experts, statisticians who can help, you know, lend — help, if you’re working with data, help you understand the need for it. The people who work with it every day, talking to them. Understanding that if you’re using some new tools like artificial intelligence, or machine learning sometimes, to make sure you understand how it is best used and to be aware of all the caveats of it.
STEVE: I mean, I’d say that it’s certainly good to go into it skeptically as with anything with journalists do. But, you know, it’s, I mean, I view it as sort of becoming increasingly essential. I mean, one of the projects that we’re trying to do is get a version of the California Data Coalition out of the ground in the State of New Jersey, and money is a concern. We don’t have the cash. And my boss is certainly not going to give me the cash to hire a developer specifically for that project but there are a bunch of organizations that are not necessarily in the journalistic field who say that they want to be a repository for, you know, this sort of dirty data laundry service that we want to run. And that’s all they want to be is they just want to host it, and have their name on it. They don’t have anybody to do the work to get it out of the ground and that seems like an ideal sort of partnership there from an outside institution.
ALAN: Anyone else have any thoughts on that?
ANDRE: Hand? Maybe, sort of?
AUDIENCE: I do.
ANDRE: Who wants to go first?
AUDIENCE: Just what you said made me think. So I was kind of — absolutely it’s good to collaborate and get different perspectives but it would be interesting if you start to centralize some of the algorithms, or the data. It could — I’ve actually seen talks where algorithms have biases in them. So it would be a little challenging to find those biases and also if every newsroom starts using the same biased algorithms or data perspectives, or people building those tools, it might just be something that to consider that I hadn’t thought of before.
AUDIENCE: Sort of on those same lines as before, we partnered with Carnegie Mellon University a bunch of times, and a robotics lab there and we’ve had really good successes to date from that. We’ve also done a project with a local group of researchers, toxicologists public health researchers, that ended up working out in the long run but it took about eight more months than we had originally planned for the project because academics works slowly sometimes. So in the end, it was a very good project, but it just blew our deadlines and we just couldn’t — we couldn’t control it… so…
AUDIENCE: Those were our experiences, too. We worked with researchers who were sequencing the DNA off of the New York City Subway System, you know, like the turnstiles and it was kind of a gross project but they would go and, like, swab, and they would do a shotgun DNA analysis and say in Queens, we found yak DNA, or we found this Arctic fish DNA on the subway. And it was a really cool project and we thought it was perfect. It would be so easy to work with these researchers but the way that they were gathering their data, it was for their purposes and not for news. And so we were like, how do — what were they thinking when they organized this information this way and so we had to take it and restructure it all, and we had the same issue with time framing because they’re working for peer review and publishing journals at specific times and we have deadlines. So often we have to hold back to wait for the embargo on information. And so it creates a lot of challenges but if you can work through that stuff, you can do a really fruitful collaboration and it adds a lot of stuff that, you know, no one to be able to learn.
AUDIENCE: We’ve also had some framing issues because this was a project that had to do with fracking and this group of researchers and toxicologists were trying to say fracking hurts people. And, you know, the way that they structured their language in terms of, like, find the report, and press releases wasn’t exactly how we would do data as journalists. So that was definitely something.
ALAN: All right. So we’re going to move on to our next activity. So we’ll want to get into groups. Maybe four? Five people? At tables, sitting down. Yeah. So we’re going to play a little game that’s sort of simulating collaboration in a very, very simple way. I’m going to hand out a bunch of words, terms, and you can pick, for each person, you take a term. And you can trade them out if you want. And these were all pulled from Google Trends today, a few hours ago, plus a few of my own personal.
ANDRE: He did throw a few of them in.
ALAN: It might be a little harder working with the —
AUDIENCE: Do we just choose one?
ALAN: Yeah, you work with one. You can change if you don’t like what you have. If you don’t know what it is, feel free to make one up. So the goal of the game is to make a headline with the words that you have and make a lead. Kind of like a reverse mad-lib sort of thing and you gotta do it together. I suggest someone write it down. And we’re going to give you maybe ten minutes to do that, maybe less. Also if you feel like it’s way too hard to do one solid headline, you can use two.
AUDIENCE: We have to use all the words in the headline?
ALAN: The headlines and the lead.
ANDRE: And the lead, yeah.
ALAN: So you should only use the amount of words in your group. So if you have five people, five words. Remember, if you can’t think of that contains them all, you can try to make two. A headline that leads would probably make the most sense.
AUDIENCE: What if we can fit everything into a headline?
ALAN: Then you get the most points. It’s gotta be — it’s gotta make some sense, though.
ANDRE: About ten seconds, folks. And time.
ALAN: All right. So say your words that you chose and then say your headline/lead/whatever you came up with and we’ll judge you accordingly.
AUDIENCE: Our words were — should we define our words but we had to look them up. Brooks Katka who’s a golfer, and then the first name, pliates, which is a cluster of stars. Siberian husky, and Arty, which is some sort of a cave man.
ALAN: I didn’t know that.
AUDIENCE: It’s a very informative sentence.
ALAN: So what did you came up with?
AUDIENCE: First magnitude store included for a Siberian, husky. Nice!
ALAN: That’s really good! Anything else?
ANDRE: That kind of fell together, though. That’s good.
AUDIENCE: Right? It sounds interesting.
AUDIENCE: Our words were police, g compass, and falling out. Star gazing calise fall into affection, from his opener of g compass was bit by a mosquito compounding his health fall-out several weeks ago.
ALAN: That sounds intense. Awesome.
AUDIENCE: Okay. Our words are HTML, Dairy Queen, chipmunk, pitbull and cars. And we came up with a local plan of HTML debuts new album in Dairy Queen parking lot, they debut their new album, HTML in Silicon Valley parking lot drawing heavy inspiration from Alvin and The Chipmunks and Pitbull.
AUDIENCE: Which, for those of you who don’t know, Dairy Queen is based here.
ALAN: So that was just a simple exercise of actually getting you to think of these together. In reality, I’ve had collaborations where editors are, like, we need these words and these headlines, and, like, you have to do it, you know? So, so there’s some actual reality in that there. Though, obviously the words are not
ANDRE: Although the words do sound pretty cool. We are now going to dig into the group discussion portion of our session. What are the benefits of collaboration and why do we even do it at all which we kind of covered in the midst of the spectrogram, but not really. Kind of… why is it important to collaborate in particular right now? Anybody have…?
ALAN: Do you want to break that down and have them discuss?
ANDRE: Do you want to have them discuss because we can keep them in these three groups and have them discuss quickly. Do you want them to do that? Because it would be cool. This is a small group. What do y’all wanna do? Do y’all wanna sit in small groups for two, three minutes and come back to us?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, that’s good.
ANDRE: So in that case then, the first question would be, what are the benefits of collaboration, and why do it at all? And I would add the qualifier, “right now” at this point in time in history.
ALAN: And if you would like to write discrete things down on Post-It notes so we can collect them and have something at the end of this and we’ll give you about five minutes. And specifically if you want to time frame frame it — think about convincing somebody else, like, why would you want to collaborate with another newsroom. Okay. Who wants to share what they’ve been talking about at their table? Anybody? I’m going to call on you!
ALAN: How about this group over here?
AUDIENCE: We have six benefits down. So reaching a bigger audience. So scale outside the audience who you’re normally reaching. Sharing a heavy reporting load if it’s a particularly dense story or it takes a lot of sort of data analysis or something. Anything that’s undoable if you’re on resources. Anything that’s outside of your geographic limits. That’s another reason that — benefit that you can get. And then bargaining power when you have lots of organizations together going to authorities and say, actually, I want to be in the courtroom to get the video of O.J. Simpson, or we want to get this document and court opened up to the public. Some of those things can be bargained together, and sort of like more content.
AUDIENCE: We talked about how collaboration enforces a newsroom ticket order in control. You know, maybe they have processes that are not super organized, and if you’re working with another organization that enforces that, we talked about from an audience perspective encouraging — you know, from the audience perspective thinking that it would help to have news that’s complementary as opposed to use that’s sticking out. We talked about the value of having different perspectives and skill sets. Enforcing each organization to know their own — share admission values. We talked about getting farther faster. We talked about the value of shaking things up and forcing an organization to do something differently and to evaluate what works, and what doesn’t. Checking the assumptions and forcing people to get out of their comfort zones.
AUDIENCE: That’s, like, combining resources, I think.
ALAN: Excellent. Anything to add?
AUDIENCE: I’m trying to eliminate the ones that have already been said. Eliminating competitive waste. Not duplicating efforts. Pure methodology and content. Access to skills and expertise and workflows from other newsrooms. So learning from other newsrooms. And working on multiple platforms if you’re radio or TV or print. And access to subject matter experts that you wouldn’t have access to in your organization. So if you have like a crime reporting expert.
ALAN: Cool. Does anybody have specific stories they have as far as, like, maybe convincing someone, or some, like, really excellent collaboration that was, like, the greatest thing you’ve experienced?
AUDIENCE: I worked in public media in Alaska. So I worked at Juno KTO which is part of a five consortium in Alaska. And one of them was a full backend of business services. So they’re five non-profits under a parent non-profit in order to not have one HR person and one membership person, and one, you know, managing drives engineering at each one of these very small stations in a geographically huge area. And so they saved a lot of money doing this. And each one of them has a sort of established expertise. So the station that’s closest to the coastguard base, everyone knows that if there’s a story that happens it’s going to come out of that station. And the station with expertise in forestary, they know that they have a partner that’s going to put the story out there and make it available to them. And the cool backend part of it is that they’re using that money to sell to those stations and contract other HR stations and be their engineering, as well. We’ve been doing this for about two decades now.
ALAN: That’s cool.
ANDRE: Any other stories? Yup.
AUDIENCE: I work at Google but one of the things that Electionland helped inspire was cross check what was happening in France, and the whole collaboration was around debunking false stories so one of the things that we provided at Google was helping to adapt search words that were trending so you might see like a query around the president and, like, some crazy false story. And that helped to identify the stories that might have been trending because of misinformation. And as part of the collaboration, I think the idea was each organization had this label — it was an actual cross-check label that they would include on any story that they would debunk and each outlet agreed to basically include this debunked story or, like, basically anything that one person won’t debunk, the whole entire organization would debunk altogether in just the same priority, or the same goal of providing this information.
ANDRE: So it helps prevent misinformation and amplifies the ability to get that out.
AUDIENCE: And I think one of the things that they were trying to determine was at what point do they debunk stories, because potentially they could amplify it in the other direction. So that was, like, a constant back and forth that they would try to maintain.
ANDRE: That’s a good lead-in to the next question, keep it flowing. What are the challenges to collaboration? I’ll give y’all about five minutes, or maybe a little less depending on how — or how bored Alan is with this one. But go ahead and start thinking about the challenges of collaboration. Even if you — everybody in this room who wants to collaborate, at least from what we saw. So what might prevent that? What have you heard that might prevent that if you’ve never collaborated before? Any of those things. So just go ahead, and run down the Post-It notes again, and we’ll give y’all a few minutes.
[ Group Work ]
Time. We’re going to go back here for a second.
AUDIENCE: So the post we had was dumping egos. The framed perception of what’s needed in the newsroom. Newsroom sizes. Larger newsrooms are much less likely to collaborate with another large newsroom that they perceive as their competition. Brand already defined. There’s this tendency to protect the brand and, therefore, not venture out. Being comfortable in the kind of work or the way in which they work for communication. I don’t know what this is. Different structures. Structures in the newsroom. And different policies.
ANDRE: That’s a pretty exhaustive list.
[ Laughter ]
ANDRE: Let’s go over here.
AUDIENCE: Distribution disagreement scheduling challenges. Like, where does this go first, or high school group project syndrome where one person gets credit for all the people’s work. Traditions of competition, the branding identity credit crisis. We talked a little bit about award season, who actually gets to apply, who gets the award. And imbalance of the sizes, you know, a 4-person newsroom, versus a 24-person newsroom. You know, balancing the workflows and issues of trust.
AUDIENCE: So the challenge of deadlines and timelines not aligning between our organizations. The challenge of different audiences trying to write four different kinds of people. Or having different standards for your stories. Not being able to agree on a story focus. The ballooning scope and workload that these projects can take. The time spent on the attribution negotiations, and then the potential conflict of interest when you work with someone you cover, and how you can be ethical all the time. How do those discussions take place?
ALAN: Have you collaborated with someone that you covered?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, we occasionally at the Wall Street Journal partnered with Google and Facebook and things and it never became an issue but I could imagine a scenario where it could, more or less.
ALAN: Anyone else have any things that they want to share with the group as far as real hard challenges, failures?
AUDIENCE: We can share anecdotally.
ALAN: We can say off the record.
ANDRE: I mean, we can say off the record, but since we have not, let’s look at what can we do to make collaborations easier for everyone? What are some techniques that you are aware of? What are some tools that are currently being used, tools that you would like to see created. Anything I’m forgetting there, Alan? Broad?
ALAN: Yeah, like, strategies for convincing management or other people. Things that actually get you to collaboration. And specifically also tools that help with collaboration. Like Slack is extremely important for communication and stuff.
ANDRE: Or is it? In the next five minutes. So please go ahead and write them down and we will collect the last things. So would y’all like to start?
AUDIENCE: We got into this conversation. So actually having a way to better discover partners to collaborate with rather than being it dependent on being in the same room as a human being and seeing if you can cover something together, or word of mouth. Good, free planning is a really key part of this. Established clear and shared expectations for how the project is going to work. Who is responsible for what, when are they responsible for it, and how the actual management of the project is going to happen so that everyone’s on the same page is vital to this. Something that helps with the workflow and actually getting the organizations on the same page through some sort of tool, or shared work that they can use, and then documentation so that there’s some semblance of sanity to how the project works, and then after the fact.
ANDRE: I was gonna say, that documentation is for during the process and after the process is sort of how —
AUDIENCE: Because people leave and go and if you lose your champion and your collaboration, does it fall apart, or do you have enough of a structure in place that it doesn’t?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, so basically most of our conversation is around tools. One was around Slack and how it was really helpful across time zones and how it really helped to build, like, a spirit of a team because you could say things like happy birthday, or things that they wouldn’t necessarily say over an email. You know, and the one that we talked about is having a shared Google doc. It just kind of was putting a brain dump of everything you know, everything you don’t know, here are all your contacts. The fact that you guys just said. And a specific case was when the founder was Upworthy found a Google editable doc around solutions for filter bubbles and how that model is helpful but there’s clear rules around how can you collaborate with this doc, and how do you without diminishing those ideas.
ANDRE: And Google Docs are helpful as well as etherpad, which, we’re in etherpad right now. Over here.
AUDIENCE: So one, the first one that came up was to have a very complete and concrete and meticulous proposal and plan to present to, sort of, editors, or anybody else who has to sign off on it. We talked about open sourcing tools that you make is a good way to do it from the technical side, and in many ways is like a backdoor newsroom collaboration because many editors don’t understand how it works, so they’re less locked down on it than editorial collaborations, and then, finally, getting in the habit of, as news organizations, like applauding and promoting the work of other organizations and collaborations between them rather than, I don’t know, getting into the competitive frame.
ANDRE: So still finding a way to be competitive while still cheering on other news organizations.
AUDIENCE: Well, I think that the more just like of getting in the practice of applauding collaborations that you see, and work that you see that you respect that’s happening outside of your organization. I think that there’s a certain amount of implicit competition that just happens. So it’s like, I think the effort is for that to be — to applaud the collaboration and to applaud the work of others.
ANDRE: I feel like there’s still more stuff that we can write down.
ALAN: Sure. One thing, work on Electionland and documenting Haight which was sort of run by ProPublica, and their approach to it was, generally speaking was get a network of regional partners and sort of get information from all of them which tells a many or national story but when information comes from a regional partner, they have, like, the sort of ownership of that story and that tip. So they still have the ability to be sort of competitive in their regional space but it still feeds sort of a national story and creates a different, larger national story.
ANDRE: Yeah, that’s similar to what we — that’s similar to a couple of projects that has been active recently in the NPR universe. One was the original house bill was being talked about. Member stations were asked to go ahead and submit responses from their representatives and centers. And so, many stations took part. We went ahead and took part in it and we reached out to everybody in our state and we were able to go ahead and help feed that document and help provide a more clearer view of whether the bill was going to pass or not and we had to make news because we had the first elected representatives who were saying that they were not going to support the bill who was republican.
AUDIENCE: How did that collaboration work? Was it the — what was the medium for the collaboration?
ANDRE: They went — actually we have a Slack channel available to member stations. From Digital Services. And normally from each station is plugged into that account and so they gave us a heads up that it was coming and then they sent us an email and asked us to go ahead and use this Google form and we were able to go ahead and submit the — we were able to use the form for each — it was one form submission freedom sender and it was a house representative so every time that you got an edge, you would go through the form and fill out the form, and then they went ahead and still manually added it to — actually, no. I believe they manipulated the form to allow it to be fed into a web page. So that way, you were able to go in and when it landed on the NPR website, you then got to the page and it defaulted to, I think it defaulted to alphabetical order. But you could then go ahead and choose which take the you were in, and you would be able to go ahead and see who would reply, and who hadn’t replied which was also a big story, and you were able to see who hadn’t gotten which answers from which people which gave you a chance, there’s an opening and if you were a member station, you were able to reach out to that station, as well. And it wasn’t just stations at NPR. It was, did we see it from any of our member stations in that market. So in our case, we actually got lucky in the fact that the first two representatives that we reported on, we never talked to them. They actually spoke to WBUR for here and now. And we were able to go ahead and feed that in. But as more folks realized that we had gotten responses, they were willing to go ahead and add their voices to that discussion.
And then, recently, they just put together a guide to understanding what would happen if that — if the Senate bill had passed and, again, they went ahead and asked member stations for any stories that they had done, any reporting that they had done, on effects of the Senate bill on — of the Senate bill passing, what would happen. And so, we just — one of our reporters just became our science and health reporter, and he had just done a story about the effects on nursing home funding. So we were able to go ahead and submit that one in. And those were — folks from all over the member networks were able to submit stories. And it was an interesting process because folks were able to answer questions, any questions that they might have had in Slack, some of the private conversations. One that I was gonna — one that I was about to explain was one thing we were using in the Southern Education Desk was, in the end it was a biweekly phone call. There was still nothing like getting everybody on the phone at once and trying to get them to talk to each other and know what was going on in everybody’s newsrooms. And then considering how spread out we were geographically, it was — it probably could have — I think we probably could have done some things differently but it was definitely a good baseline to at least know what was going on, or have some inkling was what was important to keep an eye out for. Those were a few things that I wanted to throw out.
AUDIENCE: Another one little note about these collaborative tools, there’s a certain risk involved with these when you’re using, you know, Google Docs to power, like, a very important breaking-news story that everybody is working on. You probably have all been there when some of this stuff just seizes up and dies for a little bit and people freak out, and I remember we had lost data from projects we had done when certain platforms kind of fail, GitHub is down, or something. So I think it’s important to remember that, like, sometimes you have to kind of roll your own collaborative systems and that just might be, instead of your entire project being powered by a Google spreadsheet, having it seeded down, and then you replace that seeded-down copy. But you have to keep in mind that you need a real-world backup for the tools that you’re using.
AUDIENCE: Well, and some security protocols, as well.
ANDRE: Security protocols are really important because you want to protect your data from going down for not-so-nice reasons, I suppose some basic wear and tear on systems.
ALAN: I think we’re done.
ANDRE: We’ve got a couple minutes left. Is there something we can quickly try to talk through in terms of — is there something in terms of greasing the wheels that we haven’t talked about because I think the tools we’ve talked about, sort of, or at least the concepts behind what tools we would like to see used is there. But is there anything else we kind of may have left out, that might be other options? I see a couple of hands?
AUDIENCE: I’m just curious to see if anybody has any experience with taking like a better to beg for permission rather than a beg for forgiveness approach to collaborations?
AUDIENCE: I think that would be a dangerous one, there’s a lot of things that you can do for ask for forgiveness later. Collaboration seems like one where there would be a lot of possible.
AUDIENCE: I’ve definitely reached out to other developers. Like, but that’s not an editorial decision. So I think it depends on.
ANDRE: Yeah, I think, I’ve seen folks go out and share reporting — share notes from reporting on background for a story if they couldn’t go cover it, or something like that. I’ve seen that many times. But and that’s just — or if it’s somebody who’s normally on that beat and they can’t get somewhere but they know if they work on a story, they might say, hey, do you need these notes, or I can tell you what happened. I’ve seen that happen.
AUDIENCE: Well, I was gonna say that applies to that question is there were a lot of news organizations that they’re collaborating, and they just don’t call it that. Or they’re doing things like that sort of content trading. Like, one of them commonly was some rule in newsrooms when their sports teams travel. Instead of sending them two hours out of town, will send them a photo of their kids in a game or something in that town. They don’t call it collaboration. But that’s them working together. So I’m wondering what sorts of official partnerships are happening. And what it would mean if we identify those a little bit more, and recognize that there are lots of ways that newsrooms could work together and don’t really think about it. There was another example of a newsroom where someone from the public would call into the station every night and into a five-minute thing with the hosts. And that was a standing thing that they did because it was a small newsroom kind of in far-off places. So there were lots of little examples like that out there.
AUDIENCE: We actually have — I don’t think this is a collaboration but we actually have what are called news partners and we basically tag specific stories for our news partners and we have partnerships with small newspapers around the state and when we tie them that way, there’s a URL that they can go to, and basically that says, you can take any of these stories and just run them. It’s a giveaway but it puts us — they have to credit Minnesota Public Radio, and their photos and everything — and they can’t edit our stories except for link. So it’s not really a collaboration but it kind of is. And the good thing about that is that it makes it really easy for me, as the visuals editor to call in and say, hey, you’ve got a photo of that thing. Get it in.
AUDIENCE: And having the editor signing off on that, too, which is like a photo editor calling a photo editor.
ANDRE: I just wanted to make sure that I said we were out of time but we can go over and continue the talk.
AUDIENCE: I was gonna say, I think it depends on how you frame it, which seems to be some of the — regardless, of, I think essential collaboration I’ve done with another news organization has unofficially started with me talking and coming up with a plan and going, all right, we’re going to go to our editors and say this. But in certain circumstances, I think it’s okay. We’ve entered into the AP pilot program for data sharing and we were like, hey, we were gonna do that. But we were already members of the Associated Press and so it didn’t seem like anything like that. But certainly, planning is sort of key and we generally do that on the DL so…
ANDRE: I guess I had one other crazy question in regards to this. We’ve identified challenges and it’s not on our list, but why are people still scared of collaboration right now? Or why are they? If we’re doing the — if we are doing this much collaboration, why are we — why does it seem like we don’t always want to admit that we’re doing this much collaboration? And I’m not asking you to write it down; I’m asking for general…
AUDIENCE: I think news organizations want to think that they can do everything themselves, and they can do it in a way that’s better than working alongside someone else.
AUDIENCE: I think collaboration works too much time. It would be faster take away tried to do it ourselves than trying to talk to somebody about that.
ANDRE: Is it gonna — what would it take — and I guess we kind of asked this already, what would it take to — what would it take to go ahead and lessen that concern? That that — that specific concern? Again, if it’s already happening, why are we — what would it take to go ahead and drop those defenses at least enough?
AUDIENCE: Maybe there’s, like, a — you know, I always think how like creative commons seems like such a helpful framework that I’ll be in need for lawyers for lazy people to show their content. And, you know, it’s a well established framework is to throw it on a piece of work that you make, and everybody knows the rules. Maybe there is some kind of like established framework for like an agreement for collaboration who people want to point to and say, hey, use this agreement template. We can have few ones for more in-depth ones, more informal ones. And then we’ll have, you know, kind of with the common rules of the road.
AUDIENCE: I think for what I’ve experienced is that I mean, maybe it would be just the leadership encouraging that sort of thing, and having leaders that were willing to put that out there because one of the big roadblocks that I see in our newsroom is it tends to be this sort of uncertainty of our times and individual editors seeing it rightly or wrongly as sort of a erosion of your credibility. You know, a collaboration, well, you can’t duly do this on our own. We’re going to bring in this other news organization. And I think that indirectly ends up squabbling things sometimes.
ALAN: Well, it’s — it’s over time. I want to let people get up and go. Thank you very much for coming. We can happily talk about this more. Ken Schwencke should be here. He can be presenting with us but he got stuck in New York and he helped plan this out a little bit and I should have mentioned him earlier but thank you all for coming and discussing.
[ Applause ]