Workshop expands its publishing partnerships

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 

We had data, a map and a summary of our findings: Now what?

This was the position we were in a few months ago when deciding what to do with a wealth of material in another in a series on broadband subscribership rates. We found that they had increased in rural areas at a rapid clip between 2008 and 2010, but the South still lagged far behind. And we knew that we again could show the reason for the continuing digital divide: money.

Jacob Fenton, our director of computer assisted reporting, combined data from the Federal Communications Commission with demographics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that showed 40 percent of households did not have a broadband connection in the home as of December 2010. He created interactive tables and a national map to showcase the rankings of the 100 top metro areas and the 50 states.

At the Investigative Reporting Workshop, we frequently co-publish our stories with larger news organizations, but this seemed different. In this case, we had national data and a national overview for many local stories.

Our reporter, John Dunbar, agreed; he could write a national trend story, and with Jacob customizing the map for different locations, other organizations could write their own stories about their communities or regions.

We also had been looking for a way to contribute content to the Investigative News Network, which we have been part of since the beginning. Workshop Executive Editor Charles Lewis was the original draftsman of the Pocantico Declaration before it was collectively debated and edited and has served on the INN board from the outset. And this seemed a perfect fit.

So our model for how and whether to partner expanded to INN as a whole for the first time. We invited member organizations to participate in a conference call with staffers from the Workshop before we finished the project.

We sent Evelyn Larrubia a summary of our findings and a series of links, which she then sent out in an email invitation to join the discussion through a conference call. This led to a half-dozen organizations participating in an hour-long conversation, in which Jacob explained how he compiled and analyzed the material and answered questions about regional trends. The conversation was beneficial for us, as well, and led to us refining our explanation of the methodology and producing several more customizations of the maps.

Over the ensuing weeks, while John reported and wrote a story, Jacob continued to talk to several of the INN members about what else they needed to make publication relevant to them. 

The result was much more widespread dissemination of the material. The day our project was published, we also were published here:

Technically Philly and Computer World also followed up, and John has been interviewed for television stories highlighting regional trends in Dayton, Ohio; Johnstown, Pa.; and El Paso, Texas.

What we see evolving is a new direction for publishing, one that allows a number of editorial voices to weigh in on the findings before publication and for multiple points of view on how to interpret and use the material. We think this approach is particularly well-suited for Workshop projects that involve national-level data. We contribute the data and analysis, and INN members contribute local reporting and spread the impact of the project.

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We publish online and in print, often teaming up with other news organizations. We're working now on a new program with FRONTLINE producers, to air later in the year, and on the "Years of Living Dangerously," a series on climate change that has begun airing on Showtime. A story last year on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers was co-published with The New York Times. Our updates to our long-running BankTracker project, in which you can view the financial health of every bank and credit union in the country, have been published with msnbc.com, now nbcnews.com, and we co-published stories in our What Went Wrong series on the economy with The Philadelphia Inquirer and New America Media. Our graduate students are working as researchers with Washington Post reporters, and our new senior editor is a member of the Post's investigative team. Learn more on our partners page.

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