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ProPublica Launches “Collaborate” Tool to Help Newsrooms Tackle Large Data Projects Together

ProPublica is announcing the beta launch of Collaborate, an open-source tool that helps reporters and newsrooms work together on data journalism projects. The tool will debut this week at the Online News Association conference in New Orleans.

As large datasets become more available, they can be difficult for newsrooms to mine efficiently. From troves of data from the federal government to crowdsourced information regularly fielded by social media teams, massive datasets often contain more story leads than one reporter can meaningfully pursue. ProPublica’s Collaborate allows multiple reporters — from one or many newsrooms — to work together.

An open-source software project, Collaborate lets journalists work together to review, verify and report on data that they have collected by uploading spreadsheets or linking to Google Sheets, Google Forms or Screendoor. Once data is added to Collaborate, users can assign data points to individuals or newsrooms; track progress and keep notes around each data point; sort, filter and export the data; and automatically redact sensitive information.

Funded by a Google News Initiative grant, the software is designed to be used by newsrooms of any size, even if they have limited technological resources. Collaborate can be launched and customized without the help of a developer; or users can find the code on Github and tailor it to their needs.

“At ProPublica, we understand that in working with other newsrooms, we can do more powerful journalism, reach wider audiences and have more impact,” said Rachel Glickhouse, partner manager for ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project. “Collaborate makes it easier for more reporters to do collaborative data journalism, whether it involves hundreds of partners or just one or two.”

ProPublica will be providing live demonstrations of the software at the Online News Association conference on Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the fifth floor of the Sheraton New Orleans. This fall, ProPublica will provide virtual trainings on how to use Collaborate and launch crowd-powered projects around shared datasets. The tool is the latest effort this year to help more newsrooms work together; in August, ProPublica published a guide to data collaborations, which shares best practices learned through working in this arena.

Collaborate is an expansion of software built by ProPublica to power two large-scale data collaborations that the nonprofit newsroom has led in recent years. Electionland, a project that monitored voting problems in real time during the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections, brought together more than 1,000 journalists and students across the country. The initiative has been recognized with an Online Journalism Award and a Data Journalism Award for News Data App of the Year, among other honors. Documenting Hate, launched in 2017 after a surge in reported hate incidents along with inadequate data collection on hate crimes, has collected more than 5,000 reports in a database used by more than 170 newsrooms. The project was a finalist for a National Magazine Award and a Scripps Howard Award.

Learn more about Collaborate at ProPublica’s Nerd Blog.

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