Collaborative Journalism Summit: Successful local/national partnerships often depend on personal relationships

Media organizations large and small can benefit from collaboration with their peers and with non-media groups, but those relationships need to be well thought-out and supported by carefully cultivated personal relationships.

That’s what Tim Griggs told the audience at the Collaborative Journalism Summit, which took place May 4-5 on the campus of Montclair State University. Griggs presented findings from his year-long study of local and national news partnerships on behalf of the Center for Cooperative Media, which hosted the summit.

Griggs, a consultant who is a former publisher of the Texas Tribune and a product and strategy executive at The New York Times, said collaborations between media groups can be fruitful by, for example, filling gaps in content that might not otherwise be covered by one organization alone. But such arrangements contain pitfalls for the unprepared.

For example, collaborative plans between news organizations need to find ways of getting over cultural differences and entrenched ways of doing things, Griggs said.

National newsrooms, for example, may not trust smaller operations, while smaller media may be more adaptable in changing their working practices to accommodate their new partner, he said. Both should overcome their aversions in order to create a collaboration that will be mutually beneficial.

“Newsrooms have a size bias,” Griggs said. “We have a tendency to relate better to newsrooms of a similar size.”

He also stressed the importance of knowing the right people in a potential partner organization, and warned that it’s not easy to get buy-in to the collaborative arrangement from everyone in the participating organizations.

“It’s tough to get internal agreement,” he said. “Getting everybody on the same page is very difficult.”

Challenges can also include giving up some control over content to a partner organization, and that may not sit well with some people, he said.

Any collaborative arrangement should be based on clear and frequent communications about the editorial mission of the partners, and responsibilities should be assigned in writing, he said.

Griggs, who said he has “done some opportunistic matchmaking,” urged partner organizations to assign a specific person – either a new hire or an existing staffer — to “own” the partnership.

“Put people closest to the work at the heart of it,” he said. “If the people who aren’t doing the work aren’t really tightly connected, it tends to unravel quickly.”

It’s important to build relationships with potential partners even if a collaboration doesn’t immediately result, Griggs said. “Build long-term relationships so that the next time a big project like that comes up, you are top of mind,” he said.

Asked how to create cooperation between small news organizations, Griggs said it will be more complicated the more people are involved, but he said there are examples of successful collaborations such as one in Philadelphia between the Philadelphia Inquirer, philly.com, the Daily News and WHYY, the National Public Radio affiliate.

Non-media organizations, too, can be valuable partners for media groups that are trying to build their coverage and increase their audience, Griggs said.

He cited his experience at the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, member-supported web site that covers public policy, politics and government with news and data. Its relationship with non-media groups yielded benefits including shared lists and speaking opportunities.

“We were trying to build an audience out of thin air,” Griggs said. “There’s a ton to gain from working with civic groups, trade groups, and alumni associations.”

Read more about Griggs’ work studying local and national news partnerships:


Author Jon Hurdle is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist. 

About the Local/National News Partnerships project: For the past year, Tim Griggs, an independent consultant, studied national and local news partnerships on behalf of the Center for Cooperative Media, as part of a project funded by Democracy Fund and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

About the Collaborative Journalism Summit: The Collaborative Journalism Summit took place May 4-5, 2017 at Montclair State University. It was an international symposium on collaborative reporting projects and cooperative news networks. The summit was hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media and presented by Google News Lab and the Rita Allen Foundation, and is sponsored by the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the CUNY Graduate School of JournalismMontclair State University and the Rita Allen Foundation.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

Featured image: Photo by Ivan via Flickr (edits made in compliance with Creative Commons)

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