The Future of Public Media Journalism is Collaborative

The future of public media journalism is collaborative.

That is the big take away from a new report from J-Lab at American University which studied the growth of journalism partnerships between public broadcasters and other local nonprofit and commercial newsrooms. The report, a series of in-depth case studies by Jan Schaffer, reinforces a vision of an expanded public media sector as a critical component to community news.

“While legacy news organizations increasingly erect paywalls in front of their journalism,” writes Schaffer, “these local public broadcasters are tearing down walls to reach out to partners – both nonprofit and commercial – to co-produce or share original content and to give longer tails to the best journalism in their areas.”

The new report focuses on a diverse group of nine communities from Connecticut to California, and organizes partnerships into three categories: Mergers, Networks and Content. Within those three categories there is a lot of diversity in how each community is developing news partnerships, illustrating the ways journalists are adapting to local needs and nuances.

In the 2012 report “Greater Than the Sum: Creating Collaborative and Connected Public Media in America” I wrote with my colleagues at Free Press, we also discussed a few of these partnerships, describing them as seeds of a new era of localism in American media:

“We envision a future for public media that embraces this challenge by expanding the universe of nonprofit and noncommercial media. We envision a time in which our communities will be woven together by a network of diverse noncommercial projects that educate, inspire and engage people in civic life through art and media.”

Schaffer’s report helps bring the foundation of that system into focus. In the various case studies are critical lessons for future journalism partnerships, but there are also real hurdles and challenges we need to tackle together if we are going to pave the way for more of these efforts. From internal funding guidelines at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to state and federal debates that threaten funding for public broadcasters to ongoing challenges with getting the IRS to recognize nonprofit journalism, we face policy and legal battles on many fronts.

In “Greater Than The Sum” we provide an inventory of the policy and structural issues we need to tackle to encourage more partnerships across community media, and this new report provides the evidence as to why that fight is so important.

For more on journalism collaboration and partnerships see my earlier posts at PBS MediaShift:


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