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The Examination’s approach to investigative partnerships
Intel from The Examination’s founder Ben Hallman
I had a call with Ben Hallman, founder & executive director of the health news nonprofit The Examination. He shared how The Examination is partnering with other news organizations to pursue investigative pieces, and the conversation left me even more optimistic about how publishers can partner with nonprofits like The Examination to expand their investigative impact (and brand equity) without breaking the bank.
The Examination launched this month with a number of investigations anchored in partnerships:
An investigation into China’s state cigarette monopoly, in partnership with USA Today, Der Spiegel, Paper Trail Media, and the Chinese-language organization Initium Media.
An investigation into how registered dietitians share industry-friendly messages, in partnership with The Washington Post.
An investigation into health risks of chemicals on the market, in partnership with The Guardian US.
The Examination’s partners will generally fall into two categories:
National & global outlets, who offer distribution to large & influential audiences, as well as investigative expertise.
Local outlets, who bring localized expertise and access.
In exchange, The Examination provides story leads, reporting bandwidth, and subject-matter expertise. Through a partnership, larger outlets can expand their coverage without additional costs, and local outlets can expand a scoop into a broader investigation.
Oftentimes, partnerships originate between two reporters. “A lot of the best stories happen because two reporters get to talking, and they have a shared idea,” Ben told me. “And then you have a reporter at each organization pushing the idea through each individual place at the same time.”
The Examination cements partnerships with a memorandum of understanding, which outlines expectations from each side. No money changes hands, Ben said, and ultimately a partnership is a trust exercise. “What's really helpful,” Ben told me, “is to have an interlocutor… who themselves has experience with partnering [and] can help marshal resources for you inside that newsroom.”
When it comes time to write & publish, Ben said, there are a number of different approaches, including:
Co-writing & publishing on each partner’s site
Co-reporting and then separately writing different versions for each site
Republishing the story on the partner site after it’s published on The Examination
The Examination writing a special version for the partner’s site, in addition to publishing its own version
Over the years, as the news industry has gotten squeezed, investigative collaborations have become increasingly appealing. “I think the first partnership I ever worked on was probably more than ten years ago,” Ben said. “At that time, we would go to major news publishers, and they didn't even know what we were talking about… and [now] the practice has become normalized… I think that's an amazing transformation.”
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