Business & content partnerships


Despite ABC News/CPI blowup, here’s how news partnerships can work

Journalism organizations might get discouraged about joining partnerships after the public meltdown of the partnership between ABC News and The Center for Public Integrity this week.

CPI’s reporter Chris Hamby won a Pulitzer Prize for stories that exposed how coal miners who were dying from black-lung disease were being unfairly denied health benefits. ABC wanted to get some of the credit for the investigation. What followed was a nasty exchange that played out here on Poynter Online all week.

But let’s not forget the upside to great investigative journalists from different organizations working together. ABC and CPI did affect lives, expose wrongdoing and reach a national audience that neither could have done alone.

Some of the most important journalism in recent years has been the product of partnerships. Look at this graphic from PBS Frontline showing all of the partners it has worked with on significant projects. The list spans from local newspapers to nonprofit investigative groups to ESPN and Univision. In some cases there were several partners involved in a project.

Howard Berkes, NPR investigations correspondent

National Public Radio investigations correspondent Howard Berkes told that partnerships can allow newsrooms to cover stories with depth and expertise that they cannot do on their own. Berkes points to a partnership he participated in that involved The Center for Public Integrity and NPR. The investigation focused on the resurgence of black-lung cases in the United States.

“My partner in this project, Chris Hamby from The Center for Public Integrity, knows how to make sense of data a lot better than I do. He worked on worker safety realm of the story while I know a lot about the coal industry having done a lot of stories about mine safety. It was a good blending; we spent a week on the road together, but when I did an interview alone I shared a complete transcript with him and he did the same. We shared everything,” Berkes said. When it was time to publish and air the stories, Berkes said having a partner was vital to making the stories bulletproof. “CPI reviewed my script, every word of it. While you each write your own stories, you want your reporting to be consistent with your partner. ”

Berkes also produced his groundbreaking investigation into corn bin safety, Buried in Grain, with CPI as a partner. The story uncovered how hundreds of workers died in preventable grain-related entrapments in 34 states since 1984. But safety enforcement is weak and even big fines get reduced before they are paid.

“My partner in that project, Jim Morris is a journalist who spent his entire career covering workplace safety issues.” Berkes said Morris brought tremendous knowledge to that project, which produced congressional action.

Berkes said his expertise in developing memorable characters to illustrate stories made the facts the team uncovered come alive. Berkes said his partner at CPI was ready to publish his version of the story in November 2012. But NPR wanted to land one key interview first, an interview with a young worker who watched his buddy die while being buried in grain. It took six months to land the interview and CPI agreed to wait until NPR was ready to air. “Good partners make it more likely that you will produce the kind of reporting that will make a difference,” Berkes said.

Mark Stencel, Poynter Digital Fellow

Mark Stencel, The Poynter Institute’s Digital Fellow, has been helping to manage news partnerships since 1996. “My first job in partnerships involved The Washington Post, ABC News, Newsweek and Times Mirror. It was right at the beginning of the digital news movement.”

Since then, Stencel has worked on partnerships that included the Post, MSNBC,, NPR and many others. “I can tell you this, anybody who starts a partnership with another organization thinking it is going to save time reporting a story is almost always wrong. Partnerships involve a lot of trust-building, communication and effort.” Stencel offered me a list of ways partnerships can pay off:

  • Expand Your Expertise: “Newsrooms should partner with others who have experiences that will complement their own. The partner could also have contacts and access that helps tell a stronger story than you can get alone.”
  • Reach: “Partners can help you reach wider audiences. It is the megaphone effect that can get the attention of people, including lawmakers who can change things that you expose as wrong.”
  • Share Resources: “Partnerships can help newsrooms with limited budgets to find ways to tell big stories.”


Stencel says partnerships sometimes fall apart when the parties fail to work out key details on the front end. His advice:

  • Know What You Want: “The worst partnerships are the ones that are born at executive lunches and dinners. I have been in a lot of meetings where teams stare longingly and whisper about making beautiful news but never do. You have to have specific objectives for why you want this partnership and how you will help each other.”
  • Internal Partnerships Don’t Always Work: “Even if partners come from the same company, there is no guarantee that they will work well together. They still have to agree on an outcome and work toward that.”
  • Get Management Buy-In: “I have worked on partnerships that have endured many changes in management, including the polling partnerships between ABC News and The Washington Post. The key is to define your goals and stick to it.”
  • Agree to a Process: “The processes include everything from how stories will be edited, when they will be published, how you will make corrections if they are needed, how you will credit each other and how, if the work is submitted for awards, the credit would be shared.”
  • Agree on Legal Issues: “Partnerships are best if they begin with a formal agreement but lots of them are informal. You may have to have a talk about who would be responsible if somebody gets sued for what you report. How will you indemnify each other?”


NPR’s Berkes said big organizations should not overlook smaller partners. “I am working on a project right now with a partner called Mine Safety and Health News. They are encyclopedic in their knowledge of the coal industry, civil and criminal cases and they know all of the characters and companies in the industry.” You may not have heard of Mine Safety and Health News, but the group has won 31 national journalism awards over the years.

Stencel says his experience with partnerships has taught him that newsrooms get the most results from working on targeted projects first, then if it works out, strike a larger partnership.

“Marry often, divorce bad partners fast, and don’t be afraid to keep dating,” Stencel said. Read more

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Recording Live talk show at television studio

5 good reasons that are driving the boom in local broadcast mergers & acquisitions

When Tribune bought a group of 19 local television stations for $2.7 billion a week ago, it was just the latest and biggest case of a consolidation trend that has been building momentum for several years now.

In June, Gannett bought Belo’s 20 stations for $1.5 billion. Earlier this year, Media General and New Young Broadcasting merged, and Sinclair Broadcast Group, a specialist in smaller markets, acquired three groups in successive months.

Some media business phenomena are mysterious, but this one is straightforward. Here are some questions being asked as bigger players and bigger deals continue to pop up, along with my answers:

What’s driving the mergers and acquisitions?

I see at least five good explanations.

1. The local television business is strong now and for the next several years. The political advertising bonanza every two years continues. Stations are recovering nicely from the recession years of 2007-2009. Their biggest category of advertising — automotive — has bounced back more quickly than retail, real estate and other economic sectors.

2. Abundant financing is available. Interest rates are low and are just starting to rise — which is a spur to get deals done. Big money is eager for solid transactions. Consolidation may soon reach the related cable and satellite sectors, which is evident in unrelated businesses like hospitals.

3. Pent-up demand. Potential sellers who held back in more difficult times now find a host of eager potential buyers.

4. As in any merger, these combinations should yield savings by eliminating duplicated central management functions. Also, the new companies have a bigger sales force and better ad sales story — a bigger footprint with more markets.

5. A windfall in retransmission fees that cable and satellite systems pay to carry the stations is the biggest impetus of all. The bigger the local broadcast company, the more leverage it has to keep negotiating these fees upward.

Where did the retransmission boom come from and how much money are we talking about?

The basic law requiring cable networks to carry local broadcast stations dates back to 1992. Roughly five years ago, the stations began to be packaged with other cable channels the big networks own. Price levels for the deals have risen quickly since then.

Analysts SNL Kagan reported in November of last year that from a small base in 2008, retransmission income for the industry rose to $2.4 billion in 2012, will hit more than $3 billion this year, and will likely grow to more than $6 billion in 2018.

Local broadcast now has ad revenues just a bit lower than the newspaper industry — $19.7 billion in 2012 compared to $22.3 billion (not counting separate niche and weekly publications). Imagine the impact on the newspaper industry if it were coming into $6 billion of new revenue over the course of a decade — with virtually no added expense.

Isn’t Tribune Company in bankruptcy? How could it come up with $2.7 billion?

Tribune has emerged from bankruptcy with comparatively little debt (though some unresolved tax issues). The restructured company was able to get a $4 billion line of credit from a group of banks and is using a chunk of that to finance the sale.

Will the deal affect the potential sale of Tribune’s newspapers?

CEO Peter Ligouri said no in a conference call with analysts last week, and I tend to agree. The eight papers will be sold if the right offer or offers emerge, but the company does not need the proceeds to complete the transaction.

Any chance Gannett will spin off its newspapers and become a TV/digital company as Media General did and Tribune appears likely to do?

I don’t think so. Those splits have happened at News Corp and A.H. Belo with impetus from their CEOs (Rupert Murdoch and Robert Decherd respectively), aimed at boosting stock price for the TV group and giving the publications a fresh start. Media General sold its papers to Warren Buffett as part of a complicated transaction to ease pressing debt problems.

At Gannett, one dollar in six now comes from digital businesses like CareerBuilder and Classified Ventures. These subsidiaries benefit by selling into Gannett markets — newspapers and TV. So breaking the company up would have a significant downside. Plus, it is not so clear who would want to buy Gannett’s 81 community newspapers and USA Today.

Are these deals going to fly with regulators?

The rising level of concentration concerns some advocates of independent media but doesn’t appear to rise to their level of an anti-trust issue. If the acquired stations are in a market where a company already has a presence, that might require a waiver or sell-off. But Gannett is trying to circumvent the issue by putting the stations in a separate legal entity and managing their business affairs under a service contract.

Doesn’t local broadcast face the same disruptive pressures from digital news and advertising/marketing competitors?

Over time, perhaps. But political, auto and other advertising should hold solid over the five-year investment vista investment firms typically consider. Also local news — the core of the franchise for most stations — is much less vulnerable to time-shifting than entertainment programming.

Will the retransmission bonanza and other operating revenue growth be reinvested in newsrooms?

Maybe, but it is early to tell. Bob Papper, a retired Hofstra professor who surveys the industry every year for the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), just reported that average salaries were down slightly in 2012 compared to 2011. That could simply be the continuation of a trend of replacing higher-priced talent with younger employees.

Papper’s estimate of total jobs is due in several weeks, but a year ago he reported 4.3 percent growth during 2011.

While companies will be under investor pressure to build back profit margins, which plunged during the recession, it is safe to say that newsroom funding will, at worst, be stable compared to the continuing declines at many newspapers.

(Note:  Brian Stelter and David Carr of The New York Times both wrote about the TV merger boom this morning.) Read more


Content going ‘everywhere’: WSJ extends premium subscriptions to Pulse newsreader

Pulse | PR Web | Bloomberg
One day after The New York Times announced an “NYT Everywhere” strategy that will extend subscriber content to Flipboard, The Wall Street Journal stepped up its own “Journal Everywhere” plan by selling premium content within the Pulse news aggregation app.

While the Times is offering full access to existing subscribers through Flipboard, the Journal will sell alternative subscriptions in Pulse to three narrower channels: WSJ Political Report or WSJ Technology Digest for $3.99 a month each, or a daily editors-choice section called WSJ Water Cooler for 99 cents a month. Read more


What the Forbes model of contributed content means for journalism

Two years ago, was a news website like most others.

Today, it is less website, more operating system — an underlying layer of technology that hundreds of contributors use to publish independently.

Lewis DVorkin, who kickstarted the model at True/Slant and since 2010 has honed it for as chief product officer, calls it “incentive-based, entrepreneurial journalism.”

Much of the content on comes from its hundreds of contributors, who write as independent contractors.

“Entrepreneurial”? Each contributor flies solo with his own blog. He is responsible for conceiving and creating the content, ensuring its accuracy and building an engaged, loyal readership. Forbes provides the technology and compensates some of the contributors, but otherwise, like all entrepreneurs, contributors are left to sink or swim on their own.

Forbes is swimming. The audience doubled in the past year to 30 million monthly unique users, thanks in part to almost 100,000 posts created by nearly 1,000 authors.

Forbes may be on to something here. This new publishing model is grounded in some of the fundamental principles of the Web:

  • It embraces the most natural form of blogging — “the unedited voice of a person.”
  • It embodies David Weinberger’s famous model of the Web as a whole — small pieces, loosely joined — by coordinating many independent voices under the brand power, technology and financial resources of Forbes.
  • It taps the scaling power of technology platforms. A similar anyone-can-play approach helped the Huffington Post grow to among the most-trafficked news websites (though Forbes differs by paying some of their writers and being more selective of its contributors).

Forbes’ may not be the exact model for every site to follow. There are weaknesses (more on that later) along with its strengths. And in some ways it seems uniquely fitted to the Forbes ethos — entrepreneurial journalism for an entrepreneur-focused publication. But it is worth understanding.

Lewis DVorkin is the architect of Forbes’ content contributor model.

“The economics in journalism are broken, and there are lots of experimentations taking place,” DVorkin told me. “People do different things; this is our model. It’s obviously gaining traction with audience, it’s gaining traction with contributors. It’s working for us.”

Who writes and why?

Who are these people filling with content?

The short answer is, just about anyone who has something relevant to say and a reason to say it there. contributors include professional journalists, some of whom turned to Forbes after they left or lost their full-time jobs in recent years. But there are many others from non-journalistic backgrounds: Business leaders, entrepreneurs, book authors, academics and other topic experts.

“And they’re all vetted by our editors and our staff,” DVorkin said. “We look at their experience, we look at their credentials and what they’ve done. And we turn many people away.”

Selected writers get at least one of a few rewards:

  • Money. Some contributors are paid monthly based on the size of the audience they attract (more on that later). Often these are professional journalists who write for a living. But not everyone who writes needs money.
  • Stability. Freelance writers may tire of having to constantly shop their latest work around to different editors. By working as a Forbes contributor, they know where their next paycheck is coming from. (They can still publish elsewhere, just not the same content they give to Forbes.)
  • Status. Some people may write for Forbes to build their own reputations. Simply by associating themselves with the Forbes brand, they benefit.
  • Attention. Many contributors don’t need a paycheck, because they use the audience and attention built through Forbes to make money in other ways, such as book sales, speaking appearances, or career advancement.

Some of the contributors are doing quite well. Fifty-five writers have more than doubled their audience since last June, DVorkin recently wrote, and “a handful” periodically draw more than 1 million readers a month.

What are the benefits to Forbes?

  • Content, at low or no cost, is the big one.
  • Flexibility, too. Each contributor is on a contract that can be terminated with 30 days’ notice, DVorkin said.
  • Scalability. The Forbes model can scale from 100 contributors, to 1,000, to 5,000 without breaking down.

What, exactly, do you reward?

When you practice incentive-based entrepreneurial journalism, you have to decide what to incent.

Stock market news and analysis site Seeking Alpha, which gets its content from contributors as well, pays them each a very straightforward $10 per thousand pageviews. You could also pay contributors based on the volume of productivity (per article, per word, etc.) or based on a subjective notion of quality.

Forbes has chosen to pay contributors based on unique visitors — specifically, loyal unique visitors. An author is paid a certain amount (which varies and DVorkin would not disclose, citing privacy of individuals’ contracts) for each first-time unique visitor, but 10 times more for each return visit from that person during the same month.

Why is that good? It’s an all-in-one incentive to write well, to write often, to distribute and promote content and to build community. You don’t get a large number of unique people to come, and then come back again, without doing all of that well.

It also lets each contributor choose the most appropriate way to build her audience. One contributor might write a few deeply researched pieces; another might hammer out a ton of quick, timely pieces. Both can succeed.

How do you organize it all?

There are no centralized editors assigning the stories. There’s not even an editor aware at any given time what all the contributors are working on. How do you keep that from becoming a tangled mess?

Forbes hires each contributor to write about a specific subject, and requires them to stay in their lanes, DVorkin said. And Forbes won’t take on a new contributor if her proposed subject area isn’t desirable (read: relevant and/or profitable), or if the contributor pool on that topic is already saturated.

Another strategy that keeps the site focused is applying “the Forbes prism” across every topic.

“The beautiful thing about Forbes is, you can put almost anything through a Forbes prism,” DVorkin said. “The Forbes prism is about free enterprise, entrepreneurship and smart investing. Most business stories, and dare I say many cultural events, you can put through that Forbes prism. Because it’s always, at the end, about money.”

The downsides

What the Forbes model gains in quantity, speed and flexibility, it loses in editing.

There is no traditional editing of contributors’ copy, at least not prior to publishing. If a story gets hot or makes the homepage, a producer will “check it more carefully,” DVorkin said.

Traditional-minded journalists probably think that sounds reckless. From the beginning, there were concerns that Forbes’ model might “lessen the quality of the content.” Just last week, a Forbes contributor stumbled by writing a controversial post, deleting it to post an apology, only to have a Forbes producer later restore his original text with the apology.

Sometimes contributors make mistakes acting on their own, like this column by contributor Eric Jackson that resulted in an apology and confusion over whether to delete the original post.

But DVorkin argues that overall Forbes’ model is better than the traditional newsroom one, where a reporter has editors and fact-checkers absorbing the responsibility for accuracy.

“It’s about accountability. It’s your brand, it’s your page, and you need to get it right. If you don’t, you won’t be able to build an audience,” DVorkin said. “I worked at Newsweek for five years. Reporters would write stories with a whole bunch of ‘tk’s so a fact checker could go do it. What kind of accountability is that? $100,000-a-year people depending on someone making $25,000 to get their story right.”

And while there’s no traditional fact-checking, there is a lot of after-the-fact checking. “The audience spots issues a lot,” DVorkin said. “The audience is as much your editor now as an editor is your editor.”

Conflicts of interest are another potential weakness in the model. Especially among unpaid contributors who are writing to promote themselves, their books or their businesses, you have to wonder how their “other motives” subtly frame their writing. (When they join, contributors are required to disclose to Forbes, in writing, any conflicts of interest.)

And for the working journalists out there, the success and potential spread of this model is both good and bad news. Good because a sustainable, scalable business model for journalism is needed. Bad because this is a tougher way to make a living.

It’s a nice income stream, and it may grow if you stick with it. But few of the paid contributors can make a living there alone, and of course as independent contractors they have no health or retirement benefits.

If this is the future, journalists may need to prepare for living every day like a hustle — leaning on their personal brands and piecing together a multi-stream income. But then again, we were never in it for the money.

Related: DVorkin talks with Forbes contributor Anthony Kosner about his experience
Read more


IRS delays make it hard for nonprofit news sites to build their businesses

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the nonprofit news field knows the big players:, Texas Tribune, MinnPost, ProPublica, et. al.

You probably haven’t heard of the Arlington Mercury or the San Diego Newsroom.

Another difference between the first group and the second: The IRS has ruled that the nationally-known news orgs are tax-exempt organizations. The two others, along with several you may know, are still waiting to see if they made the cut.

Chicago News Cooperative had something in common with both groups; it was nationally known but never an IRS-approved nonprofit.

The hangup with the IRS wasn’t the only problem that led CNC to stop publishing Sunday. But as other, lesser-known news startups have learned, it’s even harder to build a self-sustaining news operation when the IRS hasn’t validated your 501(c)(3) status.

Major foundations, which can give life to an idea with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, often prefer that an organization has a 501(c)(3) designation. Without it, they’re likely to award less money and tie it to specific projects, not general operational costs, according to interviews with several people involved the nonprofit field.

And because it’s easier to make the case that money spent on free or low-costs services is a charitable expense, those funders may ask news outlets to offer their work free to consumers. That can hinder attempts to create other sources of revenue.

None of these issues is insurmountable in itself. Together, they create a long, winding obstacle course filled with legal, bureaucratic and financial challenges.

In limbo

The Arlington Mercury, near Washington, D.C., aims to help people weigh in on public policy decisions while there’s still time to affect the outcome. The site’s slogan is “Where policy hits the pavement.”

“We’re very much on a shoestring budget. We’re not a 501(c)(3) yet, so we can’t go out and start the fundraising process,” said Editor Steve Thurston in a phone interview.

Thurston, who teaches journalism at a local college, could start asking people for donations now, but he can’t promise that they’ll be tax-deductible. He applied for 501(c)(3) status in August, and when he checked in January, he was told that employees were still working on applications from June.

The San Diego Newsroom applied for tax-exempt status in January 2011 and provided more information to the IRS in September, President and CEO David King told me via email. The organization has been in regular contact with the IRS since then but hasn’t heard when the review will be complete.

Whether the IRS will approve their applications is anyone’s guess. Besides those two startups, applications for three other sites — SF Public Press, The Lens in New Orleans and CNC — appear to be in a holding pattern. Also under review is the nonprofit application for INN, the Investigative News Network. All filed for nonprofit status in 2010.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out how big this pile is because the IRS won’t tell us,” said INN Executive Director Kevin Davis. (I reached out to the IRS for this story but didn’t hear back; a spokesman told the Chronicle of Philanthropy in October that applications were being handled centrally for consistency.)

People I spoke with in the nonprofit news scene believe that a spurt of tax-exempt applications from news organizations caused the IRS to take a harder look at whether they should be considered commercial enterprises, not nonprofit. The holdup is puzzling, considering that there’s an established history of nonprofit news in the U.S., noted Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum.

Also puzzling is that the IRS recently gave two INN members the go-ahead. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting received its approval letter in early February after filing its application in April 2011. Centro de Periodismo de Investigativo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was also recently approved; it sought nonprofit status in July 2011.

“There’s no rhyme, reason or consistency coming out of the IRS now,” Davis said, noting that the agency asked the group to remove the word journalism from its articles of incorporation because that’s not an approved purpose of a 501(c)(3).

Is journalism a charitable enterprise?

Marcus Owens, former head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division and a nationally known lawyer on nonprofit issues, said that their educational purpose is the logical justification to consider these sorts of journalism outfits tax-exempt.

“What could be of more educational value than knowing what is going on in the world around you?” he asked.

But he thinks that the IRS now views “anything that has the look and feel of a regular-news newspaper” as a commercial enterprise, not a nonprofit one. (Poynter and its Times Publishing Co. are both Owens’ clients.)

By that thinking, Owens said, and MinnPost shouldn’t have been approved.

The less a news site resembles a general-interest product, the better its chances of IRS approval. For instance, he said that ProPublica – another client – distinguished itself by focusing on in-depth, investigative reporting, not the news of the day.

And ProPublica distributes its stories for free. That’s important to the IRS, Owens said, because “no business gives away its product for free. … The provision of some good or service at little or no cost makes just about anything charitable.”

These things matter to foundations because they could face excise taxes for spending money on non-charitable activities. So they like to give money to approved nonprofits, and if they can’t do that, they may route the money through another organization or restrict their money for specific purposes.

“If you’re in that position and you’re signing a lot of grants, you’re probably going to err on those that are safe rather than those that are risky,” Owens said. “I think at the end of the day the risk to a MacArthur Foundation is probably relatively low, but there is a risk.”

Michael Stoll, executive director for SF Public Press, said he doesn’t know of any cases in which not having nonprofit status prevented his group from getting funding. But the question has come up during talks with a “major donor,” he said. “We said, ‘Would having it make a difference?’ They said, ‘Probably not, but it would really speed things up.’ ”

Elspeth Revere, who handles media grants for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, said although the foundation did ask Chicago News Cooperative about its tax-exempt status, it was still pursuing another grant without it.

But the money would have been for a specific project, not general operations. If MacArthur had gone that route, “it’s up to us to make sure it would be used for a purpose that meets the charitable purpose of the IRS.”

The problem with free

Free may be charitable, but it’s not much of a business model.

That was one of the problems for CNC, said Editor and CEO James O’Shea. Foundations are interested in seeing sites like his become self-sustaining, he said, but they also want the content to be freely available to the public. That limited his ability to sell the content.

Revere said it is important that grant-supported work be freely available. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some kind of licensing arrangement like CNC had with The New York Times. And although she didn’t discuss it with CNC, she said, perhaps stories could have been made available for free after an initial restriction for some period of time.

Still, she understands the difficult position that nonprofits are in. “If it all becomes earned income, is it still a nonprofit? If all you’re doing is supporting yourself through selling things, then it probably is not a nonprofit.”

Nonprofits are limited from the start in how they can raise money, INN’s Davis said, but it’s important that they have multiple revenue streams, as diverse as possible. “Being a nonprofit is not a business model; it is a tax status,” he’s fond of saying.

He expects that the major foundations will move on after helping some of these sites get off the ground, but not without helping them find other sources of revenue. For instance, INN and the Patterson Foundation are working on ways to train journalism startups in operations and business development.

And Davis sees a lot of potential with local community foundations, an area that the Knight Foundation is focusing on. “Some community foundations are evangelizing to other community foundations about the benefits of sponsoring this kind of independent, community journalism,” he said.


SF Public Press has gone 26 months without a ruling from the IRS. In the meantime, its finances are handled by a “fiscal sponsor,” a third-party that supervises the use of grant funds in exchange for a 7 percent cut. About one-third of INN’s 60 members use fiscal agents, Davis said.

Stoll figures he can go on indefinitely like that. But it’s limiting.

“You have a better shot at getting more money if you are seen as a mature nonprofit,” he said. “If you’re seen as immature and still under somebody’s wing [the response is], ‘We’ll give you seed money but not enough to sustain you.’”

One way to break the logjam, Owens said, is to draft a ruling that the IRS would use to decide what makes a news operation nonprofit or not. That’s probably more promising than getting Congress to amend tax law, but it would take several years, he said.

The Arlington Mercury’s Thurston worries about the sustainability of his small operation, which has just three people working on it part-time, plus a few other occasional contributors.

“It’s frustrating to think that we might have to turn into a profit-run company just so we can start to get a little income in,” he said in an email. “All of us are working for free right now, and I’m not sure how long a couple people will last.”

Then again, he admitted, it’s not like they’re in it for the money. Read more


Will Bay Citizen-CIR merger affect partnership with New York Times?

Recent stories about the pending merger between The Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting in California have raised the question of whether the merged group would continue to work with The New York Times. The Bay Citizen produces stories for the Times edition in the Bay Area, similar to arrangements between the Times and the Chicago News Cooperative and The Texas Tribune.

Describing Phil Bronstein’s presentation to The Bay Citizen’s board in January, Peter H. Lewis wrote: Read more


How to adapt online news in the age of sharing

Internet users are sending a message most media companies aren’t ready to hear: They want to share, reuse and remix your content.

To leaders of news organizations and other media, this probably means one thing: copyright violation. But with a new style of publishing, they could turn it into an opportunity.

The most popular social networks thrive by letting users repost other people’s content. What if news publishers did the same?

The world’s 1.2 billion Internet users spend one in every five minutes on a social network, the fastest-growing of which are those designed for copying and curating.

Felix Salmon reports that the surging Tumblr microblogging network has nine people curating (by “reblogging” others’ posts) for every one person creating original posts. Then there’s the explosive growth of Pinterest (visits up 55 percent in one month), a social network exclusively for curating images and ideas from around the Web.

And of course tweets are retweeted and Facebook posts reshared. All these networks thrive on the portable, sharable nature of content.

Now contrast that with media companies, which still operate in a Web 1.0 content economy. They host a piece of content exclusively on one website, and the only permissible way to view it is on that page (with its accompanying ads).

This old model of the centralized, copyrighted website is the opposite of the free-sharing, remixing culture that the Internet is embracing through Tumblr and Pinterest.

That’s a disruptive problem for media companies, as Salmon writes: “The old models still work. But the new, more distributed models are I think much more powerful.” He goes on:

The social, digital world is…where the content creators with the broadest reach will be the ones who care the least about protecting their copyrights.

I suspect that we’re only in the very early days of seeing how this is going to disrupt just about every media organization built on the idea of hosting a website and selling ads, including highly socially-attuned ones like the Huffington Post. HuffPo is built on the idea that when stories are shared on Twitter or Facebook, that will drive traffic back to, where it can then monetize that traffic by selling it to advertisers. But in [the] future, the most viral stories are going to have a life of their own, being shared across many different platforms and being read by people who will never visit the original site on which they were published.

So what does the online news publisher of the future do to take advantage of this hypersharing culture? Free the story from the site.

The “story” (whether text, photos or video) still lives on the publisher’s own website, but others are allowed or even encouraged to repost it elsewhere in an approved, mutually beneficial format.

Taking a page (view) from YouTube

If this sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. This is exactly the model that helps video sites such as YouTube and Hulu reach millions of people. They go with the Web’s natural currents of sharing. Users get to embed the videos they love wherever they want. YouTube and Hulu still get to show their logos, ads and links to related videos.

But what about the bread-and-butter of online news, the text-based article? Technologically, that’s trickier. But some pieces of the puzzle already are out there.

What if regular news articles were as easy to embed as a Storify?

Storify articles are created on, but with a single line of JavaScript can be embedded on any other site. A news organization could use similar technology so that others could embed its full articles, including links and ads.

APIs, like those from The New York Times and the Guardian, enable Web developers to automatically access their content and data to use in their own apps and websites.

The Associated Press’ NewsRight program sells licenses to aggregators that want to reuse stories from the AP or participating newspapers.

What has to be solved first

News organizations in particular still have some problems to solve if they are to move to this distributed-content model:

  • How to maintain audience relationships. Publishers create additional value by building communities and audience relationships around their website content. If content scatters far and wide, publishers also need ways of building relationships with that new audience.
  • Monitor usage and abuse. If publishers allow people to repost or embed their content under certain conditions, they’ll need to be able to monitor compliance with those conditions and revoke those who abuse the privilege.

The power of the distributed-content model to reach the largest online audience is clear. The only question is which publishers will develop the technology and the business model to take advantage of it. Read more


‘Medical school model’ brings newspaper, radio station and university together

A newspaper, public radio station and university in Macon, Ga., are moving in together and sharing content, in a unique partnership aimed at strengthening local news reporting, thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation being announced today.

The news staffs of The (Macon) Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting will move in with the journalism faculty and students at a new Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University.

Each group retains its own editorial products and independence, but they will be working in one newsroom, teaching each other and sharing content.

They’re calling it “the medical school model,” with benefits for all — students train in an environment structured for both learning and doing; professionals improve and benefit from students’ work; and the community gets a better service.

In addition to the day-to-day content sharing, the joint newsroom also will produce a couple of annual community engagement projects, chosen by Macon residents, that involve reporting and problem solving on local issues.

“We want to create a new model of journalism education … but also to benefit the people of Macon so they can be informed and engaged and take the necessary steps to create a vibrant future for this place,” said Beverly Blake, Macon program director for Knight Foundation.

The foundation is giving Mercer University $3.74 million to build the center, and giving another $854,000 to Georgia Public Broadcasting to expand its news staff and create richer local programming for central Georgia. Mercer also will double the size of its journalism program from about 50 students to about 100, Blake said. It’s a five-year grant program, aiming for self-sustainability beyond that.

Neat idea, you might say, but why Macon, Ga., of all places?

“It’s where the idea came from… Just because we’re small, doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of smart people here,” Blake said. “We have a newspaper publisher who understands that the future of news has to include digital. We have a statewide public broadcasting head who understands that local is critical. And we have a university that already is a strong, strong leader in this community.”

The idea emerged a couple years ago, just as the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy was issuing its report with recommendations including:

  • Increase support for public service media.
  • Increase the role of higher education, community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity.
  • Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.

“The timing was absolutely perfect,” Blake said, because Knight’s recommendations aligned with the type of partnership Telegraph Publisher George McCanless and GPB Executive Director Teya Ryan were beginning to ponder with Mercer University.

Knight hopes this “aspirational experiment” will create a model other communities can adapt, Blake said.

“We don’t know if it will work. But the bigger risk is that we do nothing,” Blake said. “We have to do something to create a 21st century ecosystem for news and information in communities.” Read more

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NYT partnership ‘sort of a halo & a cloud’ for independent news sites

Michael Depp examines the close, complicated relationship between The New York Times and three nonprofit news operations that provide local coverage for certain editions: Texas Tribune, The Bay Citizen and Chicago News Cooperative. While the partnerships have kickstarted the nonprofits’ operations and boosted their credibility, it’s tough to balance the Times’ need for content (they’re responsible for two pages, twice a week) with their own missions and editorial voices. The partners spend a lot more time on journalism for the Times than they get in licensing revenue, and they don’t get a cut of the money that the Times makes selling ads next to their stories. Times assistant national editor Jill Agostino sometimes has to fend off requests from within the Times for help on developing stories. “We can’t treat these groups as though they’re our stringers in these areas because they’re not,” she says. She compares working with the Times to “being married to a famous spouse”; Jim O’Shea of the Chicago News Cooperative says it’s “sort of a halo and a cloud at the same time.” Subscriptions have increased in the partner markets, Agostino says. Anyone tracking content partnerships like this will find the post thought-provoking. || Related: Sometimes Times editors should remain behind the scenes (Gawker) Read more


Steve Jobs wanted to help New York Times, bonded with Rupert Murdoch

Steve Jobs
In his new biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson describes some of the behind-the-scenes dealings between the Apple CEO and publishers after the iPad was launched in 2010. “I would love to help quality journalism,” Jobs said. “We can’t depend on bloggers for our news. We need real reporting and editorial oversight more than ever. So I’d love to find a way to help people create digital products where they actually can make money.”

As part of that effort, Jobs dined with 50 top Times executives to show off the iPad and, as Isaacson put it, “find a modest price point for digital content that consumers would accept.” He said the Times knew how many readers would pay the highest price point (a print subscription), and how many would read for free online.

“You should go after the midpoint, which is about 10 million digital subscribers,” [Jobs] told them. “And that means your digital subs should be very cheap and simple, one click and $5 a month at most.”

The Times decided to charge $15 every four weeks for Web and mobile phone access and $20 for Web and iPad access.

According to Isaacson, Jobs was particularly interested in helping The New York Times because it hadn’t yet figured out how to charge for digital content.

“One of my personal projects this year, I’ve decided, is to try to help — whether they want it or not — the Times,” he told me early  in 2010. “I think it’s important for the country for them to figure it out.”

(Welcome, HuffPost Media readers! Follow us on Twitter for the latest media news | More about Poynter) Read more


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