Collaboration
Credit: Image by Thinkstock
Over the last few years, journalism co-operatives have sprung up around the world with the aim of creating a sustainable model for journalists to report on stories which may not be covered by mainstream media.

Now an international collective of award-winning journalists are applying the co-operative model to longform, under the name of Deca.

"The idea really was about doing independent journalism and writing the stories that we care passionately about, that we think are very important, that need to be covered," explained Sonia Faleiro, one of Deca's eight writers, "which we think are not getting coverage in any of the right places. But also telling stories at the highest level."

Faleiro believes many editors have become "really cautious about commissioning longform", with freelancers sometimes waiting up to six months for their pitch to reach the right person at a suitable magazine or newspaper.

In addition, as many media outlets struggle with tighter resources, editors are commissioning less work from freelancers, she said, preferring instead to use their own staff writers.

"The era when one could expect to write 6,000, 10,000 or 12,000 words is slowly passing us by," Faleiro said, "and a lot of places that [Deca writers] have freelanced for have really maxed out at about 3,000 words.

It's possible for us to pursue the kind of work that we want without having to jump through hoopsSonia Faleiro, Deca
"With a group like this working very closely together, making quick decisions, it's possible for us to pursue the kind of work that we want without having to jump through hoops."

Deca launched in July following a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign which raised more than $32,500 (almost £19,500) – over twice the amount the co-operative proposed as a fundraising goal.

The team will publish one longform piece a month, available online, as a Kindle Single, or through its iOS app for a subscription of $15 (£8.99) a year.

The first story, written by Mara Hvistendahl, investigates the events surrounding the murder of Canadian model Diana O'Brien in Shanghai in 2008, and was a number one bestseller on Amazon's Kindle Singles chart.

The second, Homelands by Stephan Faris, shines a spotlight on immigration policy across parts of Italy, Liberia, South Africa, and the US.

Like the stories they cover, the journalists behind Deca are an international bunch. Faleiro splits her time between London and India, Hvistendahl lives in Shanghai, while Faris is based in Rome.

Between them, the team have an impressive resume spanning The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Guardian, Harper's, National Geographic and many more.

They have developed a collaborative approach towards writing, editing and the other responsibilities that come with building a start-up from scratch – despite the fact that most of the team have never met in person.

The collaborative process

Deca works together using a combination of Gmail, Google Docs, Skype, as well as an editing app called Quip, which allows members to work together in real-time, Faleiro explained.

Writers produce a pitch, which is then circulated to the rest of the group. To go ahead, a pitch must be accepted by all members.

The research and writing is done solely by the writer who proposed the initial pitch. That writer is also assigned an editor, who will do a "big edit" and a "line by line" edit of the final piece, said Faleiro. 

The finished piece is then circulated to the rest of the team, who each have a certain time in which to read it and offer their suggestions for improvement or clarification.

The main editor acts as a "gatekeeper", deciding which suggestions should be passed to the original writer, to ensure that they are not swamped by too many conflicting opinions.

Following a final re-draft, the whole group must decide whether the piece should be published or not. "It has to be of a certain quality for us to decide to publish it," explained Faleiro. 

The final step is for the piece to go to a copy editor and fact-checker, who are not part of the core Deca team. There is also a designer who produces the cover illustrations.

Deca book covers
Screengrab from decastories.com

The length of the process is different for each writer, Faleiro said, though many plan their projects at least a year in advance. "That's the timeline we encourage the entire team to stick to," she explained.

Each member is expected to write one longform article a year, (which Faleiro refers to as a "book") and edit one a year, although other roles within the group – like looking after the website, app and social media platforms – are "not completely solidified".

"We all talk about who can take on a particular role at a particular time," Faleiro said. "We made room for people to step in and out – as long as you understand that you will be writing a book a year, and editing a book a year, the other roles are flexible."

In addition to revenue from subscriptions and the Kickstarter campaign, Deca is also looking at independent sources, such as grants, to fund its journalism, although Faleiro admits some of the early projects have been self-funded.

When it comes to the sales of individual books, the co-operative gives 70 per cent of revenue to the writer, and five per cent to the editor, and the rest goes to Deca.

Faleiro is confident that this is a sustainable model. "If we can reliably offer good writing, which I hope we can, we will spread the word and encourage others to subscribe," she said.

Deca's website states that the idea behind the project was inspired by photojournalism co-operatives such as Magnum.

Founded in 1947, the agency allowed members to take advantage of technological developments in photography, such as more portable cameras and cheaper film processing, in order to shoot the stories they were passionate about, away from the mainstream media.

Of course, comparisons can be made between the technological advances in photography of the 1940s and 1950s, and the roaring developments in online journalism today, where social media and easily accessible publishing platforms have opened up a host of new opportunities for telling stories.

However, Faleiro is quick to point out that while Deca is keen to innovate with new technology, the format used to tell stories should not distract from the quality of the content itself.

'It doesn't matter what tools you're using, you want people to read your stories, to talk about your stories, and for your stories to make an impact," she said, "and I think that's always going to be the bottom line."

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