June 18, 2021
Lois Henry’s one-person newsroom, SJV Water, explains the complexities of water to the residents of California’s San Joaquin Valley. As CEO and Editor, Henry wasn’t sure how she’d be able to tackle a huge investigation into water transfers on her own.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to.
In May, Henry’s reporting revealing that a farming town in California has been sinking due to excessive pumping of underground water by agricultural companies was published by SJV Water, The Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism and The New York Times.
“They’re the premier newsroom in this country,” Henry said of the Times. “To get your name, your byline, your story into the premier newspaper in this country is an achievement.”
The article was the final story in the “Tapped Out: Power, justice and water in the West” series, a collaboration led by INN Amplify Collaborations Editor Sharon McGowan. The story was written with funding from the Water Desk, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Ensia.
The story was the result of months of hard work and delicate negotiations between Henry and teams at CCIJ and the Times. Their partnership demonstrates the power of editorial collaborations to increase the reach of reporting by sharing resources.
Playing to their strengths
“I’m from the valley, and I’ve seen large publications come into the valley and they report on us like we’re some sort of zoo oddity,” Henry said.
Instead, this partnership allowed each outlet to provide its unique expertise. CCIJ did the initial editing and worked to create a process giving equal weight and priority to the data, visual and investigative pieces of the story, said Founder and Executive Director Jeff Kelly Lowenstein. Almost every member of CCIJ’s nine-person core team was involved in the organizations’ deepest look at water issues in the U.S.
For the Times, partnering allowed the paper to illuminate a topic that can be hard to understand.
“I don’t think I ever would have thought of this story idea. It just wasn’t on my radar,” said New York Times Los Angeles Bureau Chief and Editor Manny Fernandez, who was the story’s main editor for the paper.
“That was the value that Lois brought. Lois knows the water world of central California, she is an authority on that subject and has studied it, written a ton about it. You could argue few other people in central California know more about the politics of water than her.”
“The story was a success,” for the Times, Fernandez said, with reader comments and social media activity indicating that it caught readers’ attention.
“I think it connected with California readers, definitely,” he said. “There was a lot of talk about, ‘Hey, did you see this story?’”
The project participants shared some advice for other newsrooms looking to team up on reporting work:
“I can’t say enough about Sharon and her leadership, her guidance and support and encouragement and challenge throughout the process,” Kelly Lowenstein said. “I think everybody appreciated how well she ran the meetings, she brought everybody together, she kept us on task and got our project out in the world.”
Both CCIJ and Henry intend to include the collaboration in their future grant applications, and expect it will help make their case for supporting this work.
All three newsrooms said they would participate in another partnership, should the opportunity arise.
“Quite honestly, it was an affirmation of the caliber of the work that folks on our side are doing. I felt very comfortable with how the work that our team produced held up,” Kelly Lowenstein said. “I’m proud of it, and it belonged.”
If you’d like to propose a collaboration with INN members, or if you’re a funder interested in how you can support INN collaborations, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.Back to top