November 28, 2012
A J-Lab pilot project that called for eight newspapers and one public radio station to network with local blogs delivered nine different models of collaboration, five success stories and roadmaps for rethinking local news, according to the project's findings.
In "Networked Journalism: What Works," J-Lab recounts the successes and failures of the three-year-old initiative. The experiments led to the creation of seven geographic and two topic networks as well as failed attempts to monetize four of those partnerships.
The project required each of the nine hub newsrooms to partner with at least five local news sites. Most of the newsrooms significantly expanded their partnerships. At its height, the number of partners grew from 44 s to 169; 146 are still participating, said J-Lab director Jan Schaffer.
The experiments required most of the hub newsrooms to drive traffic to independent news startups in their communities, and it called for the partners to produce enough content to attract that traffic. Five of the networks are active, but two are diminished and two are now inactive.
Editors of several of the successful pilot sites said the projects helped transform their newsrooms.
"I had no idea of how transformative this would be for us,” said David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which launched the Pipeline site to cover hydraulic fracturing. “It changed the center of gravity for our whole organization.”
Seattle Times Editor David Boardman called the project "hugely paradigm-changing for our newsroom and for me, individually.”
“This whole notion that we would feature someone else’s content on our website and drive traffic off the site, that was such an alien notion at the time we took the leap on this."
The Networked Journalism project was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Experimentation is only helpful when it comes along with an honest accounting,” said Eric Newton, foundation senior adviser. “The editors who shared the high and low points of networked journalism have done a service to the news community.”
The pilot projects surfaced critical issues now defining the emerging news landscape, including the new "news jobs" to be done, the rise of advocacy news sites, the fragile nature of news start-ups, the reality of sponsored content and the bandwidth available for innovation in legacy newsrooms.
"Partners come and they go. Some divorce the network, some die in an emerging news ecosystem that is still quite fragile," Schaffer said. "Indeed, only two of the projects still have the identical partners they launched with."
The J-Lab report tracks two rounds of grantees. The first five launched in 2009; each received $45,000 to pay for a part-time project coordinator and to offer $5,000 stipends to five partners. They received an additional $15,000 in the second year to try to leverage revenue from their networks. A second group of four newsrooms started in 2010, with $50,000 in funding support for a coordinator and partner payments.
Success stories included networks led by The Seattle Times, The Charlotte Observer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Oregonian in Portland and KQED Public Radio in San Francisco. The Miami Herald and TucsonCitizen.com launched bold and promising networks, but only a handful of partners now remain active. The Asheville Citizen-Times and Lawrence Journal-World got off to strong starts but didn’t make a go of it.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. It believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.
J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism is a journalism catalyst for igniting news ideas that work. It funds pilot projects, awards innovations and shares practical insights from its research and years of working with news creators and evolving news ecosystems. It is a center of American University's School of Communication.
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