In January, we launched the California Watch Media Network and announced that a group of major news organizations had joined as charter members.

These news partners signed up to receive a set number of stories produced by our award-winning watchdog team. But we hoped the network would be more than just a way to deliver California Watch content. We wanted to bring media outlets together as collaborators – to pursue big stories as a team.

And we are seeing this vision take shape as a group of news outlets joined forces to cover high-speed rail.

The topic merits attention. The estimated $45 billion rail system would be the most expensive public works project undertaken in California – if it ever gets built. The goal is to link Anaheim and San Francisco in 2.5 hours via trains rushing at 220 mph through the state’s verdant, unglamorous central valleys.

The proposed first leg would connect Fresno and Bakersfield, reducing cow pastures, almond groves and onion fields to impressionistic blurs.

The idea for our reporting initiative came up during a phone call with Fresno Bee Executive Editor Betsy Lumbye, who expressed interest in tackling the topic with California Watch and other partners that had joined our network.

We invited all of our print network partners to join. And almost all of them did. The collaborative project now includes The Fresno Bee, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside participating with California Watch.

The group has produced several enterprise and investigative stories – stories all members of the group are welcome to run.

In late May, we rolled out the first enterprise story by John Cox of The Bakersfield Californian. He wrote about the momentum behind a new route alignment that would connect Kern and Los Angeles counties via the Grapevine. Tim Sheehan of The Fresno Bee, David Siders of The Sacramento Bee and Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle have since pitched in stories that looked at costs, politics and land acquisition. Our own Lance Williams teamed with The Orange County Register’s Ronald Campbell to detail the growing challenges to building the rail line. We have featured all of these stories on our site.

This collaboration and content sharing makes a lot of sense for pragmatic news organizations exploring new ways to cover big stories with smaller staffs and tight travel budgets.

As each news organization chips in enterprise coverage, they know that they will have access to anything the rest of the group produces. It’s a good return on investment in today’s news economy. And it has led to ongoing conversations about collaboration among our partners.

Stay tuned for much more.

Mark Katches is a past editorial director for The Center for Investigative Reporting. He is currently editor of the Oregonian and vice president of content for the Oregonian Media Group. Previously, he built and ran investigative teams at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Orange County Register. Mark was the primary editor of Pulitzer Prize-winning projects in both 2008 and 2010 and edited or managed five other stories that were Pulitzer finalists. Projects he edited or directed also have won the George Polk Award, the IRE award and the Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award as well as the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Sigma Delta Chi Award and the National Headliner Award. Multiplatform projects produced by CIR staff under Mark's guidance won a national News & Documentary Emmy, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He has overseen projects or websites that have won four Online Journalism Awards in the last decade, in addition to logging more than a dozen OJA finalists. In 2001, he was part of a reporting team that won the Gerald Loeb and IRE awards for a series of stories detailing the rising profits from the human tissue trade. He completed a Punch Sulzberger Fellowship at Columbia University in 2013 and has taught reporting classes as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University. Mark served on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors for four years and oversaw the IRE mentorship program for six years.