Great things happen when we collaborate to attack complex problems or work toward a common goal.
Last week, I wrote about how Kirkwood Community College’s partnerships with area high schools and businesses have led to innovative regional centers where students of all ages can jump-start technical training or start working on advanced degrees.
We’ve seen it, too, in the fruitful partnerships between area social and human services providers helping folks tackle the thorny and intertwined challenges of poverty.
I recently talked to former Gazette Editor (and my old boss) Lyle Muller about yet another collaborative effort that’s proving the old cliche of the sum being greater than its parts.
Lyle’s now executive director-editor of the non-profit Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, IowaWatch.org, where he’s been training young investigative journalists while helping newsrooms pool resources to illuminate and give context to important statewide issues.
The group’s most recent project — “Iowa’s Opportunity Gap” — an investigative report launched just a few weeks ago, involved reporters at five different Iowa newspapers, including The Gazette.
IowaWatch reporters sifted through 50 years of U.S. Census data they’d received from yet another non-profit investigative journalism outfit (this one in Colorado) to identify trends in employment, housing, education and crime. They discovered that, from 1960-2010, black and Latino Iowans actually lost ground in those important markers of stability and success.
To get the human side of the story, IowaWatch reached out to Iowa newspapers, offering the data and analysis and asking for their help.
Five papers took them up on their offer, conducting local interviews and taking photographs that showed how those numbers are bearing out at the ground-level of their communities.
Combined, they present a composite picture of what those census numbers mean.
The result: A deep and comprehensive five-part series that shows the bigger picture and includes a local angle, all for a relatively small investment by each.
“Each newspaper is able to write a local story, but with perspective, and IowaWatch is able to write a statewide story,” Lyle told me. “You’re actually using more resources. It’s just that you’re spreading them around.”
And readers everywhere get a more complete picture than they otherwise would — understanding how issues in their communities are linked and mirrored across the state.
“You don’t just slough it off on Cedar Rapids or Burlington, it becomes your problem,” he said.
It might seem counter-intuitive, asking competing news outlets to cooperate, but it’s yielding amazing results.
Know of another good local example of this idea in action? I’d love to hear about it.
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