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Donors Liking Public-Indie Media Partnerships

Creating public-radio and indie-media partnerships may open new paths to fundraising, station executives told a session at Tuesday’s Public Radio Super-Regional meeting outside Washington, D.C.

When Oregon Public Broadcasting sought to jumpstart a statewide news network, it sought matching funds for a Knight News Challenge grant and landed the needed funds in a few weeks.

“This was some of the easiest money we’ve ever raised,” Steve Bass, OPB’s President and CEO, told a standing-room-only crowd at the Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD.

Likewise, Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio, which hopes to finalize its merger with the St. Louis Beacon by year’s end, said the two organizations projected they’d need to raise $3 million over five years to cover the costs of joining two newsrooms into one 30-person operation.

He said it took only about 15 conversations with donors to raise about $2.5 million.  “We spent 10 years raising money for a new building and this took only two to three months.”

Since The Beacon was founded in 2008, Eby said funders repeatedly asked: “Why aren’t you working with The Beacon?”

When the merger stalled at the University of Missouri, the owner of SLPR’s license, 26 community leaders signed a letter urging the parties to “get this done,” Eby said.

In Oregon, OPB is already seeing content benefits. “OPB is getting six to 10 broadcast spots a day” from other partners around the state, Bass said.  What’s more, Julia Silverman, who is spearheading the initiative, has been able “to spot trends in monitoring partner news reports that we can piece together into broader stories.”

With newspapers shuttering a lot of their statehouse coverage, OPB’s partners want more state government coverage.  They are also interested in environmental and arts-and-culture stories, Bass said.

The partnership not only supplies partner stories for OPB’s website, but OPB stories and reporter bylines are appearing in newspapers across the state.

In St. Louis, SLPR and The Beacon took a very methodical approach to the pending merger. Consultants analyzed:

  • Web site coverage and found much work that needed to be done.
  • Donor overlap and found very littler crossover in major donors to SLPR and The Beacon.
  • Content opportunities and identified a half-dozen vertical areas that will become the mission focus of the new newsroom.
  • The overall market and found opportunities for news coverage and events.
  • Technology and content management systems, which are still nuts to be cracked but, for now, they will use NPR’s Core Publisher.
  • Overall governance, and they are planning a new newsroom organization chart and new board structures.

Eby said his staff initially was not keen on the idea of a merger, but when he explained that this investment is really about the future of news and information in St. Louis, “This turned the tide with the staff.”

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