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Case Studies in Collaborative Local Journalism

In this report, we analyse the potential for collaborative journalism initiatives to address the challenges facing local news. Although collaboration has been examined in the context of national and international partnerships, often among larger news organisations, few studies investigate these efforts at the local level, particularly in Europe. As local media around the world continue to face declining revenues and shrinking newsroom staffs, collaborative approaches may offer a vehicle for producing high-quality accountability journalism at the local level.

This report is based on more than 30 interviews with key figures in high-profile collaborative journalism experiments in three different countries, including journalists as well as senior management, community organisers, data analysts, technical experts, and others. The three primary cases featured are the Bureau Local (UK), ‘L’Italia Delle Slot’ (Italy), and Lännen Media (Finland). We also interviewed the director of CORRECTIV.Lokal, an initiative in Germany seeking
to replicate the work of the Bureau Local.

These cases reflect three distinct models of collaboration: (1) a permanent network of journalists and non-journalists engaged in topic-driven reporting projects (the Bureau Local); (2) legacy and start-up news organisations working together on a single extended investigation (‘L’Italia Delle Slot’); and (3) regional news organisations sharing content through a collaborative newsroom
(Lännen Media).

These initiatives involve both similar and divergent approaches to network building, project development, and content distribution. Two of the collaborations focus on publishing high-impact stories simultaneously across multiple outlets; the Bureau Local pursues multiple projects each year, while ‘L’Italia Delle Slot’ is a time-limited project focused on one subject. The third collaboration, Lännen Media, includes journalists working in newsrooms around Finland to produce national and international reporting shared among 12 member newspapers.

We find that these very different initiatives feature many common elements that offer potential lessons for other local newsrooms:

  • Each collaboration is designed to facilitate concrete forms of resource sharing – of both human and technical resources – while minimising potential competitive friction among the individuals and organisations involved.
  • All three collaborations feature diverse and dispersed networks, and are dedicated to creating connections, both virtually and in person, to allow for knowledge-sharing, skills enhancement, and mentorship. They also aim to engage participants as equal partners in editorial processes.
  • Participants suggest that collaborative approaches have allowed them to report on
  • topics they would not typically cover as well as engage with familiar subjects in more comprehensive ways. Many said they have also learned how to better incorporate data and multimedia elements into their reporting.
  • Two of the collaborations embrace strategies that allow them to connect with communities to tell their stories. The Bureau Local and ‘L’Italia Delle Slot’ have worked to build partnerships with individuals and organisations affected by the issues they cover, while Lännen Media journalists aim for coverage with broad appeal that doesn’t favour particular localities.
  • Despite their short tenures, these efforts have shown evidence of impact on a variety of political, social, and economic issues, due in part to distribution strategies in which national and local content is released simultaneously across an array of platforms.

We also find that these collaborations face distinct challenges. In particular, participants cited the need to develop a shared mission and goals, unite newsrooms with different ownership structures and funding models, teach local journalists how to incorporate data into their reporting, adapt their communication and management structures to reflect the needs of participants, and find ways to chart and measure the implications of their work.

People involved in these initiatives are hesitant to suggest that they offer the definitive solution to the problems facing local news, and they do not aim to replace the news industry in the cities and towns where they operate. They also expressed uncertainty about the sustainability of their efforts. Nevertheless, these projects highlight the potential of collaboration for making the most of limited resources, and show the willingness of journalists and other community-level actors to embrace experimental approaches fostering journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives.