asserted in feting our project last spring:
Collaboration needs to become central to journalism's mission -- and the mainstream press needs to get on board. From foreign capitals to U.S. statehouses, it is a way to extend our shrinking newsrooms, begin to rebuild public trust, and ensure that the standards of the professional press help shape the development of new journalistic endeavors.
I've already written about the project's inception and its execution. An explanation of the project and a still-growing article archive is available here. Here's some advice I would give others seeking to launch similar citywide reporting projects.
1. Get the bigs to buy in. Every journalism community has major and minor players. The hardest ones to interest in an undertaking like this are the major players, for various complicated reasons. The core group of project planners should try to get some of these larger players on board before reaching out to smaller media, who will likely have less resistance.
In Madison, we were fortunate to have support from the city's most established weekly, its monthly magazine and the area's largest local TV station. That created a critical core that made it easier for others to join.
2. Pick a good topic. To work for a project like this, a topic must be big enough to sustain dozens of stories while pointed enough that they all sort of stick together. Health care, for instance, would have been too broad a topic; health care access (further defined as the problems people in a community have getting access to quality care) is more viable. Similarly, "the environment" is too unwieldy; environmental innovators ("Project Green Light") might work.
I would strongly suggest that the topic have a broad public source base: health care consumers, people in economic distress, parents of young children. Every media outlet ought to be able to find people with stories to tell, without telling the same peoples' stories.
3. Seek consensus, not uniformity. The late great HBO show "The Wire" had a character who said, "A newsroom is a place where people fight about everything." Members of a dozen or more newsrooms will never agree on anything, and no one should expect them to. Ideas for topics should be presented and discussed, and a vote taken. Those who come to the table must agree to go with what's decided.
In Madison, the biggest hassle was creating a process to discuss various possible topics. I wish we could have decided this sooner, and spent more energy refining the concept and generating ideas to make it more viable as a group project.
4. Define and assign key tasks. An undertaking like this needs group and project names, which can be conceived collectively. But it also needs logos for each, which one person should be charged with creating. And it needs a person or very small team to run a project web site.
In Madison, Ellen Meany of Isthmus created the logos, which were refined slightly based on input from others. And after a dizzying meeting involving more than a half-dozen people who all knew lots of folks who could put together a project website but didn't, Linda Falkenstein of Isthmus single-handedly set up and agreed to manage the site for All Together Now.
5. Do your own thing. Projects like this need a coordinator, ideally one person who will take charge of managing a list of participants and sending out regular updates, a role Brennan Nardi played exquisitely well in Madison. But there is no need to micromanage individual contributions. Most news outfits don't want someone advising them on what topics to pick or approaches to take. Pick a topic, set a run date, then go back to your newsrooms and do it.
In Madison, some participants did work cooperatively with students and other media to suggest topics and give guidance. But the larger media, especially, just did their own thing. The truth is, most of us don't have time to collaborate.
6. Seek individual excellence. The most exciting thing about All Together Now is that it created a sense of community among journalists in Madison. We decided to make a collective splash, but we did it individually. We asked each media participant to identify what it does best and make that central to its approach.
In other words, we were eager to prove, to each other and the community, what we could do. And that enhanced the quality of the contributions.