Friday, June 22, 2018

Case study shows how Oregon journalists are collaborating to dig through data about high school sports concussion

 Here's a case study for journalists about how some Oregon newspapers collaborated to dig through a "mountain" of data on concussions to high school athletes to report on the issue. Though Oregon schools have been legally required to document head injuries to athletes for more than a decade, no one had ever gathered or analyzed that data, Tara George reports for Montclair State University's Center for Cooperative Media.

But John Schrag, the executive editor of Pamplin Media Group, a chain of 24 community newspapers in Oregon that includes the Portland Tribune, wanted to dig into it. But looking through records from the 238 high schools in the state was a lot of work, and the reporters at his papers were already stretched thin.

So Schrag decided to collaborate, and apprached Lee van der Voo of InvestigateWest, an investigative journalism nonprofit that partners with commercial news organizations on projects. He also brought in Emily Harris, an award-winning broadcast journalist from Reveal, part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. They didn't stop there, pulling in the University of Oregon's Agora Journalism Center to help them get community members involved in the project and New York-based Solutions Journalism Network to train reporters to collect and analyze the data, George reports. And finally, they reached out to every high school journalism advisor in the state to see if students wanted to participate.

All told, they've received more than $61,000 in grants but what Schrag estimates is more than $100,000 worth of labor. "We are a medium-sized media company," Schrag told George. "That amount is the difference between a project getting done and not getting done."

They began requesting records in October 2017 and got about half of them by early spring 2018. By then the team had already uncovered some serious problems and human interest stories, and published the first installment of multimedia stories for "Rattled: Oregon's Concussion Discussion" in April.

Though getting hold of the records has been frustrating, and the team has had to scale back part of the project, the process has been rewarding for both rookies and veterans, Schrag said. Van der Voo outlined some tips for doing a project of such a daunting scale: begin it with a clear plan and precisely outlined expectations to keep people from feeling overwhelmed. Establish a clear chain of command, and keep clear records of conversations to make sure of quality control for sources.

Schrag said this collaborative model could be useful for other smaller media outlets."That’s the most hopeful sign I see," he told George. "Not to replace the small community newspaper but to help them them survive by leveraging their resources."

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