The Climate Desk: A Collaborative Based on Trust

A group of forward-thinking news organizations have joined forces to cover climate change, and we’re glad to see that Publish2 is one of the collaborative tools they’re using.

The project, The Climate Desk, launched Monday to explore “the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate.”

The long list of partner news organizations includes The Atlantic, The Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, PBS’s Need to Know, Slate and Wired.

The Climate Desk newswire, powered by Publish2
The Climate Desk newswire, powered by Publish2.

What we really like about this project — in addition to their use of Publish2, which powers a collaborative newswire you’ll spot across the site — is their practical approach. They identified a problem in the media and found a way to solve it. And better yet, they plan to solve it together.

There are gaps in mainstream news coverage about climate change and the Climate Desk ties that disconnect to the following drawbacks:

1) Climate change is slow-moving, vast, and overwhelming for news organizations to grapple with.

2) What coverage there is tends to be fractured and compartmentalized—science, technology, politics, and business aspects are covered by different teams, or “desks” of reporters, despite the intrinsic connections.

3) Coverage is too often fixated on imperiled wildlife, political gamesmanship, or the “debate” over the existence of climate change, all at the expense of advancing the bigger story—how we’re going to address, mitigate, or adapt to it.

4) Cuts to news organizations are making matters worse.

As individual news organizations trying to cover climate change, it would be harder for Grist or Slate or Wired could overcome the aforementioned shortcomings alone. But that’s the beauty of collaboration: as a team, they have different backgrounds — Wired’s reporters have something different to bring to the table than Slate, they each have different weaknesses and strengths, and resources and audiences — all of which can be shared.

This isn’t the first time they’ve used Publish2 to report on the climate. They first proved the power of collaboration in December, when Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation and The Uptake covered the Copenhagen climate summit with a Publish2 newswire. Jeffery said that because Publish2 was so easy to use the first time around, they wanted to use it again for The Climate Desk.

The crew explains in its FAQ why collaboration is so appropriate for their mission:

For one thing, more hands on deck and more outlets mean we can do more coverage, bringing our various strengths and audiences to bear. For another, given the transformation of the media business, collaboration seems to be part of the future of journalism. We want to test out a new kind of distributed journalism — bringing together a group of reporting shops to brainstorm, assign, and share coverage. Already, this process has enriched our own understanding of the issue, and that can only be a benefit to our readers.

We talked with Clara Jeffery, co-editor of Mother Jones and an organizer of The Climate Desk, by e-mail about plans and goals of the project. One of the key points she made about collaboration is the importance of trust:

“The first thing is you have to build trust. We had preexisting relationships with some folks at many of our partner organizations. When you’re sharing your strengths, weaknesses — and of course story ideas and assignments — trust is key.”

Instead of competing for an audience (as they likely would have in a traditional media setting), the Climate Desk partners are pooling their resources to reach a combined audience. The Columbia Journalism Review reports the size of that collective audience:

The partners command a combined online audience of more than 25 million monthly unique visitors, 1.5 million print readers, and an anticipated 1.5 million TV viewers, but there has been little talk of the effect The Climate Desk will have on each organization’s respective bottom line.

Over the next two weeks, the seven news organizations will publish dozens of stories, starting with a first batch about how businesses are adapting and planning for climate change. (We definitely recommend you give them a read.)

The articles will be published across all seven participating sites and The Climate Desk’s website. The site’s newswire feeds are powered by a Publish2 Newsgroup, which currently includes 17 contributing journalists.

For this first round of articles, Jeffery said their collaborative editorial process took place within Google Docs and other Google apps.

Jeffery explained how the collaborative editorial process works so far:

“Some pieces got group signoff to assign. Others were produced by the various shops with the knowledge of other shops as to what they were planning. We imagine trying these and other configurations of collaboration going forward, including perhaps pods of reporters or shared user engagement tools.”

We’ll be interested to watch how that process develops with the growth of The Climate Desk collaborative and its audience.

After the two-week publishing cycle for the first part of the series, the site will remain intact and actively updated.

“We’ll use [Publish2] to tag what relevant content partners are each producing as we build to the next concerted period of intense collaboration,” Jeffery said in an e-mail.

Looking ahead, she expects intense “bursts of collaboration” to follow this initial round of reporting as the ongoing project grows.

Although the overall goal isn’t something new to the news industry, it’s a concept in need of a fresh rethinking: to produce valuable journalism that people want to read.

“We hope to improve climate coverage, to learn from each other and test drive various forms of collaboration. We don’t have any hard metrics for success, mostly because nothing like this has exactly been tried before. But: producing great journalism and finding an audience and funding for it would be the overall goal.” – Jeffery

So far the project has been funded by the Surdna Foundation and the Park Foundation, but they plan to raise more money.

We’ll be watching closely to see how the project develops. If you’re interested in doing the same, you can connect with The Climate Desk on Twitter or Facebook.

Lauren Rabaino is a Product Designer at Publish2.

To build your own collaborative newswire, get started with Publish2 today.

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