Journalism Notes: Collaborative Accountability

collaboration photo

The Gannett Company made an offer of $815 million Monday to buy the Tribune Publishing Company, which owns The Chicago Tribune and The L.A. Times, along with a handful of other papers, including the Orlando Sentinel just down the road from us here in Tampa.

And just earlier this month, Gannett picked up the Journal Media Group, owner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for $280 million.

Here at home, The Tampa Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) continue in their protracted battle to hold onto turf in the almost anachronistic two-newspaper town.

Meanwhile, the “Panama Papers,” the biggest whistleblower data leak in history and the source of exposé stories on major world figures, was the result of the largest journalistic collaboration ever—more than 100 news organizations from more than 80 countries.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a nonprofit network of journalists working together from around the world to strengthen the role of the watchdog press in an increasingly globalized age.

The Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Journalism this year went to reporters from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times for “a stellar example of collaborative reporting by two news organizations that revealed escalating violence and neglect in Florida mental hospitals and laid the blame at the door of state officials.”

The days of the monolithic media giants are not yet over, but the rise of collaborative journalism has definitely signaled a new ethos and sensibility for the field.

In some ways, I think the crisis thrust upon the traditional journalism business model by way of digital media may turn out to be the most purifying experience the field has undergone since the turn of the 20th century.

Sure, the marketplace and thrill of the scoop will continue to drive a lot of coverage for some time to come. But there are serious cracks starting to show in those walls.

Journalists and news organizations are, it seems, beginning to see that in a world where rampant complexity makes transparency and accountability more and more difficult, collaboration is essential to providing people with important information about their leaders and power brokers.

And I think this collaborative spirit ultimately gets back to the democratic purpose of journalism. If we argue that we need a free press to freely spread information necessary for the common weal, then doesn’t a collaborative model of newsgathering make sense?

Truth has never been the possession of any singular person or organization. Granted, a paycheck is a good incentive to do your job and dig for the story. But a for-profit funding model isn’t the only option. Maybe it’s not even the best option.

Maybe we get better answers and find out more when we put our heads together. And maybe we can all chip in to make it happen and pay the bills.

Image courtesy of geralt at Pixabay.com

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Jeff Neely

Jeff Neely is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Tampa, where he teaches courses in newswriting, feature writing, multimedia journalism and literary journalism. His research has examined the role narrative and literary journalism can play in broadening our understanding of various issues and experiences life brings our way, from identity formation to environmental ethics. He has also studied how youth journalism programs, where young people tell their own stories and those of their peers, can help strengthen local communities. He is currently working with local non-profit outreach organizations to build a youth journalism program called Tampa Youth Voice. Prior to entering academe, Jeff worked as a writer and editor for various publications in and around the Tampa Bay area, as well as a case manager and resource development specialist for the Florida foster care system.

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