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April 20 2012

13:27

Catalysts of Collaboration: What Motivates New Journalism Partnerships

The shift from competition to collaboration in the American newsroom has been so profound that in 2009 the Columbia Journalism Review published an article on "Journalism's collaborative future," arguing that "there is something fundamental under way." That same year, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger wrote, "I've seen the future, and it's mutual." The trend is clear, and by all accounts collaborations are expanding and maturing, but do we have a clear enough understanding of what motivates these collaborative efforts? What are the factors inside and outside the newsroom that are inspiring this great collaborative shift?

At MIT's Center for Civic Media in 2010 Scott Rosenberg, executive editor of Grist and Salon co-founder, commented:

There is a professional transition in the field from an environment where competition was the dominant mode of interacting with other organizations to an era where dividing labor and sharing might serve the public better.

The past few years have created a perfect storm of economic crisis, technological transition, and cultural change that have combined to help inspire many journalists to explore news partnerships. Below, I explore three factors that are motivating journalists to work together.

Rapid Technological Change

Journalism practice has always been tied to technological development. In their book, "Four Theories of the Press," Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm argue, "The press always takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which it operates." Historically, we've seen this as the telegraph led to the development of the inverted pyramid, the telephone begat the phone interview, and the always-on cable news channels resulted in the 24-hour news cycle.

telegraph.jpg

One thing that differentiates the current batch of technological changes and their impact on journalism is the profound pace of that change. Now, the Internet, mobile devices and new digital tools are prompting the profession of journalism to become more collaborative, by fostering interaction with the public and with other news organizations.

Platforms like Publish2, a content-management system; Stroome, a browser-based video editing platform; and DocumentCloud, a repository for primary documents -- among many others -- are helping to lower the costs of reporting and publishing and connecting individual journalists and newsrooms around shared resources. One of the most ambitious of these projects is the Public Media Platform, which former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said would "allow all of the content from [various public media] entities -- whether news or cultural products -- to flow freely among the partners and member stations, and, ultimately, also to other publishers, other not-for-profits and software developers who will invent wonderful new products that we can't even imagine."

In addition, collaboration between newsrooms and the public is growing. Examples include CNN's iReport, Huffington Post's OffTheBus and various crowdsourcing projects from ProPublica and others. As a society we are witnessing a technologically driven resurgence in all kinds of sharing, and journalism organizations are a key part of that development.

Economic Factors

This new era of collaboration is not just a function of shiny new gadgets, platforms or programs. It's impossible to ignore the effect the economic recession has had in prompting collaboration. We're living through one of the most difficult periods in the history of the news business (albeit, one of the most exciting), where sharp budget reductions, shrinking ad revenues, dramatic shifts in audiences' media consumption habits, and a range of self-inflicted wounds (from media consolidation to unhealthy debt loads) have upended news organizations' longstanding business models and sparked an age of reinvention and experimentation.

nothiring.jpg

Indeed, many collaborative journalism projects have either been started or are staffed by some of the 30,000-plus people who lost newsroom jobs over the last four years. Esther Kaplan of the Nation Investigative Fund, which "incubates and supports" investigative stories and journalists until the stories are published across a network of magazines like the Atlantic and Mother Jones, has called her effort a "social safety net" for laid-off reporters.

Journalism collaborations present opportunities to share resources and costs, allowing media outlets -- especially independent ones -- to maximize their dwindling budgets. Examples include the Investigative News Network and the Media Consortium, which help independent news organizations with things like back office support, fundraising, and the facilitation of editorial collaborations. In its big-picture report "The Big Thaw," the Media Consortium suggests that the rise of collaboration represents a shift toward a human-centered "alternative economy" that puts community impact and engagement at the center of journalism.

Finally, the economics of collaboration are not only driven by what has been lost, but also by what has been gained as foundations focus on expanding their impact by supporting collaborative projects across organizations. According to J-Lab at American University, foundations have spent upwards of $143 million since 2005 to support new journalism projects, many with collaborative elements. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) provided $1 million in mid-2010 for the new Public Media Platform initiative that hopes to create a shared API for community and public media. CPB and the Knight Foundation have also funded regional collaborative journalism ventures between local public TV and radio stations around the country.

Better Journalism

Not all of the factors driving collaboration are external to the work of journalism itself. Many early converts to collaborative journalism argue that it produces a superior product. Spot.Us founder David Cohn has said, on more than one occasion, that if content is king, collaboration is queen. Through collaboration you can tap into skills and expertise outside your organization (such as multimedia production), uncover new story angles, bring in diverse perspectives, and extend the reach and influence of your work.

In the Columbia Journalism Review editorial mentioned above, the editors write:

From foreign capitals to U.S. statehouses, [journalism collaboration] is a way to extend our shrinking newsrooms, begin to rebuild public trust and ensure that the standards of the professional press help shape the development of new journalistic endeavors.

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In recent years, collaborative journalism projects have been earning significant awards. ProPublica has won numerous awards for its collaborations with NPR and other new organizations. The California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting and the Chico Enterprise-Record won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists for their joint reporting on woodstove smoke pollution. And the Tiziano Project won a community collaboration award from the Online News Association for its work promoting collaborative journalism in Iraq.

While the other factors above provide external pressure on journalists, most wouldn't embrace collaboration if it wasn't helping them do better journalism.

From Safety in Numbers to Strength in Numbers

Regardless of the catalyst for collaboration, there is a growing sense in the news business that we are all in this together.

The magnitude of this shift toward working together, not just across newsrooms but across the profession as a whole, is perhaps best epitomized by the widespread adoption of a "Show Your Work" ethos. The credo, which encourages journalists and programmers to be transparent with the work they do and share the lessons of their work with the field, was first promoted by the Chicago Tribune apps team last year, and has also been embraced by ProPublica -- but the mantra has spread well beyond these two newsrooms. Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, called Show Your Work "perhaps the biggest thing to affect journalism development" of 2011.

Show Your Work is a great example of how collaboration can turn safety in numbers into strength in numbers. Instead of collaborating simply because everyone around you is trying to do more with less, this approach suggests that by working together, we can all achieve more with more. We can build on each other's work, failures and successes to help build better journalism together.

What other motivations and external factors drive journalism collaborations, and how does understanding these catalysts help us better facilitate news partnerships?

Matt Schafer contributed additional research and reporting for this post.

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Josh Stearns is a journalist, organizer and community strategist. He is Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director for Free Press, a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization working to reform the media through education, organizing and advocacy. He was a co-author of "Saving the News: Toward a national journalism strategy," "Outsourcing the News: How covert consolidation is destroying newsrooms and circumventing media ownership rules," and "On the Chopping Block: State budget battles and the future of public media." Find him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

Photos above by Flickr users Chris Willis, Bart Heird, and Rob n' Renee.

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September 23 2010

17:30

A Guide to Rising Public Media Networks in the U.S.

While it's taken public broadcasters awhile to catch up to the possibilities and dynamics of social and mobile media platforms, over the past year on MediaShift we have been documenting a flurry of innovation that reveals new possibilities for how the sector might share content, do business, and engage publics. Here's a guide to several types of rising public media networks, and a look at how new policy models might better support them.

Networked Content

Content networks are nothing new to public broadcasters -- NPR and PBS serve as closed and centralized hubs of content aggregation and distribution to member stations, and PRX has demonstrated the benefits of a more open, digital conduit between producers, stations and the public. But the June announcement that NPR would lead a coalition of such distributors in developing a joint Public Media Platform (PMP) upped the ante. A prototype, slated to be done by the end of the year, will build upon NPR's successful API and related experiments, which have powered a variety of mobile and iPad apps, allowed local station sites to feature national content, and enabled external viral distribution of public radio content via data mashups.

If it works, the PMP will expand the audience for and utility of public broadcasting content. It will also serve as a point of entry for new public media contributors, most immediately from non-commercial and hyper-local news projects. And it will create new opportunities for content to flow across public media silos, making collaboration much easier. This would encourage curated cross-platform projects like WGBH's new World Compass site, and targeted aggregation on public broadcasting sites, such as the "Public Media Resources" section on the site of the PBS NewsHour. Plus, as the graphic below suggests, the PMP would support entirely new uses of content by developers, educational institutions, and non-profits.

public media platform grab.jpg

(You can see a larger version of the image here)

Although it represents a much needed (and much discussed) integration of content, the project is not without its tensions. There are many rights issues to be worked out, and public stations are leery that products built via the PMP will pull audiences and dollars away from them. But as Eliot Van Buskirk notes on Wired's Epicenter blog, "Ultimately, the upside to all of this sharing, repackaging and distribution will likely be bigger than the downside, so far as the public is concerned. This Public Media Platform will bring competition to member stations that didn't exist before, and should result in a large number of apps, sites and publications over the coming years, if things go as planned."

What's more, NPR's Kinsey Wilson told Poynter that the PMP could serve as an "engine of innovation" for journalism, powering reporting experiments like NPR's new Project Argo.

Networked Outlets and Producers

Creating a big content repository is just one step in the process of building a vibrant public media network. Both public broadcasting outlets and independent makers need help understanding how best to curate and package digital content, and how to attract networked users [PDF] to it.

Over the last several decades, trade organizations have emerged in the public broadcasting sector to represent the interests of and provide services to discrete groups of outlets and makers, including the Association of Public Television Stations, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Association of Independents in Radio and others. But while most of these are organized according to platform, innovators working in cross-platform, digital and mobile production don't have a central hub to share success and failures and hash out new standards.

While the Integrated Media Association has served this role, currently it's in a transition phase; as a result, the organization will not hold a 2010 conference. In its absence, a number of less formal networks have sprung up to connect stations, makers and developers.

MediaShift has reported before on two of these rising networks: the Public Media Chat (#pubmedia) on Twitter, which is organized by a revolving group of volunteers, and the Public Media Camps, jointly organized by NPR and PBS. (Full disclosure: I've been involved in hosting both, including the next national PubCamp, slated for November 20.)

The PubCamps and #pubmedia chats have been growing and deepening over the past few months, in part because both provide openings for new thinkers and doers from outside of traditional public broadcasting to participate. The chats encourage this interaction because they take place on an open platform, and overlap with other networks of Twitter users focused on the future of news and community media. The Public Media Camps are explicitly designed to bring developers and community members together with both stations and national public broadcasting organizations to brainstorm new projects and apps.

With support from CPB, the pace of local PubCamps picked up over the summer. But even stations who haven't received any hosting funds have started to organize their own camps. These events not only foster the creation of local networks, and feed into the emerging national network of PubCamp participants, who are connected across a variety of social media platforms. Take a look at this presentation from the North Carolina PubCamp to get a sense of how this works.

While such social media-driven exchanges may seem chaotic to those used to more traditional nametag-and-plenary style conferences, they can produce surprisingly effective results. For example, a recent #pubmedia chat prompted WGBH's Chris Beers to whip up an archive of public broadcasting web sites over the course of a few days. Such a resource -- potentially a valuable tool for stations, developers and policymakers -- could have cost thousands of dollars and wasted numerous agonizing hours in planning meetings. But because Beers is operating from an open source perspective, he built this tool with the expectation that the community would use it, contribute to it, and improve it in the process. A similar spirit is on display on the PubMedia Commons site, which archives the chats and offers a shared code repository.

The chats and PubCamps also serve as generative spaces for exchanges between media makers who may share similar goals goals but don't usually interact. For example, this weekend's PubCamp in Champaign-Urbana promises to bring both public and community broadcasters together with open source developers and staff from CU-CitizenAccess, a civic engagement project based at the University of Illinois, designed to both report on and develop solutions with locals living in poverty.

As Jason Pramas of Open Media Boston writes, "we had public media staffers, community media staff, and independent producers involved in planning PubMediaCamp Boston from the get-go ... [with an] overarching goal of holding an event that would help network people from all these communities and encourage collaboration."

He said that his session spawned yet another small network, "a FuturePublicMedia email list where all kinds of public media supporters from the communities represented at PubMediaCamp Boston can talk about the public media system we want to build, and how we might advocate for it."

Networked Publics

Networked content and outlets alone aren't guaranteed to attract new audiences. The real growth area lies in the ability of public media organizations to use digital platforms to meaningfully connect with users around issues, communities and events. This involves both reaching out on existing social media platforms where they already congregate, and creating more specialized networks of users around particular goals.

For many stations and public broadcasting programs, this is still very much a trial-and-error process. They start Twitter accounts, post Facebook pages, and then wonder disconsolately why no one is friending them. Or, perhaps worse, they approach these two-way platforms with one-way expectations borrowed from PR and broadcast, only to discover that their users have more than enough to discuss with them.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting learned this lesson the hard way when it canceled the broadcast of Fresh Air after Terri Gross interviewed controversial comic Louis C.K. The station's Facebook page quickly became a rallying point for protesters, and the crusade has continued on a dedicated page titled "Bring Fresh Air Back to Mississippi."

Beyond interacting with users as content consumers, public broadcasters are learning how to interact with them as sources, and even in some cases as content producers. What's more, they're developing both online and offline contexts that allow publics to form their own networks around shared interests or cultural gatherings such as The Moth, a storytelling slam and radio hour. The National Center for Media Engagement has been cataloging such promising engagement efforts on its Pipeline page and in a series of peer webinars.

American Public Media's Public Insight Network(PIN) has been one of the most tenacious and creative hubs for building effective public media user networks. Now, in the middle of a three-year, $2.95 million grant from the Knight Foundation, PIN is aggressively expanding to new cities and adding new partners and capabilities as it goes.

Joaquin Alvarado, APM's senior vice president for digital innovation, calls PIN an "engagement platform" for public media. Users are recruited as sources with particular expertise, and tapped by journalists in partner newsrooms for interviews, focus groups and story suggestions. Alvarado explains that PIN developers are now working on a Drupal-based ecosystem of tools that will both make it easier for reporters to find relevant sources and networks for their stories, and allow users to track how their own contributions are making their way into coverage. The bet is that seeing themselves as part of the network might increase sources' already impressive response rate to PIN email inquiries.

PIN is broadening the network of public media entities by serving as a conduit for stations to partner up with local commercial and nonprofit news outlets. Take Miami, where WLRN is working with the Miami Herald to recruit local sources; as a result, PIN developers are working on a Spanish-language version of the network's tools, which can then be deployed elsewhere.

Beyond that, however, PIN is uncovering the power of tapping sources' own personal networks. For example, a query to the network about Lutherans' response to a vote allowing gay pastors to serve as clergy yielded a huge response: More than 2500 new sources joined the network to weigh in.

"Every community contains within it fault lines that can, under the right conditions, break open into chasms," reflected PIN Editor Andrew Haeg on the MPR site. "We agree, sometimes silently, to disagree -- or at least not to address our split for fear of upsetting the status quo. Our inquiry became a sort of social Richter scale revealing a community rocked by a temblor that the rest of us hardly felt."

Building New Models of Networked Public Media

Against the backdrop of widespread public experimentation with social media platforms like Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook, these efforts by public broadcasters may seem like too little too late. But what's notable is that all of these networks have been built without policy support, earmarked funds, or consistent collaboration designed to link them together. Right now, taxpayer, underwriter and member dollars are still mostly dedicated to supporting broadcast stations and content. Imagine what would happen if that equation shifted?

Center for Social Media Fellow Ellen Goodman makes that imaginative leap in a forthcoming article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. Goodman, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, worked with University of Pennsylvania research fellow Anne Chen to develop a new model for making public media policy based on a layered structure borrowed from the Internet's own architecture. Right now, they point out, the primary focus of policy and funding is the broadcast station. Future policymaking designed to support a public media network, however, could be focused on four discrete layers of function: Transmission infrastructure, creation of content and applications, curation of public media content and archives, and connection to the public. Note that these layers roughly mirror the emerging networks described above.

Dedicated digital infrastructure, more flexible funding, and a renewed emphasis on connection could work to knit public broadcasting's currently fragmented and resource-starved networks into a powerful national platform for learning, public dialogue, and problem solving. This would not require centralizing operations at the coasts; instead it would involve constructing a network of networks, connected via shared protocols and standards. Such a network could also support the capacity for local reporting, encouraging civic engagement on the ground and feeding diverse content and conversations back up to national programs and sites. It could foster local and national connections with other noncommercial partners who share a public mission.

"Public media has the potential to meet some of the nation's most critical information
needs," write Goodman and Chen, "but only if public media networks are reconfigured for more collaboration, innovation, and service in a networked environment."

In order to be most viable, such a public media network would need to be developed in concert with a series of larger policy efforts: to extend broadband access to all Americans, maintain net neutrality across both wired and wireless broadband services, create network linkages between noncommercial "anchor institutions" in communities, and subsidize new equipment and hosting costs for public media producers. In a March article in Current, APM's Alvarado offered a complementary model for understanding these various needs, as depicted below.

alvarado-pyramid-smaller.jpg

Alvarado urges public broadcasters and regulators to act boldly, citing education and journalism as two major areas for beta-testing the power of new network functions. "The gaps in our current business model will widen quickly as broadband develops nationally," he writes. "We can address them only by radically shifting what we and the public expect from the system and from our individual organizations. Incremental steps will not concentrate enough resources to leapfrog the compounding limitations in resources, ambition and effectiveness."

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project , and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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September 09 2010

14:00

The Newsonomics of public radio’s Argonauts

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Overnight, it seems, journalism has been transformed from a daily grind to an heroic quest. Rupert Murdoch has dubbed his adventure to get readers to pay for tablet (and other) content Alesia (after a Roman/Gauls battle) and now public radio formally launches Project Argo. Ah, journalists pursuing the golden fleece. Forget Woodstein — the pursuit of journalism itself is now an against-all-odds mythic trip against budget monsters and business model slayers.

If last year was the year of massive cutting, this is the year of new news creation popping up from unusual quarters. AOL’s Patch is probably the biggest hiring agent, with more than 400 new full-time jobs covering local communities. Sites like TBD.com and Bay Citizen are crafting new products and strategies and hiring dozens of journalists. Now Argo pushes forward, in a quest to stick a new flag of public media in terra incognita, and is hiring journalists in the process.

Argo is intended to bring a high level of attention to hot button topics, covered from a regional perspective. “We want to be the best means of authoritative coverage,” NPR Digital Media G.M. Kinsey Wilson told me recently. [We want] to be the top-of-mind choice for issues like immigration [now covered out of L.A. by KPCC with the Argo site Multi-American].”

Coverage is handled by the increasingly familiar reporter/blogger/curator, finding the most relevant coverage for readers. Largely providing a single new full-time position for each new site, “hosts” come from some impressive reporting backgrounds, like WBUR’s Carey Goldberg, former Boston bureau chief of The New York Times, and Rachel Zimmerman, former health and medicine reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Much of the content — and there’s an impressive amount at launch — is text, not audio.

At first, Argo seems hard to put in context. It’s public radio becoming public media becoming locally topical, but in ways that can inform more than local audiences — which we used to think of as public radio listeners, but who are now public media listeners and readers. Got that?

I’ve talked to a number of people in the emerging public media landscape — a fairly merry lot of Argonauts and other dragon slayers who see lots of upside — so let’s take a look at the emerging newsonomics of projects like Argo.

By the raw numbers, Argo is a $3 million investment. That’s not much by traditional journalism standards, but in this day and age, it wins headlines, like the minor economic development miracle of a new big-box store being covered on the Metro front. The money comes both from a foundation — the omnipresent Knight Foundation at $1 million — and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $2 million.

That Knight funding reminds us of the good that’s still being done by the once dependable profits of newspaper companies, as Knight Ridder funding built one of the 25 foundations in the country, one that has been instrumental in seeding sprouts of the new new journalism.

That CPB funding reminds us that our tax dollars have been supporting news for more than four decades now, even as the debate rages abstractly on whether it’s a good idea to have “government” in the news business. NPR’s news effort — supported by members, philanthropists like Joan Kroc and yes, our tax dollars — makes a pretty good case that some government funding is a good idea, especially if we compare NPR radio news to what is elsewhere generally available in the growing desert of commercial radio news coverage.

Argo itself is 12 sites, produced by 14 public radio stations (two sites are jointly produced), each specializing in major topics like education, health, immigration, and ocean health, and exploring that topic regionally. Journalists are hired by individual public radio stations, each of which applied for the funding. The initial funding is intended to sustain the sites through the end of next year — and to provide “prototype products,” according to Wilson.

So that funding is one of the first things that tells us about the business of this effort. Like Silicon Valley startups, the effort is about building a product that seems to meet a clear audience need, building that audience — and then finding a sustainable business model. That’s what has built companies for decades in the valley, and it’s in contrast to how much of the journalism business has long gotten funded.

Looking under the covers, though, here are three more things to watch about the emerging economic model underneath Argo:

  • It’s local and vertical. In the conundrum that the web has been for newsies, publishers often felt compelled to choose “local” or “vertical,” the fancy term for topical. Of course, readers’ concerns encompass both, and an education site that focuses on local education (such as Minnesota Public Radio’s Argo site On Campus) creates double value and may multiply audience. Even though, it’s “local,” just as WBUR’s CommonHealth, it will find national audiences as well.
  • It’s built for networking. Public radio used to a fairly one-way street, with national NPR and then Public Radio International and American Public Radio essentially licensing or syndicating shows to local stations, of which there are more than 250. Now built on increasingly flexible technologies like NPR’s emerging API and PRX’s exchange, local stations can increasingly both syndicate their own work, Argo-funded and other, to each other — and pick up other stations’ work more easily. In a sense, we see an alternative wire in creation, especially as the Public Media Platform goes forward.
  • It builds on public radio stations’ local news push. A number of stations represented in Argo have also begun building out their local/regional/statewide news presences. KQED, in the Bay Area, which is launching MindShift through Argo, just hired eight new news staffers as it launched KQEDNews.org (Good piece by MediaShift’s Katie Donnelly on the initiative and its context.) So in KQED’s case, as in WBUR’s, KPCC in L.A.’s, and Oregon Public Broadcasting’s, the topical initiative receives more play due to the expanded news reach — and the expanded news reach gets more public notice because of the new topical coverage.

Each of those factors are multipliers, multipliers of public radio’s emerging digital news business. They multiply audience. They multiple the ability to get members and membership income. They multiply sponsorship opportunities, the “advertising” of public radio. That’s on the business level. On the journalism level, public radio’s news values — the closest to newspaper’s traditional ones — get to flex their muscles, another early test of just how far public media wants to go in filling the yawning local news vacuum.

June 16 2010

19:30

Knight News Challenge: PRX’s StoryMarket will bring Spot.us-style crowdfunding to public radio

Most of the projects awarded grants in the Knight News Challenge come out on top because they offer something new: they’re innovative, they’re different, they’re unique. One of this year’s crop of winners, though, made a selling point of its similarity to a previous Knight grantee. The Public Radio Exchange’s StoryMarket project will build on — and collaborate with — Spot.us, one of the best known Knight winners, to bring crowdfunding to public radio.

Per Knight’s official announcement of StoryMarket’s $75,000 grant:

Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.

“This has been an idea that PRX has been kicking around for a while,” says Jake Shapiro, PRX’s CEO and the leader of the StoryMarket project. And it’s one that “really takes advantage of the platform that we have in place.” Which makes the project unique…by way of similarity. As Shapiro told me of the project’s proposal: “This would be one of the first ones, as far as I know, that help anchor a collaboration with another promising Knight investment.” (Another of this year’s winners also has a history of intra-KNC collaboration: Tilemapping has worked with past winner Ushahidi.)

The PRX-Spot.us collaboration will be a core component of the StoryMarket project — in particular, Shapiro points out, “at the code level,” where much of the partnership will be focused. The PRX technology team (some ten members strong at the moment, with an additional six or so working on a contract basis) will work with the Spot.us coders to “add value to the investment made in the open-source code base to date — and increase the likelihood that it’s a worthwhile investment.”

That synergy — wheel-reinvention, in reverse — also means that StoryMarket will be insulated in ways that ground-up, from-scratch projects don’t tend to be. “There are risks in all of this,” Shapiro allows, “but some of the things that are typically risks are not ones for us.”

At the user level, in turn, PRX will adopt much of the Spot.us approach to crowdfunding to raise money for its own stories — a significant shift for the public media platform. “The way that PRX had, for the most part, been available was more as an aftermarket for existing work,” Shapiro points out, “where somebody who had stories and had created documentaries would use PRX as an additional distribution path for broadcast and digital.” StoryMarket is an attempt to make PRX an up-front and active participant in the entire production process. “The fundamental driver of it, and the outcome, was to create original, new stories that are important on a local level,” Shapiro says. Only “instead of having the chain wait until you’ve identified, developed, and produced a story, and then look for a media partner” — the Spot.us model, essentially — we’re beginning with media partners.”

The first of those partners? Louisville Public Media in Kentucky — “a very forward-looking, ambitious station in a smaller market in the South, where historically there’s been less investment in this kind of work,” Shapiro says. Not only is the station not among “the usual suspects, which are the major-market stations that we work a lot with” — and not only is there “no shortage of important stories to be told there,” from mountaintop mining to race relations in public schools — but LPM’s size means that its status as a PRX media partner will offer a challenge. In, you know, a good way. A core goal of StoryMarket, as it is with most Knight winners, is scalabilty — and with LPM’s relatively small number of producers, “it’s going to be an interesting test of how much the network effect will kick in,” Shapiro says.

Helping that effect along will be the Public Media Platform, the behemoth digital distribution network launched on Monday. The platform, a collaboration among American Public Media, NPR, PBS, Public Radio International and, yes, PRX, should amplify StoryMarket’s reach. To collaborate with PRX is to collaborate, in effect, with the entire network.

At the same time, though, StoryMarket will also be a test of local news outlets’ ability to generate financial support for individual stories in addition to their broader, brand-based fundraising efforts. With national public programming widely available, stations now “have an even deeper interest in being relevant locally,” Shapiro points out. Competition means that “they’re increasingly wanting to differentiate themselves by making sure they do good local coverage.” And StoryMarket, for its part, will mean that the public has a new way to express what “good local coverage” actually looks like.

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