Tag Archives: help me investigate: networks

A style guide for collaborative journalism: what I’ve learned from the first weeks of Help Me Investigate: Networks

Collaborative journalism as relay race?

Collaborative journalism as relay race? Image by Phil Roeder


It’s a few weeks into the Help Me Investigate: Networks project and I’ve been learning a lot about how community management and investigative journalism can support each other.

Some of this is building on experiences on the original Help Me Investigate, but one thing in particular is emerging from this project. It’s about how you should write when your intention is to make it easy for others to get involved – a different approach to traditional newswriting, but not too different to good blogging practice.

It’s a style guide, of sorts. And so far I’ve identified 3 key qualities:

1. Write ‘news that I can use’

Pull out the practical aspects of what you’re writing about. Even if your post is just a link to an article elsewhere, pull out the most useful quote: the facts, the legalities, the implications. If you’re writing about an investigation, tell us about the process; link to the full data; translate relevant documents and reports.

Make it useful, because users can build on that to help you in return.

2. End your posts with a baton that others can pick up

If it’s a work-in-progress, outline what questions you need to answer next. This will also help keep your own planning on track. If you’re linking to something else, highlight the gaps that need filling – what information is missing?

Already on Help Me Investigate Welfare, for example, one investigation has moved from one user’s initial blog post, to my setting up the site, to a third person supplying extra contextual data, and a fourth contributor mapping the results. That wouldn’t have been possible if the first person had waited and waited until they felt that they were ‘finished’. Online, it’s the unfinished article that is easier to help with.

3. Create momentum by posting small things, often, as you move towards your target

Rather than waiting for things to be perfect, publish as you go. This provides multiple opportunities for others to discover your work, and multiple ways in which to enter it (one post may talk about documents that someone has expertise on; another may profile a particular individual, and so on).

It also makes it clear that the investigation is going somewhere, and the user may be more inclined to help it get there as a result.

Interestingly, one of the journalists on National Public Radio in the US talks of a similar approach:

“[Rina Palta] became a leading reporter on the story, not by writing one big investigative piece but by filing frequent, incremental updates, [NPR’s Matt] Thompson said. (Even Stephen Colbert cited her work.) Thompson calls it the quest: The body of work makes a bigger impact than any single post.”

So there are editorial benefits too.

This style guide works in tandem with a wider content strategy which I’ll blog about at some point.

Meanwhile, what other points would you add to a style guide for collaborative journalism? (Better still, why not join the project and find out for yourself)

Announcing Help Me Investigate: Networks

Help Me Investigate

Today I’m announcing the launch of a new Help Me Investigate project.

Help Me Investigate: Networks aims to make it easier to investigate public interest questions by providing resources and support, links to investigations across the web, and most importantly: a community.

The project is launching with a focus on 3 areas: Education, Health and Welfare. We’ll be providing tips from practising journalists, updates on ongoing investigations, and useful documents and data.

The existing site blog will continue to provide general advice on investigative journalism.

A launchpad and gathering place

This is an attempt to build a scalable network of journalists, developers and active citizens who are passionate about public interest issues.

Although we’re starting with a focus on three of those, if anyone is willing to manage sites covering other areas, including geographical ones, we may be able to host those too (and some are already being planned).

Unlike the original Help Me Investigate, most investigations will not take place on the HMI:Network sites – instead taking place on other blogs, or through private correspondence -although the tips, documents and data gathered in those investigations will be shared on the site.

How people are contributing

Different people are contributing to the project in different ways.

  • Journalists and bloggers who need help with getting answers to a question (extra eyes on data, legwork), or finding the questions themselves, are using the network as a place to connect.
  • Journalism tutors are tapping into the network for class projects.
  • Journalism students and graduates who want to explore a public interest issue are using it as a place to find others, get help, and publish what they find.

If you want to join in or find out more, please email me on paul@helpmeinvestigate.com or message me on Twitter @paulbradshaw. Or just tell someone about the project. They might find it useful.

Meanwhile, in the following days I’ll be publishing a series of posts about what I learned from the first version of Help Me Investigate, and how that has informed this new project.