Choosing your project: 16 best practices to consider

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Toolkit

Armed with your survey results, the working group should look over these 16 projects in transparency, engagement, education and tools to generate experiment ideas. The best practices, curated by the News Co/Lab to highlight projects where evidence shows they have a positive impact, range from big investments to activities you can implement next week — but all are easy to read and emulate in your newsroom. Then, in consultation with outside community members, narrow down the list to agreed-on experiments.

We classified the following activities by effort levels, factoring in resources necessary like people, time and money. Here’s how we define the categories, which you’ll find beneath each project.

Quick lift: An enterprising reporter can launch this type of program quickly. Generally these won’t have additional costs and require less time than others, but will still work best when done regularly.

Concentrated effort: In addition to a project owner, expect to bring in additional resources (and possibly community members). These activities usually include consistent upkeep or interaction with your audience.

Sustained commitment: These activities generally require multiple team members and longer-term planning. You’ll likely bring in outside groups and may have to put dollars behind these projects.

As you browse through the examples, these questions can help you narrow down projects.

  • Why are you doing this?
  • How does this fill the gaps determined by your survey?
  • What partners should you work with?
  • What’s your budget?
  •  How many people should work on it?
  • Who will own the project?

If you want to work with young people

NewsBrands Ireland: Press Pass
Quick lift
A news literacy program called Press Pass teaches teenagers in Ireland about the role of newspapers. The five-month-long program prepares students to create their own journalism for a national contest.

Frankfurter Neue Presse: Project Young Newspaper
Sustained commitment
Students in Germany learn about journalism for months and then take over a professional newsroom for a day. The annual “takeover” attracts readers and recruits future journalists, and students’ interest continues to grow.

The Washington Post: How to Be a Journalist
Sustained commitment
The video series uses notable news stories to explain the reporting process, helping people — especially students — understand journalism techniques.

If you want to try a new tech tool

Hearken: Public-powered journalism
Concentrated effort
The participatory journalism tool allows the audience to ask questions and encourage audience engagement. The Kansas City Star used Hearken to drive its new program, What’s Your KC Q?

The Coral Project: Toxic Comments
Concentrated effort
According to The Coral Project, “Online commenting is broken.” Its tool, Talk, introduces a research-backed way to encourage more respectful and productive dialogue on the internet.

If you have a small team

Honolulu Civil Beat: Conversation & Coffee
Quick lift
To increase newsroom accountability and transparency, the Civil Beat team invites community members in person each month to offer feedback and ask questions over coffee. 

The Trust Project: Reporter bios
Quick lift
Reporter bios, photos and author pages humanize journalists and establish their expertise — and will help search engines and social media platforms surface bona fide journalism and raise its visibility.

If you want immediate impact

The Day: Ask Me Anything
Quick lift
The Connecticut paper invited questions and feedback from its community during a series of “Ask Me Anything” sessions on Facebook. Readers asked The Day staff about coverage decisions, comments policies and other editorial processes — and received detailed responses within minutes.

The Toronto Star: Trust Project
Concentrated effort
A weekly Toronto Star
feature story takes readers behind the scenes in the newsroom to explain how journalists do their jobs. The stories are part of the Star’s bigger initiative to make their work more transparent.

If engagement is your goal

Spaceship Media: Dialogue journalism
Sustained commitment
Spaceship Media brings together communities in conflict for deep conversations. Its technique: dialogue journalism, in which journalists encourage listening and empathy, and respond to any impasse in the conversation with reporting that provides a shared set of facts. (
Learn more about our work with Spaceship Media and The Fresno Bee here.)

De Correspondent: Contributions section
Concentrated effort
De Correspondent’s “contributions” section is like a comments section with guard rails and a how-to guide. Featured beneath all stories on the site, the contributions section explicitly invites readers to share their “experience and knowledge” — instead of their opinions.

If you want to incorporate video

Tegna: Verify
Concentrated effort
In this community-driven fact-checking initiative, local television viewers submit assertions they see on social media. Stations look into the claims and air short segments with verified facts.

Frontline: Extended interviews
Concentrated effort
Frontline producers wanted viewers to see the longer interviews that they had shaped into their series. The result: “The Putin Files,” 56 extended interviews with the story’s sources, including 33 video packages and 23 transcripts.

If transparency is your goal

The Enid News & Eagle: Mission statements
Quick lift
As part of the Trusting News project, the Enid paper tested a strategy to distance local journalists from the national outlets people are usually thinking of when they complain about “the media.” How? Emphasizing its mission and communicating its values. 

The Trust Project: Publishing standards
Concentrated effort
Journalists who publish their standards provide a wider context for how and why their news organization does its work. These include a mission statement, overall ethics policies as well as rules on doing corrections and using anonymous sources.

The Atlantic: Diverse sources
Quick lift
After realizing they were quoting mostly male scientists, two journalists at The Atlantic sought to fix it — and write about it along the way. One followed up to report how he increased representation of women as sources to 50 percent, more accurately reflecting the field.