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March 29 2012

14:00

Creating a Taxonomy of News Partnerships

In collaborative journalism right now we can see media theorist Clay Shirky's urge towards vast experimentation manifested. The journalism partnerships emerging around the country vary in size and type, and the practices that define those partnerships are still being negotiated and hashed out in newsrooms and communities.

Some partnerships bring together very different news organizations in order to provide expanded coverage, while others coalesce around similar newsrooms to cut down on duplicative efforts. Some focus on local or hyperlocal news, while others focus on regional and national reporting. Some bring the resources of multiple organizations together to focus on one issue in depth, while others partner with the public to capture a range of different angles on one issue.

This diversity in approaches to collaborative journalism is one of its strengths -- and one of its great challenges.

A Collaboration Framework

Journalists, editors and managers at news organizations are trying to navigate the parameters of these new kinds of partnerships as they happen. Developing a framework to categorize journalism collaborations is useful as practitioners look for lessons and models to replicate and build on. The dynamics between different newsrooms, and their various motivations for partnering, shape how a given collaboration is structured. While some collaborations may defy categorization, a few basic partnership models have emerged:

  • Commercial News Collaborations: These partnerships tend to be contractual agreements between commercial news organizations such as television stations and newspapers. They are often defined by the legal deals that structure them: Shared Services Agreements, Local News Sharing Agreements, Newspaper Broadcast Cross-Ownership, Joint Operating Agreements, etc. Many of these agreements consolidate resources, equipment, production and even newsroom staff. These kinds of commercial partnerships and near-mergers pre-date the larger collaborative trend we've witnessed across newsrooms since 2008.

  • Non-Profit and Commercial Collaborations: These partnerships are usually between public or non-commercial entities and a private news organization. This model gained significant attention during the Comcast-NBC merger debates because Comcast promised to expand local news coverage on NBC stations through partnerships with non-profit journalism organizations. Other examples include the New York Times' local news partnerships with non-profits in major media markets and sites like California Watch, whose model is based on these partnerships. In these arrangements, the commercial news outlet often serves as the distributor of content the non-profit produces. However, more complex and expansive non-profit and commercial reporting collaborations are also emerging.

  • Public and Non-Commercial Collaborations: These partnerships connect multiple public media outlets or bring public radio and TV stations together in collaboration with other non-profit newsrooms. The networked nature of the U.S. public media system, in which stations across the country are both producers and distributors, has meant that partnerships within the system are built into the DNA of the organizations. In recent years, innovative public media producers have built on that history and taken collaboration to the next level. We have also seen inventive partnerships between public media broadcasters and non-profit digital news startups.

  • University Collaborations: University partnerships with local news organizations are engaging journalism and mass communications students in hands-on reporting efforts that are producing some great journalism. This model takes many forms, from curricular-based service-learning efforts to campus-based investigative reporting workshops, and involves both commercial and non-commercial news organizations.

  • Community and Audience Collaborations: Journalists are also collaborating with their communities in new and important ways. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding -- as exemplified by projects at The Guardian, ProPublica and public media's Public Insight Network and Spot.Us -- are finding new ways for audiences to contribute to the funding, research and editorial decisions that shape the news. At their best, these projects are not just transactional, wherein the audience hands over something (money, information) and gets something in return (a story or other journalistic product); they are transformative for both journalists and participants -- as in the case of Departures, a web-based documentary series about Los Angeles developed by public media station KCET in close partnership with community members.

This taxonomy focuses primarily on editorial collaborations around the production of specific news products; however, each collaborative model listed above also encompasses cases in which news organizations can and do collaborate around shared infrastructure. Examples of infrastructure-driven collaboration include: broadcasters sharing equipment, such as news helicopters; two non-profits sharing the costs of developing a mobile app; and universities acting as fiscal agents for journalism organizations. Organizations like J-Lab, the Media Consortium and the Investigative News Network are all helping facilitate both editorial and infrastructural partnerships.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

silver-bullet.jpgToo often, in debates over the future of journalism, we get caught up looking for a silver bullet -- the one business model to rule them all. Some debates about collaboration echo this narrow focus, assuming there will be a universal set of practices or guidelines that newsrooms can replicate and scale across the country. The categorization above should highlight the vastly different approaches to journalistic collaboration that exist.



We are still at the early stages of experimentation with large- and small-scale collaboration across the news and journalism ecosystem. Partners differ, motivations differ, needs differ and funding differs. This list isn't meant to suggest that news organizations only draw lessons from partnerships that most closely resemble their own -- indeed quite the opposite is true: We should be drawing on the lessons from across models, but we should do so with an awareness of the unique context of each collaboration. Each of the various models outlined above present unique challenges and opportunities that deserve to be unpacked and detailed in more depth.

Do you think these five categories are comprehensive or would you add others? Or would you suggested categorizing collaboration more by the type of journalism than the structure of the newsroom? For example, we might reorganize the list above to highlight similarities and differences between collaborations organized around investigative reporting, niche journalism, covering local beats, etc. Let me know how you would organize the field in the comments below.  

Photo of silver bullet by Flickr user Ed Schipel.

Josh Stearns is a journalist, organizer and community strategest. 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.

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September 15 2011

18:23

8 Ways Tech-Based Foundations Are Changing Philanthropy

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Not so long ago, most major U.S. foundations fit the image of the giant East Coast institution, rooted in fortunes made by titans of the manufacturing and extractive industries. For decades, the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller foundations carried out sweeping programs on a scale that rivaled those of governments. Many public reforms and institutions were buoyed by their efforts, including public broadcasting, public libraries, and the Green Revolution.


But in recent years that primacy has been challenged by a host of new foundations, rooted in the digital communications and technology sector, that are rewriting the rules of American philanthropy. They don't always march in lockstep or speak with one voice, but they are generating a new philanthropic culture nonetheless.

Here are eight ways in which the new tech philanthropies are making their mark:

1. Their footprint is large and growing. In fact, tech-based donors represent the fastest-growing sector in U.S. philanthropy today. This claim could be based on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone. Founded in 1994 with an endowment of $94 million in Microsoft stock, it immediately experienced dramatic growth. This was further galvanized by Warren Buffett's 2006 contribution equivalent to $30 billion, which was to be paid out over a number of years.

The Foundation Center's list of last available audited statements (as of July 2011 at this writing) places the Gates Foundation's assets at nearly $34 billion at the end of 2009. This is more than the assets of the three next largest U.S. foundations listed (Ford, J. Paul Getty, and Robert Wood Johnson) combined.

In recent years, Gates has been joined by a number of other donors from the tech community, among them eBay's Pierre and Pam Omidyar, founders of the Omidyar Network; eBay's Jeffrey Skoll, founder of the Skoll Foundation; and the Google philanthropic arm known as google.org. Not only are these organizations built on vast new fortunes, their assets are also often neutral or even counter-cyclical compared with traditional foundations' portfolios.

2. They are generating new organizational cultures. Institutions tend to mirror the dominant administrative cultures of their origins, and foundations are no different. The new tech-based philanthropies, rooted in startup culture, tend to be distrustful of big bureaucracy and admiring of innovation. The Gates Foundation began in Seattle with a bare-bones staff that had to be doubled in 2006 when the Warren Buffett contribution arrived. The Omidyar Network dispensed with traditional titles to indicate its idiosyncratic approach to the funding process. (This decision included the word "foundation." One of the network's alternate labels is "philanthropic investment firm.") Omidyar programs are shaped by individuals whose titles include "principal" and "managing partner." The network collaborates with "partners" rather than funding grantees. The Omidyar Network is also pioneering the use of social investment, investing in for-profit companies for the sake of social impact, at times acquiring equity in the process.


Thumbnail image for omidyarnetwork.png Many of the new foundations favor a "venture capital" approach to their grants, in which many new projects are seeded with the expectation that a number of them will fail, and the successful models will proceed to the next level of support. This approach often places a heavy emphasis on project monitoring and evaluation as part of the ongoing funding process.

3. They promote a global perspective. The Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation were deeply involved with the architecture of the Marshall Plan that rescued Europe from the ashes of World War II. Now the Gates Foundation and its counterparts are taking a close look at the developing world, and at Africa and India in particular. The Gates Foundation's three program areas are global health, global development (with a strong emphasis on Africa and India), and U.S. programs (with a primary focus on education). The Omidyar Network's portfolio includes a number of projects in India and Africa. Google's philanthropy has experimented with a number of different approaches, among them pro bono tech projects and public health initiatives in Africa. Some of these global initiatives include surprising new approaches, such as Jeff Skoll's Participant Media, which finances films to advance public education on critical global issues. Participant's most recent project is Contagion, a feature film that portrays the world in the grip of a rapid-fire pandemic. The project features a public education website, and its advisors included public health expert Dr. Larry Brilliant, formerly the head of Google's philanthropy and currently president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

JeffSkoll-low-res-276x300.jpg

4. They're still in motion. Some of the older technology-based foundations include the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (founded in 1964) and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (founded in 1967). These foundations have been around long enough to define their portfolios and institutional approaches, and bear a stronger resemblance to traditional East Coast foundations. But their younger cousins are far from set in their ways. The Case Foundation was founded by former AOL CEO Steve Case and his wife Jean in 1997. Google was only launched as a project in 1996, and google.org wasn't formed until 2004. Google is still adapting the administrative structures for philanthropy, with an increasing role played by various policy and regional offices.

Google has made a habit of experimentation in philanthropy as it has elsewhere. It has included traditional grant-making, staff volunteer projects, and the creation of online platforms for worthy causes, such as online crisis mapping to help disaster victims locate missing friends and relatives. (Google's philanthropic projects include the Google Foundation, a subset of google.org.)

case-foundation.jpg

5. They believe in "social entrepreneurship." Digital media celebrates a culture of grassroots participation, so it's no surprise that many of their foundation portfolios feature projects in micro-finance, anti-censorship, and public participation in good governance. The Case Foundation has experimented with the Make It Your Own Awards, in which individuals are invited to suggest "citizen centered" solutions to their community problems and compete for $25,000 grants to implement them -- chosen by a public online voting process. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is based in Miami with origins in the newspaper industry, but it has moved decisively into the spheres of digital media and tech-based philanthropy. Knight has not only pioneered its News Challenge as an online public competition for digital media grants; it has also forged new approaches to collaboration among philanthropies with shared goals.

6. Their funding interests often reflect their core businesses. It's only natural that foundations that arose from the digital revolution would take a strong interest in innovators in the field. The Omidyar Network and Google have recently made major grants to the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that supports Wikipedia, as well as to Global Voices, an international blogging community, and its academic birthplace, the Berkman Center at Harvard. Tech-based philanthropy also displays a strong affinity for other areas of science and technology, especially medical science and public health. The Gates Foundation has undertaken massive public health campaigns involving vaccinations, malaria eradication and nutrition in the developing world; the Omidyar Network and google.org have also made important contributions.

7. Individual and institutional philanthropy are both significant, and are sometimes carried out simultaneously. Pierre Omidyar's wife Pam was a co-founder of the Omidyar Network, and also founded two other philanthropic enterprises, Humanity United and HopeLabs. A large community of individual philanthropists is taking shape in the tech sector, and their influence is certain to be felt in coming years. Nor will they all be American. Skype, which was founded by Scandinavians and is based in Luxembourg, has been exploring new philanthropic avenues, including technological support on behalf of social good. A new generation of Indian philanthropists has emerged in recent years, such as Dr. Abraham George, a technology entrepreneur who created the George Foundation to promote projects in health, education, and poverty alleviation.

8. They're West Coast-oriented. This point is less obvious than it may seem. For decades, much U.S. foundation activity was concentrated in the Northeast Corridor, running from Washington through New York to Boston. This route involved heavy traffic with the federal government, New York media and cultural institutions, and northeastern universities. The new corridor involves Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. (It is noteworthy that while the Case foundation is based in Washington, D.C., and the Gates Foundation has a Washington office, none of the organizations mentioned in this article maintain a foundation office in New York.)

Many Americans can describe themselves as "bi-coastal," but important cultural distinctions still exist. The West Coast elite have a different relationship to the news media than their East Coast counterparts. To start with, they read different newspapers -- and may not look for their news in newspapers at all. They naturally have more ties to Stanford and Berkeley and fewer to Harvard and Yale. They will be more attentive to Asian and Latin American culture and less concerned with Europe than their East Coast counterparts. Most importantly, theirs is a technology-driven environment that still carries the expectation that innovation can fuel growth.

This is not to say that East Coast foundations have disappeared from the media scene. The Open Society Foundations, based on the fortune of financier George Soros, has major offices in New York and London. It provides some $50 million a year to media projects, many of them devoted to freedom of expression and grassroots digital democracy efforts around the world. The Ford Foundation also plays a major role in supporting freedom of expression and international media development. The MacArthur Foundation funds an innovative array of programs in which media, human rights, and international development converge.

But other traditional players of the past have receded from the field. The New York Times Foundation has closed its doors and the Tribune Foundation has retrenched, while the Freedom Forum has dedicated much of its recent funding activity to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

These trends have increased the relative influence of the West Coast donor community, but there have also been signs of increased consultation and collaboration among the various donors. Ideally, the surge of the tech-based donor activity can usher in a new age of American philanthropy, combining the energy of the new institutions with the experience of traditional foundations, to offer the world a much-needed array of innovative solutions.

This article is adapted from forthcoming issue of Anthony Knerr & Associates' publication, Strategy Matters

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She consults on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. Her most recent book is Red Orchestra. She tweets as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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November 26 2010

09:05

Micro Volunteering - Untapped Potential with Some Apparent Wrinkles to Work Out

Although a number of areas appear to require further elucidation, micro volunteering seems to have untapped potential in our ever expanding and changing technological age. To place micro volunteering in context, I will briefly provide an overview of online volunteering (also known as Virtual Volunteering or Internet-based volunteering).

Micro-Volunteering within the Context of Online Volunteering

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