July 8, 2013


News startups and public broadcasters are becoming bigger players in local news when they partner. That’s according to a new report by Jan Schaffer, the executive director of American University’s J-Lab.

In areas like New Orleans and Oregon, where big local newspapers have cut back on print frequency or staff, such alliances have been particularly fruitful, Schaffer writes. Oregon Public Broadcasting, for instance, used grants from the Knight Foundation and the Oregon Community Foundation to build a network of local news sources.

OPB Director of Content Julia Silverman tells Schaffer she “views her mission as not just focusing on the state’s metro papers, but also the smaller newspapers who are not AP members, but may have a great story ‘but it doesn’t travel.’ “

And in San Diego, she reports, inewsource.org has “embedded” in the KPBS Public Broadcasting newsroom, leading to a series of scoops:

To that end, the two news outlets broke a major report signaling deficiencies in whooping cough vaccine amid a pertussis epidemic. They created a searchable online database to let the public learn whether they are paying an additional California real estate tax imposed on property owners in certain development districts. And they revealed the local newspaper’s substantial political and financial ties to local politicians in the November 2012 election.

That local newspaper is U-T San Diego, whose owner’s commitment to conservative causes is “leaving the door wide open” for the twinned orgs, KPBS GM Tom Karlo says.

Many of the news organizations Schaffer spoke with, including some in Denver, North Carolina and St. Louis, describe the pairings as advantageous to both organizations: The startups can provide investigative reporting muscle as well as data-reporting chops; the broadcasters can provide more exposure. In Denver, I-News founder Laura Frank became a VP at Rocky Mountain PBS.

She says news organizations around Colorado used to offer to pay I-News for its content, but when that became harder to do, “we started trading chickens.”

For instance, she said, one partner might work on graphic. Another might put in a house ad for I-News’ summer camp.

Related: How journalists can turn a passion into a startup news site | New Orleans newspaper war: Now with TV partnerships!

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
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