Co-publishing As Collaboration

The broad swath of newsrooms that published Carnegie-Knight News21’s package on Voter fraud and ID laws across America is surely a sign that the taboo of one newsroom publishing another’s investigation is certainly waning, if not dead.

The package of 19 stories was reported by 24 students across 11 universities, lead by consulting editor Leonard Downie, Jr., the Weil family professor of journalism at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and vice president at large of The Washington Post. It found only 10 cases of in-person voter fraud across the country since 2000, raising questions about the need for voter identification laws. It also showed how politically active Republican secretaries of state have brought the spate of current laws – and the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC.

Two months before publication, NEWS21 leaders met with INN to talk about whether members would be interested in the stories. The answer: Of course. Through a series of emails, calls and newsletter postings, we got the word out. We worked closely with the News21 team on publication and staggered embargo dates and made the stories available to INN’s 64 members.

When people think of collaborative stories, they often think of co-reported stories, but these kinds of partnerships are just as important. It gets our non-profit newsrooms in on the ground floor of important national stories. And the INN network’s wide reach – from San Diego, California to Maine and Canada to Puerto Rico—can help spread news to audiences that national media does not always reach.

“This seems to me to be a great strength of INN, with even greater potential in the future,” Downie said.

Some INN newsrooms, such as Public Source, in Pittsburg, ran a single story; a number of others ran multiple stories, including MinnPost, which ran six pieces since the project launched on Aug. 12 – and plans to run more of them over the next two weeks.

Don Effenberger, MinnPost’s news editor, said the stories “have gotten good response.” The main story on voter fraud performed well on and sparked a spirited debate.

Interestingly, that story also ran in the Washington Post and on News21’s own site the day before – showing how important it can be to reach the public through regional and local news sources.

To bring the stories home to their readers, many members pulled relevant facts about their states up higher in the story, or mentioned them in the headline. IowaWatch, which ran five of the stories, produced small sidebars about Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, including a link to his 2010 campaign website and other related materials on the web.

The package was well timed – a deep look at an issue that’s on the minds of Americans at the moment. It included not just stories, but also interactive graphics and other multi-media elements.

Downie said he’s a big believer in collaboration across platforms and between both commercial and nonprofit media. He sees it not only as stretching resources, but also giving more Americans “access to more journalism that matters.”

The stories in the voter package were picked up by national outlets, including NPR news and Downie said he saw INN as an important ally as well.

“Distribution through INN members exposed the students’ work—including the only comprehensive database of election fraud in the U. S.—to influential audiences in communities we otherwise would not have reached,” he said. “And it enabled non-profits like MinnPost, Iowa Watch and Pine Tree Watchdog in Maine to give their readers coverage they would not otherwise have had and for which they did not have to pay.”