What news organizations are learning from partnerships aimed at diversifying content, audiences

News organizations are approaching diversity from many angles — from increasing diversity in coverage and sourcing to reaching out to new audiences on new platforms.

Three efforts in particular have focused on partnerships and grants to achieve these ends. Digital First Media has partnered with GlobalPost to increase coverage of international news; the Center for Investigative Reporting and Univision are working together to reach new audiences; and NPR has launched a new project, called “Code Switch,” with a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant.

Each handles their partnership or grant a bit differently; we’ve talked with them to find out what they’ve learned and what’s working well.

Increasing coverage, awareness

In January, Digital First Media announced a content partnership with GlobalPost to bring international news to its client publications.

“We had to do something different with international news than what’s typically done,” Jason Fields, world news channel manager for Digital First Media, said by phone. GlobalPost makes “international news interesting to people who aren’t traditionally interested in it.”

GlobalPost’s coverage contextualizes international news more than other international news organizations have previously, Fields said. For example, for an article about global income inequality, reporters compared economic conditions of a town in Thailand and a town in Connecticut.

Communication is important to the success of the Digital First-GlobalPost partnership.

“You actually need to be talking with someone,” said Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First Media. “That’s the kind of partnership that works in a digital world.”

Brady said he saw a need for coverage for international news within Digital First’s existing news cycle.

It “just struck me as exactly the kind of partnership we needed to do,” he said, adding that the partnership allows Digital First’s local publications to “focus on what they do best” while relying on GlobalPost for international news.

Reaching a broader audience

The Center for Investigative Reporting and Univision have worked together since August to produce reports for Univision’s audience. While the broadcast station has presented reports on television, Univision and CIR have also published standalone written pieces for the Web. One of their first reports was about arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Our goal is to try and provide the best investigative reporting we can to what is a very dedicated audience,” Keith Summa, vice president of news partnerships at Univision, said via phone. “CIR is sort of a natural go-to.”

Communication has contributed to the success of the Univision-CIR partnership.

“The important part of any new relationship is to understand where everybody is coming from,” said Susanne Reber, director of digital media for the Center for Investigative Reporting. “It’s matching the storytelling that we do… and starting a conversation” with the appropriate partner.

Reber said that communicating face-to-face with Univision helped CIR determine Univision’s needs, and guided CIR in reporting and producing content for the organization. Ultimately, the content provided was similar in subject to what CIR had produced for other programs and stations; the medium of delivery was just slightly different.

Reber said the differences typically involve finding sources who are comfortable speaking in Spanish as well as English, and in making the final product for Spanish-language audiences. Univision also made the content available to English-speaking audiences; the first CIR-Univision report aired with English subtitles.

“Our goal is to try to broaden our audience,” Summa said. He added that he expects the partnership with CIR to help achieve that goal; it’s a two-way street as far as CIR is concerned.

“To be able to have [our stories] broadcast or told in more than one language — I don’t think you can get much better than that if your goal is to reach a large audience,” Reber said.

Finding the diversity angle in national stories

With the help a $1.5 million grant from the Center for Public Broadcasting, NPR created a major initiative to “deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture, and to capture the issues that define an increasingly diverse America.”

The team for the diversity initiative was assembled in the fall and the subsequent project, called Code Switch, launched this April. It’s part of CEO Gary Knell’s efforts to increase diversity at NPR, according to Dianne Brace, NPR’s senior director of institutional giving.

“One of his pillars … that he wanted to work on with NPR was to increase the diversity of our voices on air and in our journalism, including in the newsroom,” Brace said. That led to the creation of a dedicated team to cover issues related to race, ethnicity and diversity.

“We’re interested in how different experiences map against different…backgrounds,” Matt Thompson, manager of digital initiatives for NPR, said by phone. He told me the project is focused on “how race and ethnicity are expressed in our daily lives,” and pointed out that national news stories often have a racial or ethnic component that can lend greater understanding and context to the story.

“They turn so visibly on some of these matters,” he said of stories that NPR at large covers, from the cultural identity of the Boston Marathon bombers to the “giant demographic shift” the U.S. is undergoing and will continue to experience.

Code Switch offers additional coverage for NPR’s radio programming, but also focuses on reaching out to different audiences online. Thompson said that having online conversations about race, ethnicity and diversity allows for greater development of stories and issues than a radio story might offer.

“Social media plays into our team’s work and our reporting and coverage,” he said. “We are hitting on stories that more and more often speak to audiences that are younger, that are more racially and ethnically diverse… [that] are making more use of social and mobile technology, than the country on average.”

Thompson said the project also gives NPR the opportunity to learn more about how different audiences engage with NPR’s material.

“Strategically there’s a lot of interest in this project” as NPR develops its mobile technology, he said. “Code Switch represents a type of editorial unit where you’ve really joined the elements of digital and broadcast.”

The three efforts — Digital First and GlobalPost, CIR and Univision, and NPR’s Code Switch — all work toward increasing coverage. They also give the news organizations a chance to learn more about developing new media and new audiences. And such diverse coverage gives audiences greater exposure to other communities and enables them to see their own communities in the news cycle.

“The biggest thing we can do is bring more journalistic resources to bear” on diversity-related issues, said Thompson of Code Switch’s efforts. “It’s about making our coverage more complete, more representative of the broad experiences of people in America.”

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