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Public Broadcasters Beefing up Local News, Taking on New Roles in their Media Ecosystems


July 8, 2013
For immediate release
Contact: Jan Schaffer

Washington, D.C. – Unfettered by competitive pressures and fortified by their trusted brand, public broadcasters in many states and cities are finding new ways to engage in more local news – especially more investigative and enterprise journalism – than ever before, according to a new J-Lab report.

From unprecedented mergers to unique partnerships, from shared workspace to shared reporters, creative approaches are helping public radio and television stations step up to new roles in their local news ecosystems. In the process, some are becoming critical linchpins for state and metro-wide news networks. 

In the report, News Chops: Beefing up the Journalism in Local Public Broadcasting,J-Lab examines through nine case studies, developments, large and small, that have occurred within the last year.

The report finds that many public broadcasters, motivated by cutbacks at newspapers and thinner wire-service offerings, are boosting resources by partnering in resourceful ways with news start-ups that have proven their merit.

Of note, while legacy news organizations increasingly erect paywalls in front of their journalism, these local public broadcasters are tearing down walls to reach out to news partners in win-win scenarios where they get deep content and their partners get valued exposure.

The report profiles the creation of statewide news cooperatives in Oregon and Connecticut and New Jersey, building newsrooms from scratch in Denver and New Orleans, merging two existing newsrooms in St. Louis, and adding reporting firepower in San Diego, Salt Lake City and western North Carolina.

Several of the public broadcasters are striving to make local content “ubiquitous” and give it a long tail. Many find they are attracting additional members and support in the process.

In the communities examined, there is a pronounced sense of being in the vanguard of change.

“If we get it right, “ said Margie Freivogel, founding editor of the St. Loius Beacon, who is willing to merge with St. Louis Public Radio to create a newsroom with 26 people. “We have the beginning of a blueprint for how to create a vigorous news organization that serves a region and takes advantage of the assets of public media. I think it’s a very important possibility.”

The report was produced with funding from the Wyncote Foundation and supplemental support from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism is an incubator for igniting news ideas that work by funding pilot projects, awarding innovations and sharing practical insights from years of working with news creators. It is a center of American University’s School of Communication.

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