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Collaboration is the New Competition

J-Lab launched its Networked Journalism pilot project a little over a year ago. It called for five traditional news organizations to partner with at least five new community news sites in their cities.

The goal was not to create an opportunity for newspapers to take content from others. Rather the project sought to explore ways to amplify news and information already being produced by many community websites and bloggers – and determine if there were some revenue opportunities to support these activities.

“Just try it for a year,” we said. The participants tried it; they liked it. The initial 25 partners have grown to 65. Moreover, all re-upped for a second year, seeking to add partners and activities.

So, now it’s time to announce a new round of partners. Today, we welcome four to The Net-J experiment for the coming year: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Oregonian in Portland, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and KQED Public Radio in San Francisco.

While a full report will be forthcoming, we can say that, much to our surprise, all of the first-year partners went about building their networks very differently. Here’s an update:

  • The Seattle Times grew its network from five to 28 partners. They’ve agreed to link to, but not republish, partner stories. They’ve shared photos and undertaken collaborative enterprise reporting projects on such topics as graffiti and homelessness. Soon, in a new development, they hope to announce an ad network experiment.
  • The Charlotte Observer’s partnership agreement, on the other hand, permits partners to reprint up to four of a partner’s stories a week. Beyond that, The Observer must negotiate some payment for the stories. The Observer counted 150 partner stories that it carried over six months.
  • The Miami Herald was the only network that sought to have partners use the newspaper’s content management system. One advantage is that the partner pages have ad spots that can be sold by the paper or any of the partners. The Herald figures that partner site traffic grew from just under 84,000 page views to more than 182,000 over a four-month period. Five more partners have been added.
  • The Asheville Citizen-Times partnership used a creative widget to allow any site to showcase partner content and reports almost daily content sharing.
  • And decided to network sports bloggers, growing its network to nine partners. Now more than 20 percent of the site’s traffic comes from the Sports Network. The partners aspire to a statewide sports reporting network.

These pilot partnerships have gone a long way towards incentivizing cultural change at media outlets in their communities. Instead of the traditional journalists regarding the partner news sites as careless purveyors of information, these sites have proven to be valuable news generators. Indeed, many of the partners sought written agreements and ethical guidelines. Moreover, some of the networks tossed out partners that did not live up to their shared standards.

As well, the community bloggers and site operators have come to view their big-media brother as someone willing to share – not just take their content. And they all hope to generate revenues in the future.

We think these networks are going a long way towards amplifying all kinds of news and information that otherwise would sit in hyperlocal silos in their communities.

Stay tuned, however. Increasingly, collaboration is becoming the new competition. We are seeing various news organizations seeking to lock in local sites as their formal partners, in some cases seeking exclusivity in their network deals. How will it all play out? It’s a work in progress.

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