Partnerships and collaborations
- Build a team. If you don’t have prior community connections, consider partnering with or hiring local reporters to your project. Working collaboratively with journalists from within communities will build trust and ensure a deeper knowledge of local context.
Amy Standen of the California-based prison podcast Ear Hustle said, “our whole editorial process — which stories we tell, whom we interview and what about, how the story is edited and narrated — is informed by conversations with our colleagues inside prison, as well as formerly incarcerated people.”
“Having an editorial team that includes people with the same lived experience that we are reporting on makes our stories not just deeper and more nuanced, but very often funnier, more poignant or surprising.”
“There are things that come up in an interview that I hear differently than our currently and formerly incarcerated guys do. They ask questions I wouldn't — and vice versa — and our interviews take unexpected turns.”
Embed in a community. If you (your newsroom, your production, etc.) have the resources and ability, consider embedding within a community. Living in the community you are reporting in serves to deepen your reporting, help you gain contextual knowledge, and build trust. You may learn things, witness events, and meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to.
Decide who on your reporting team has editorial input. This should be communicated at the start of a project. For example, is someone a translator or a field producer? One may have editorial input while the other may not. Consider your team and each person’s role, and make it clear what level of editorial input you are expecting — will they help decide who to interview? What questions to ask? How to frame the story? What story to pursue? Will they be asked to review drafts ahead of publication? Where possible, we encourage you to seek editorial input from your team — when it comes to community-engaged journalism, collaboration makes the work stronger.
Britney Dennison, the executive editor at the Vancouver-based Global Reporting Centre and producer of the documentary series ‘Turning Points’ said, “each film in the series was co-produced by the story subjects. Storytellers are credited as directors and writers. Throughout the production we sought feedback, guidance, and direction from storytellers. For example, the production team edited each film and then reviewed cuts for feedback and changes. Sometimes they asked for substantial changes in direction, which meant re-shooting interviews and scenes. I feel like this approach brought a depth and nuance to the films that may have otherwise been lost.”
Decide what level of editorial input your sources might have. For empowerment journalism, the Global Reporting Centre includes sources as part of the team. They receive credit on projects, and provide feedback and input from reporting all the way up to publication. For community-engaged journalism, and documentary productions, this might look like sharing stories with sources ahead of publication (for feedback, accuracy, and accountability). This may also include acknowledgement in the credits. If you are opening up editorial input in this way, we advise that you:
- Lay out expectations in writing at the start of a project
- Create a set of ethical guidelines to ensure your commitment to journalism standards and principles
- Consider payment to sources if they are credited and working on the project in a similar capacity to your reporting/project team
- Be transparent with your audience
Speaking about the film Healing Nation, director Jamuna Galay-Tamang said, “it was important to me to have [one of the film’s main subjects] receive the credit that she deserved for making it possible to do the film… None of it would’ve happened without her.”
Galay-Tamang said when sharing edits of the film with this person, “we had different goals. Her goal was to have a platform to share her full story. My goal was to create a film that amplified certain themes that a lot of people share. She wanted to get more details of her story into the film. I thought the details would bog down the storytelling. So it was a little bit of a clash with that. It was really difficult. It was really difficult, but I would still want to do it again.
Pamela Yates directed The Resistance Saga, a documentary trilogy that collaborated with Mayan Indigenous leaders in Guatemala over a span of 35 years. While making the trilogy’s first film, 1982’s When the Mountains Tremble, Yates told us,
“when we came back after six months of filming, we had a lot of really great scenes, but nothing to hold them together. Someone who knew we were making this film, brought a young Guatemala Mayan woman. She was 22 years old and living in exile. Her name was Rigoberta Menchú Tum...when Rigoberta came, we invited her to come into the editing room and look at the sequences that we had put together. She decided that she would write her own story, and we could use it as a segue to tie all the pieces together.”
Consider an Advisory Board. Forming an advisory board composed of key stakeholders is one way of building accountability into your reporting/projects. Board members can include community members, subject-matter experts, advocates, etc. If you do take this route, make sure to establish clear ethical and editorial boundaries. Create documentation that lays out roles and responsibilities, expectations, accountability, and governance. This will also need to be cleared with the entire reporting team, including editors and potentially newsroom leadership to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with company-wide policies.
Discuss copyright and data ownership/sharing. Consider ways that you might share data (photos, footage, etc.), ownership, copyright, or licensing with interviewees. This will be a larger conversation with your newsroom, production company, etc., but sharing data can be an important tool for giving back to a community. One low-barrier method might be to consider a creative commons licence. In other cases you might offer licences to interviewees so they can use assets gathered for their own purposes — for example photos taken (and not just the ones used in the story). In other cases, like with empowerment journalism, you may want to consider sharing copyright and ownership.
Olivia Leigh Nowak is a documentary filmmaker. She explained that for the Salmon Stories project, a series of short films on the importance of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, “our release form, the way that it was set up, was that the storyteller has the rights to their own story…so the release form was clear, ‘You have ownership, but we have the rights to share it. But whatever it is that you feel uncomfortable with, or if there’s something that was said throughout that that has changed, you have the right to ask us to remove that story.’”
- Be clear and transparent about who is getting paid and how much. Payment should always be discussed with your reporting/project team up front. There should be a clear, agreed-upon amount, and a detailed payment schedule. If someone’s job duties expand over the course of the project, payment should be re-negotiated — nobody should be asked to do work that is above and beyond their negotiated contract. You may consider paying people beyond your traditional project team, like sources, advisors, elders, etc. this may take the form of honoraria or payment for work.
Traditional newsroom ethics generally do not allow for payment to sources, so if you are choosing to, these decisions should be made with your full editorial team, and ethical frameworks should be put in place to ensure that it doesn’t impact the accuracy and editorial independence of your work. If payments are made to sources, the process should be transparent to the audience.
Christopher Cheung, a Vancouver-based staff reporter at The Tyee, said, “small things like offering somebody a coffee or even a meal for their time, I think that’s fine. One unique example is when I interviewed somebody who is homeless about their life during COVID, and he shared with me tons of photos that he took, and they were all really good. In the past, he had worked for The Georgia Straight [a local newspaper]. So he is somebody with newsroom experience, and I felt guilty about running not one but multiple images from a professional without some form of compensation. I checked in with my editor, and we decided to pay him for use of the images. Because he does not have a bank account, we took the extra step of paying him in cash, which we usually do not do. Our rationale was that this was not buying access or an interview, which we wouldn’t do, but that this was paying him like any other contributor for use of their photography.”
- Provide mentorship and training opportunities. Mentoring and training is another way to infuse more reciprocal processes into your journalism. Whether it is mentorship and training within your reporting team, or more empowerment journalism approaches, providing learning opportunities for your interviewees. It is another way to share what you know.
Sandy Storyline was a collaborative project where community members affected by Hurricane Sandy could contribute stories. Co-director Rachel Falcone said, “we did a lot of different things because it was kind of an experiment. So, we did writing workshops at local libraries, like the New York Public Library branch in Staten island, and a semester-long youth program in Coney Island. All people can tell a story, but you need to make it a welcoming environment where they feel like they have the tools to participate fully.”