Better Together: How ProPublica is harnessing the power of collaboration.

Author:Tornoe, Rob
 
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If there's a buzzword in journalism these days that can challenge "engagement" for newsroom supremacy, it'd probably be collaboration.

It might seem like an odd pivot for an industry historically fueled by heated competition for scoops and angry newsroom rivalries. After all, movies have been made chronicling the exploits of rival journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times chasing down leads to report out huge stories, such as Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.

Even today, much of the original reporting on the Trump administration originates at either the Times or the Post, thanks to reporters hard at work competing for scoops (and proudly seeking glory for their accomplishments on Twitter).

But for other media outlets without their reach and digital subscriber base, collaboration is part of a larger adaptation to a maturing digital media landscape. The strains placed on newsrooms due to the decline of print advertising have forced many outlets into a situation where they have to pick and choose the topics they can devote serious resources to covering. Plus, some stories these days are so complex, the only way to truly tackle them properly is by collaborating with experts in other newsrooms.

Leading the push for all things collaboration is ProPublica, the scrappy one-time internet start-up that has grown into a powerhouse of investigative journalism, collecting multiple Pulitzer Prizes along the way. Collaboration is in the DNA of ProPublica, who initially partnered with media organizations like NPR, "60 Minutes" and the Atlantic mostly out of a necessity to reach readers.

That's not so much a problem today for ProPublica, where collaborations have become a cornerstone of the digital media organization's unique approach to journalism. Just one quick look around their website reveals several large databases on relevant topics they're sharing with any news organization that wants them--for free. Everything from Trump Town, which tracks the personal records of Trump administration staffers, to Nursing Home Inspect, which draws on nursing home inspection reports to look for trends or patterns.

Recently, two of my colleagues at the Philadelphia Inquirer drew on ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database to file a report on 76 doctors in the Philadelphia region paid more than $500,000 each by pharmaceutical and medical device companies (including one local ophthalmologist who pocketed nearly $6 million from 2014 to 2018).

So, it's...

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