SRCCON 2018 • June 28 & 29 in MPLS Support OpenNews!

Session Transcript:
Off the shelf and into the open: forging academia-journalism partnerships to bring findings out of journals and original research into reporting

Session facilitator(s): Laura Laderman, Sinduja Rangarajan

Day & Time: Thursday, 2:30-3:45pm

Room: Ski-U-Mah

Laura: Hello, everybody.

Thank you so much for coming. We are going to start. Before we tell you who we are you all introduce yourself to each other. Everybody find a partner and I would like you to tell your partner your name, what pronouns you prefer to use, and what you are an expert in.

Sinduja: This is about experts.

Laura: This is about collaborations between people with different sets of skills, different expertise. My name is Laura and I prefer she pronouns and I am an expert at getting all of the peanut butter out of the peanut butter jar. It is not done until all the peanut butter is out. Make sense? talk to a partner.

[Partner talking]

Laura: if you have already told your partner what your expertise is, finish your conversation quickly. It is okay. We are going to do it again. We are going to switch again so you know somebody else.

Things we are saying is what our name is, pronouns we prefer and what are we an expert in.

Sinduja, what are you an expert in?

Sinduja: I am an expert in making my 18-month-old baby laugh.

Laura: That is a good one.

Talk to someone you didn’t just talk to and tell them what you are an expert in.

Finish up your conversation. And done! I want to know what you are all experts in. Sounds like we will have some great baked goods and fixed tiles. We are all going to share all of our expertise and build something crazy. Thank you so much for coming to this session.

We are going to start off with just a few agreements for this space. You all may add any that you would like to add but the two we have come up with are make space, take space which means if you notice you are speaking a lot, maybe stop talking for a little bit, listen. If you notice you have not been speaking very much step up, think what you can maybe say and add yourself into the conversation. Try allow everybody space to talk. Along with that is speak from your experience. We are going to be talking about our experiences with different types of collaborations. You might have had that type of experience, you might not have had an experience, you might have had one that is contradictory to someone else’s. Speak your truth but speak to your experience specifically.

We will start by introducing ourselves and why we are here.

Sinduja: I am Sinduja and I am a journalist. I have spent a lot of time thinking about these academic collaborations, collaborations with experts, Journalist and kind of realized both the groups have so much in common and can really produce very powerful work. Just very recentrecently, I mean I have done some conferences bringing academics and reporters together, and did this recent, sort of, piece on getting data about Silicon Valley companies because they would not release it themselves. There was lots of illegal and roadblocks and couldn’t get it through an FOYA request. In the process, we realized how these collaborations can be meaningful, deep and can bring a lot to both sides. Very passionate about this topic and have let Laura who is also very passionate about the topic.

Laura: We both pitched sessions independently and they put us together because we are both sides of the equation.

Sinduja is a journalist and I am a data analyst at a non-profit that does social science research. We do stuff like calculate life expectancy for every state in the country or calculate some other metrics. A bunch of data mushing together and publishing. We make some tools and do a lot of data bids but we are not a Journalist organization. We partner with Journalist or Journalist cover our research, but sometimes I found this frustrating. We have all this data. It is so interesting. I made some really cool visualization and a small amount of people see it and it doesn’t get into the discourse of the people that might be interested in it. There is data sitting in tables and there could be cool visualizations. I am interest in it from the perspective of both of these fields are about access to information. Our whole goal is for people to have information to be able to make decisions, act on it, or whatever. It is similar, as Sinduja said, what a researcher, academic or Journalist is trying to do. We have skill sets that really compliment each other. I am interested in thinking what could the future be?

We are going to do some of that in this session. Just to get a sense of everybody here in this room, can you raise your hand if you would say that you are now or have ever been a Journalist? Great. We got a lot of Journalist. How about an academic or someone part of academia?

Sinduja: Cool. That is a lot.

Laura: How about somebody who is a researcher in another capacity? Not academia but is research? What else?

Anything else I am missing that is part of this conversation?

Government.

Laura: Who has been involved in government?

Sinduja: Cool.

Laura: What else? I think another thing that is kind of out there in this area is civic tech is sort of related. All these different areas that collaborate. Cool.

Sinduja: We want to talk a little bit about what do these collaborations mean and we want to talk about what is an academic Journalist collaborator? I want to hear from you guys. Raise your hands if you have thoughts on what these collaborations mean. Yes?

I think oftentimes collaborations between individuals and an institution and at a journalism outlet. For us, it takes the place of like a data sharing agreement in some ways or we provide a lot of FOIA labor and they help us with analysis.

Sinduja: Can you tell me what you do? You are a Journalist?

I work in Chicago on investigating police misconduct so there is a lot of academic researchers and a lot of Journalists on the subjects.

Pulled together FOIA work is more comprehensive.

Sinduja: Anything else about what these collaborations could look like?

I am collaborating with a climate scientist. She does research and publishes, but I am a Journalist and we are trying to find ways to use the research that she has done and write around climate issues in a compelling way which has not been, you know, for practice for public consumption.

I collaborated among the data on coal ash water monitoring. It had nothing to do with their feelings. They helped with the data gathering just like translating PDFs to spreadsheets and talking about how to best analyze that to show over-time-trends and things like that.

Recently collaborated with a data research group and published a bunch of different, like, votor data. Just like historical voter data. We also included like a deep dive on census data by congressional district to help people understand the types of messages they are seeing and why. You can see this congressional district has the highest concentration of millennials or various factors of that nature.

I was working with a research project around membership and media. One of the partnerships – we have done a couple partnerships with publications where researchers from the project work with them to do user research around constructive membership programs and stuff like that. I felt like that was effective and published in a non-going way and what learnings were coming out of the industry partners.

Sinduja: Seems like we all have some experience doing some of these collaborations. What I really want to move on is taking a minute or two to reflect, maybe within the groups you are in, with the experiences you have had, and really – should I stick it here?

Laura: Sure.

Sinduja: Talk about or think about what motivated these collaborations and some of these questions. What did each party bring to the table? What were they able to accomplish? What were the challenges or some of the things that stood out? Just sort of – and then we will come back and discuss as a group what our learnings were. you want to start discussing keeping these comments in mind.

Laura: If you haven’t partaken in a collaboration yourself, think about some you have seen, right?

right? Think about ones you think are really cool in the news.

Sinduja: Just to bring the group back together. I have cool examples of collaborations I can quickly walk through in addition to the examples we have heard and give you more to synthesize on.

Chicago Tribune did this collaboration with researchers at Columbia about potential drug combinations. The reporter, you know, there is a researcher at Columbia who was already looking at these drug combinations, wasn’t getting anywhere with the research, and the Journalist was like what if we looked at some of these drug combinations that were potentially lethal and that spurred research. Both parties wrote about it. They were able to identify drug combinations which would lead to a cardiac arrest and none of those things had been ever studied before.

That was one example.

There is an example of the Stanford Policing Project similar to the FOIA gathering I heard in the room. Students from the communication school gathered FOIA’s and traffic stop data and the scientists in the computer science department brought the data together, cleaned it, analyzed it, and found disparities in how police officers stop by race and then published a paper, put out that data for everybody to use. 50 million records or something.

These are some of the examples.

Do you want to talk about more?

Laura: I think that is enough. I think people have ideas in their head. Talk amongst your group of the examples you know of. Try to synthesize out the reasons/definitions. Make sense?

You have five minutes or so to talk.

[Group talk]

Sinduja: Two minutes more.

Sinduja: Let’s bring you all back together for a second. I hope you all had fruitful discussions and conversations around this. Hold on to your thoughts because we have an activity planned to synthesize all you spoke about.

Laura: We will try to disstill it and see what the key themes are. Hold on to your thoughts.

I want everybody to make a partner. Are we in even number? Great. Turn to your partnerpartner. Once you have your partner, decide one of you is going to do this activity thinking about the role of a journalist and one of you is going to do this activity thinking about the role of a researcher. You will take Post-it notes and write any thoughts, not too many, just a handful, of what are the strengths of your role so what are the strengths of a journalist and what are the weaknesses of your role.

Strength of a researcher/weakness of a researcher. Just like stack them up on your table. Just write them individually. This is a – the first part is a by-yourself-activity. Do it by yourself.

Laura: It doesn’t matter if you are that person or not. Just pick. Anything.

Spend like two minutes to think of strengths and weaknesses. One idea per Post-it. Weaknesses of the role you are embodying.

[Individual and group exercises]

Laura: Finish writing your last one. I am seeing a handful of Post-its from everyone. Put your pen down when you are done so I know you are done. Thank you. Just wait for everybody to finish one second. Great.

Now I want you to go back with your partner and take a look at what everybody wrote and discuss for a few minutes what you each wrote.

[Partner activity]

Laura: All right. I am going to pause you there for a minute.

Finish your words.

     So you will have plenty of time to talk to your partner in the future. In the very immediate future. What we are going to do is we are going to organize these Post-its up on the wall under these four categorys. Strengths of journalist, weakness of journalist and strengths and weakness of researchers. If yours is similar to something up there, put it next to it and we can move it around. We are going to self-assemble a web of ideas. Sound good? Any questions?  

Question right here.

Laura: As you are going, read the ideas others were coming up with. After you posted yours, you can go for a walk and take a look at the other ones. Half is collecting them in one place and half is seeing what others wrote. Take a look at what others said, what ideas were out there that were similar and different to yours.

Laura: No rush if you are still putting yours up but listen with one ear. When you get back to your table work with your partner to produce one set of Post-its that is benefits to collaboration so thinking about both the strengths and weaknesses of each of the roles you were thinking about, what the benefits to collaboration are and what the barriers of collaboration are. Work together with your partner to create one set for benefits and one set for the barriers. Each idea per Post-it note. Any other questions?

whenever you feel ready, you can start to put up those Post-it notes.

Laura: And rather than coming back to your table, take a few minutes to walk around and assess what came up in all of those conversations. Once you put yours up, go around and take a walking tour of the room. If while you are doing that you are so inspired to write anything on this one that is burning questions that you want to park somewhere put them over there.

Sinduja: I also want to say one more thing. Some of these things are obvious and things that I think we all kind of know and some are not obvious. I want you to pay attention to the obvious and non-obvious ones as well.

Sinduja: Let’s regroup and talk here as a group and listen to each other in terms of what did we learn, what was the most exciting.

Let’s start with what were some of the most obvious things we saw as strengths and weaknesses of journalists? Let’s start there. Anybody want to go? I saw a lot of deadline-driven things as both a strength and weakness which I thought was very interesting and true. Anybody want to go? Yeah?

Do you care strengths or weaknesses or both?

Sinduja: Let’s start with strengths.

One of the strengths of the journalist role was that I saw a large clump was access to a wide or broad audience.

Sinduja: Absolutely. And what else?

Kind of along these lines making things generally accessible.

Sinduja: Storytelling, I saw a lot of that. Storytelling and access to a large audience. Some of these things I saw on both sides. Like deadline-driven things and then timing-related things but also something like rigor, you know? The communities grapples with being fast and sometimes compromiing accuracy but on the other hand lots of journalist pride themselves on being democrat, fair and doing good journalism. That is supposed to be rigorous. I saw that. Anything else before we move on to researchers?

I think this was on the weakness side but just that we can struggle with really capturing the wants of research and how complicated it can be and we tend toward oversimple simplification of over that changes over time.

Sinduja: Should we move on to researchers now? Strengths and weaknesses of researchers and what did we learn there. I can start with saying – yeah, go ahead.

This one I think is fairly obvious but there is a huge clump of them which is researchers are subject matter experts and really know one thing extremely deeply.

Sinduja: Yeah.

A flip side which I had not considered is I think it is difficult to go deep and say this is because of a law passed 20 years ago or a social change that happened 50 yours ago and a researcher has that benefit but a researcher can be narrowly focused on this one tiny piece of a thing.

Sinduja: That is a really key point. Some of the best collaborations that harness the strengths of journalist is that journalists talk to different stakeholders. It is part of your job to talk to the people we don’t like and the people we like and hear from different points of view. Sometimes those different perspectives, and knowing different people around your beat, and stakeholders might help research or inform researchers. Going back to the strengths and weaknesses of researchers, I saw a little bit – does anyone want to go?

Subject matter expertise, depth, time and knowledge.

Time was another thing on both sides. The time to dig into a thing but also times like, come on.

Sinduja: Yeah, five years, 10 years. Yes?

One that I had not thought about on the research side is money. Obviously it varies by field but some researchers have a lot of money going towards just studying this one thing whereas like in a newsroom you are not going to get paid more for doing this collaboration necessarily.

Sinduja: Okay. Money is definitely an important factor.

Anything else in terms of weaknesses or whatever?

I was going to say strengths but researchers go through peer review and that is really huge.

In journalism, you might have an editor that looks over the story or project you did but they don’t know – depends on what news organization you work at but a lot of them don’t have someone independently run your analysis and try to poke holes in it; right? That is like the burden son you to do that and if you mess it up, you run a correction or bury yourself or whatever.

And that is something we struggle with too. Before we publish we don’t know. The black box. We get called out on it as journalist because it is like you didn’t look at this when you did this regression. Cool.

What are the weaknesses when working with researchers?

We brought up time. Anything else that comes to mind?

The language barrier is a big one.

Sinduja: That is very interesting. Tell me more.

I mean researchers are so in depth to their one topic often their language is inaccessible.

It might be accessible to use the journalist but I work in radio mostly and I know someone listening in their car isn’t going to quickly Google a term that is researcher has used. It has to be something everyone gets off the bat. The nature of research is if you understand it immediately, you probably didn’t need the research so you have to translate it in some way.

Sinduja: I am seeing some of the strengths are the weaknessesweaknesses. When research is so complicated you can partner with a journalist who can make that accessible or tell that story in a beautiful way but then I also heard journalist mess up or oversimplify things. Yes?

I think there is a great example in what you, blue jacket, is speaking about. I can’t see your name tag. But it has to do with the pro-publica research on bias. I think a lot of the conflict that is ongoing about this has to do with the definition of the word bias.

Computer scientists or mathematicians see it as a specifically defined term and I think a lot of people who read it and including some of the journalist see it as a total synonym for unfairness. There is a lot of space in there. I think it is continuing. I don’t know if anyone who participated in that was there. I just witnessed it.

Sinduja: To that point, when academics, because of the rigor they bring to the research and the peer review process, and just the way it is, sometimes the creaks with academics is they are very specific about what they want to say even though the truth is much more obvious and out there. And journalist are just willing to say that. They are willing to say something like this happened. Cops are pulling over people from minority communities from a faster rate where academics would fine-tune that and say there is a probably likelihood or whatever. Just be really accurate about that.

There is definitely nuances to how the presentation happens.

Should we move on to benefits and barriers? Do you want to do that?

Laura: Yeah, sure. Try and corral us into the next activity, too.

What are the top three takeaways you saw on the board for benefits of collaboration?

Yeah? One.

Connecting expertise to access or the access to information.

Laura: For sure. What else?

Yeah.

I thought that the developing a source relationship was something I had not considered.

The benefits of having a long career spanning relationship coming outof a single collaboration.

Laura: Anything else?

Someone had up there developing national datasets.

Developing larger datasets than you could do alone.

Sinduja: And I was also thinking of converting Anecdotes into research. As journalist we report on things and we know something is happening and we have an antidote and usually rely on that to tell the stories but what if that can be quantified for hundreds or thousands or millions of people?

How can that work as a collaboration?

Laura: And how about the biggest barriers you saw? Or were worth thinking about? What is ones that were coming up?

Time. The different timelines.

Laura: Okay. Timelines. What else?

I think there is sometimes unwillingness to share data. If you spent six years collecting a dataset and a journalist is like hand it over they are going to be like no.

Laura: Credit, yeah. Credit and ownership are huge ones for my organization. We are very weary of giving anything to journalist or even working with journalist because they have had bad experiences where they didn’t get credited, where stuff didn’t show the full depth.

And what else? One more maybe?

Maybe just like different objectives overall which kind of relates to the timing thing. It is just different goals.

Laura: For sure different goals.

There are things that could come out of it that are great. There are things that are difficult to overcome. What does this look like? How would we do a collaboration? We are very quickly going to do an activity.

Would you like to explain it?

Sinduja: Yes. Should we switch things up and have people meet more people.

Laura: Yeah, go find a different seat. You have 30 seconds.

Laura: We are going to map out an imaginary collaboration.

If you are sitting toward the doors side of the table you will wear the hat of a journalist. If you are sitting on a towards the wall side of the door you will wear the hat as researcher. You are all tasked with doing a collaboration on fake news. You have going to think about how you would approach this collaboration. Just write out some bullet points on one of these pieces of paper you have here. Not the little Post-it notes but the bigger ones. Write about the steps of what this collaboration might be, you might want to write your goal, and things to be careful of or think through as you are doing this. Yes, question?

Can I just ask one thing.

Does everybody know how to find an academic to collaborate with?

Laura: That is a great question. Write that on there.

How would you do that?

We are going told you have the academics and you are the journalist but are you to begin with you have to find that so how do you do that?

Laura: Write it down on your paper and we will write it down here too. We are just going tell you the role because it will take you minutes to decide who is what role. This is really just to get ideas out there. Go!

[Group activity]

Laura: Finish up your last thought. I know we are cutting you off quickly but hopefully it was a good taste of thinking.

Sinduja: Almost time to wrap up. I am so – we are so thankful this was such a productive session. I want to go around the groups asking for what you learned and what were your takeaways and what did you decide and what did your collaboration look like. Just a quick sentence of what happened.

Do you want to go first? Anyone in the group?

We didn’t really x up with a plan for how to tell. But we had a great conversation. We ended up diving in an a lot of the whole basic questions that come at the start of this working relationship starting with what is the goal, what is the timeframe and we talked about those can differ wildly depending on what the needs of each party are. And a big question was what is the data point we are talking about and that is an important question for the journalist to define going into it and I think for the researcher to help answer at the same time. Finally, the question of incentives especially based on who is approaching who. Journalist approaching researcher what incentives does the researcher have to work with me and how much do I have convince them and vice versa a researcher with a good set of data.

Sinduja: What was the extent for the researcher?

I guess for the journalist it is like hey, we can get your research out to more people.

Ideally this can get you more funding because you spent all this time working on the research and now it has been written about you can use that as evidence to go more that way.

Then the researcher pitching the journalist that was a little bit harder because I was mentioning how I get cold e-mails all the time about I got this cool dataset. I don’t know what the e-mail would have to be for me to drop everything I am doing.

It would be difference if it was a phone call but I rarely get phone calls. It is just a random e-mail.

And researchers, on that note, need to think about what journalist they are reporting. I am a daily news reporter and if they have something that is like you can file on this by tonight.

Done. If you are targeting someone and saying this might take a couple weeks then it is not happening.

Sinduja: Moving on to the next.

We also didn’t come up with a plan but we basically outlined the questions we would want to ask. I think we all wanted to establish like definitions of fake news and like what our individual timeline would be, what kind of data they have if they made that data available, what the history of research is on their end – like what has come before the research they have done. Do you guys want to chime in?

We wanted to know whether you know what their history was in terms of covering issues like how they would cover it and whom else they were going to interview, whether our academic rivals were going to get the same airing. We, of course, wanted to know if we could see the stories before they are published because, you know, why not try.

Questions on the timeline as long as whatever is sort of available whether that would be open for public comment in anyway.

Sinduja: Interesting.

Yeah, like would we be savaged by online trolls? Would we be able to write ourselves?

Sinduja: Very interesting things. Anything else from this group before we move on?

We had some shady funding practices going on here. I think the journalist want to know why there was de-funding.

Sinduja: Yes, the group behind them.

We also did not come up with a plan. We mostly were talking about how to find each other before – like you assigned roles but that is not how the real world is so Kathy was telling us some resources including Profnet and –

Journalistresource.org which is a project of the Kennedy school and carnegie foundation.

They do summaries of the most recent news and one of the topics is the affects on children being separated by their parents.

Journalistresource.org. It is free. If you have a local university or college they have a public information office and a lot of times they will have a database experts at such-and-such and the people on campus who agree to be in there are people who are willing to talk to journalist. You just go and find the database for that local institution and you have a local source that has already agreed that they would be happy to speak with you.

Sinduja: Just adding to that source of the week, NPR’s source of the week has been helpful.

The national bureau for economic research. And sSRN also.

And then you know I am an academic so I was thinking about it from the other direction and not wanting to do what Erin is talking about where I cold e-mail someone and I said hey.

So we were talking about how to build that relationship and maybe it is meeting up with someone and talking before you are like now let’s have this massive collaboration.

Sinduja: That is a really good point. Anything else? Yes?

Laura: Anything that hasn’t been said?

We got meta. It started with like how do we figure out a rubric for what is bias and then we got to how do we vet our rubric for vetting whether or not something is bias and yeah, it went from there.

Laura: Great. So, we have this dream that we are going to create this resource on GitHub where we can all share our resources about collaboration and our experiences and examples. Sinduja made this repot which doesn’t have anything there but we have going to type up the things you put on the Post-its and synthesize it here and you all are welcome to add to it and we can have a collaborative resource on collaboration.

Sinduja: That is the idea and why we asked for your e-mail.

Laura: We will announce when it has stuff on it and you can get started.

Sinduja: Just let us know if there is something you have said here that you do not want to be made public or be in the handbook. We are happy to change any of that. Thank you so much for coming. Come talk to us more. They told us they are doing a gathering in the main area here. So everybody should go to the main area.

An impromptu thing in the main area. I don’t think it is starting yet.