Cross-field collaboration

How and why journalists and civil society organizations around the world are working together

Research report: How and why journalists and civil society organizations around the world are working together

In late 2019, the Center was approached to study collaboration between journalism and civil society organizations. Excited by the opportunity to lean in to our growing collaborative journalism program, we submitted a proposal to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the research and were thrilled when we were given a grant to do so.

After almost two years of work, we’re happy to share the final product of that work, “Cross-field collaboration: How and why journalists and civil society organizations around the world are working together,” a paper co-authored by Sarah Stonbely, PhD and Hanna Siemaszko.

We define cross-field collaboration as a partnership involving at least one journalism organization and one civil society organization (usually an advocacy organization but not always) in which they work together to produce content in the service of an explicit ideal or outcome. Civil society organizations include NGOs, universities, civic tech and arts organizations, among others.

We analyzed 155 cross-field collaborations, involving 1,010 organizations, based or working in 125 countries around the globe. Increasingly impatient with a lack of impact from investigative projects, journalists have become more willing to partner with civil society organizations, many of whose reason for being is making change. With the drive for impact comes complicated ethical questions that the journalists wrestle with, but have found ways to negotiate.

For civil-society actors, partnering with journalism organizations brings added benefits such as the ability to circulate their findings more widely and in a greater variety of formats; i.e. important findings are now translated into narratives and visual projects in addition to the traditional white paper.

The most common topics of the collaborations we studied were corruption and governance, climate and environment, and human rights.

The paper includes a matrix with examples of the various types of impact that result from cross-field collaboration. Alongside the research itself, we will also be sharing a public-facing database of all the projects studied in the paper.

WATCH: Cross-field collaboration at #CJS2022

The presentation by Sarah Stonbely, PhD, at the 2022 Collaborative Journalism Summit provided an overview of the findings in the cross-field collaborations report, as well as some of the possible implications and takeaways for future cross-field collaborations.

WATCH: Cross-field collaboration at #IJF22

The presentation discussed both quantitative and qualitative findings about this type of cross-field collaboration, including the types of organizations and topics usually involved and covered in these projects, benefits and drawbacks, broad differences observed between projects in the global north and south, the role of trust and journalistic culture, the tension between objectivity and advocacy, and actionable takeaways.

WATCH: Cross-field collaboration webinar

Authors Sarah Stonbely, PhD, and Hanna Siemaszko discuss the findings and conclusions of their report and answered questions from the audience about the possible implications of their research during this virtual public forum, hosted via Zoom on April 20, 2022.

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Sarah Stonbely is the director of research at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at stonbelys@montclair.edu.

Hanna Siemaszko is a research assistant at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at hanna.j.siemaszko@gmail.com.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge FoundationDemocracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.