Over the past year, UBC journalism students worked with students from the Concordia, Ryerson, and University of Regina journalism schools on an in-depth investigative series exploring rapidly growing oil industries in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
In an unprecedented reporting collaboration, the students worked with journalists at the Toronto Star, Global News and the National Observer, poring through hundreds of internal government and industry documents, analyzing data, and interviewing countless experts. Their series, The Price of Oil, was published this month in the Toronto Star and the National Observer.
In this Q&A, associate professor Peter Klein and recent Asper visiting professor Sandra Bartlett— both involved in the project at the UBC school of journalism— discuss the importance of collaborations between journalists at different news organizations in an increasingly challenging media landscape.
What are the biggest challenges facing newspapers in their efforts to carry out investigative projects? How do collaborations help overcome those challenges?
PK: Funding is often brought up as a key challenge, but I think it goes well beyond that. There’s constant pressure to produce content quickly, which often leaves reporters with little time to delve deeply into complex issues like this one. Collaborations like this can be a model for how disparate groups across the country can work together, looking at issues of national importance from different angles. I think there’s the potential for some ground-breaking reporting from this ongoing collaboration. And hopefully as we train and inspire students to take on investigative projects of this scope, they will take those skills into the workforce and develop projects of their own in the future.
SB: Collaboration is the key to producing powerful, impactful journalism. You get more brains in the room, more ideas, more people to help solve the problems and find the holes in the brick walls that inevitably appear in any investigative project.
How did this collaboration come about?
PK: Rob Cribb, a collaborator with the UBC Global Reporting Centre and fabulous investigative reporter at the Toronto Star, has been talking about a national journalism collaboration for several years. We have a globally focused collaboration at UBC, and Arizona State University has a U.S.-based national one called News21, but until now there hasn’t been anything that brought together journalism students at schools across Canada to work together on ambitious investigative reporting projects. Both Rob and the project lead, Patti Sonntag, had Michener fellowships, and they used their time and funding to get this national initiative off the ground.
Why is it important to have new approaches to journalism like this?
SB: Changes in the media landscape have shown that people want journalists to go behind the wall, find the facts that are hidden and bring them out in the open. In recent years, investigative journalism has flourished in the new media landscape. Investigative journalism has always been the expensive, demanding sibling in the newsroom. And it still is. Collaboration is one of the innovations that in recent years has kept investigative journalism healthy. Tapping into universities – both students and scholars – brings more brainpower to the table and it will add to investigative journalism’s strength.
PK: Journalism schools have a responsibility and an opportunity here. We’re seeing more and more excellent reporting coming out of universities, often integrating scholars who have substantive knowledge about issues in which reporters are interested. While training and offering mentorship to students, universities can also fill the growing void in high-level journalism throughout the country.