Our groundbreaking initiative tests a new model of collaborative journalism

By Jon Funabiki

Renaissance Journalism is launching a new initiative to test an innovative model of collaborative, community news coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area. We hope to encourage journalists and their news organizations to work together to help people understand and address some of the region’s most pressing problems.

To start, we’ve chosen one of the most visible and urgent issues facing the Bay Area today—the crisis in housing—from the unbridled gentrification of neighborhoods to the displacement of longtime residents and the rising problem of homelessness. Together, these issues profoundly impact the quality, health and character of life in the region. Moreover, they bring into sharp relief some vexing equity and social justice issues.

We’re calling this initiative the Bay Area Media Collaborative (BAMC). Over the past several months, Renaissance Journalism has reached out to journalists and news organizations from San Francisco to San Jose to spread the idea, and we’ve been gratified by the positive responses.

Here’s the idea, in brief:

• The Bay Area is richly endowed with a diversity of news organizations, everything from traditional mainstream newspapers and public broadcasting stations to ethnic media and youth publications.

• While journalists typically compete vigorously for news scoops, some problems beg for joint effort. The housing crisis is a case in point as it affects people across political boundaries, racial/cultural backgrounds and other characteristics.

• To support improved reporting on these issues, Renaissance Journalism and its partners will sponsor news briefings, conferences and gatherings with community leaders and policymakers.

• To stimulate collaborative reporting projects, Renaissance Journalism will offer mini-grants to help support joint projects undertaken by groups of news organizations. Through collaboration, journalists can leverage each other’s resources and connections to their diverse communities.

• To promote trust between the public and the media, Renaissance Journalism will organize gatherings and conversations that enable reporters and residents to share perspectives and ideas.

There are precedents for this collaborative approach, but they are few and far between. Locally, one of the first collaborative efforts was in 2007 when a coalition of shocked journalists banded together to investigate the assassination of one of their colleagues, Chauncey Bailey, editor-in-chief of the Oakland Post. In June 2016, Bay Area journalists came together again, this time to cover the rise of homelessness, an idea that sprang from a Renaissance Journalism conference earlier that year.

The Bay Area Media Collaborative will strive to stimulate more intensive and ongoing collaboration among news organizations, most of which are hamstrung by small news staffs and reporting budgets. In that sense, BAMC will more closely resemble an earlier Renaissance Journalism initiative called the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC), which brought together nine news outlets. As in our other initiatives, the DJC news partners produced award-winning stories about Detroit’s financial crisis, segregation, policing, the schools and other important issues. Through collaboration, the journalists had more impact because they discovered new stories and reached new audiences.

Renaissance Journalism is grateful to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for being the lead funder for this groundbreaking initiative. In fact, the foundation deserves credit for inspiring the idea when it asked what a foundation could do to help media address regional issues. That question sparked the research and discussions that led to the development of the Bay Area Media Collaborative.

Please check back to our website, where we’ll be posting more information about the Bay Area Media Collaborative as the initiative develops.