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JA forum on revenue and collaboration: Seasoned perspective illuminates possibility

About Trevor Aaronson

Trevor AaronsonTrevor Aaronson co-founded the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting to “expose corruption, waste and miscarriages of justice” around the Sunshine State. Up and running since 2010, FCIR has collaborated on stories with public radio stations and many Florida newspapers, including Spanish language media. FCIR also provides data analysis both on collaborative projects and as a fee-based service.

About Michael Stoll

Michael StollMichael Stoll is executive director of San Francisco Public Press, a startup nonprofit print and web news service for the Bay area aiming to “fill the void of hard-hitting accountability reporting that’s been lost with the downsizing of the commercial press.” Built on deliberate collaboration for content and distribution among multiple journalism organizations, the Public Press doesn’t accept advertising, but is seeking to create a replicable, sustainable nonprofit business model.

Journalism Accelerator

Impact, depth, and revenue. All are clearly potential benefits of collaboration in journalism. Tuesday on the JA / CollabSpace conversation on collaboration and revenue we dug into how, when and why to collaborate. Michael Stoll of San Francisco Public Press and Trevor Aaronson of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shared their stories about various joint journalism efforts they’ve been part of. Some increased revenue, some didn’t aim to, some were “cost-positive” in the words of Michael Stoll. It’s an in-depth conversation within the still-continuing larger discussion, on how collaboration could increase revenue in journalism. Later Keith Hammonds, director of Ashoka’s News & Knowledge Initiative, offered how-tos and examples of collaborations structured with revenue in mind. Michael Skoler, VP of digital for Public Radio International, wrapped up the chat series, imagining a wealth of ways to integrate collaboration and revenue. 

Trevor summed it up right off the bat. “We all want to do better journalism, and collaboration is a great way to increase the quality and distribution of our reporting,” he said. “But FCIR is a business, and we view collaboration as a business relationship.”

So what does that mean on a practical level? For starters, he says, ask yourself how your organization would benefit from a potential collaboration. Both Michael and Trevor have leveraged working with other news organizations to win grants and to gain audience. Michael in particular points to the cost-saving opportunities of bringing the skills of reporters from multiple organizations together to cover one major story. Even though, as many reporters and publishers know, collaborations can mean a lot more work.

As Tuesday’s live conversation and the entire thread reveals, the question of collaboration leading to revenue is complicated by the fact that journalism is often mission driven. But Trevor points to projects taking collaboration large scale, and Michael Stoll calls on public broadcasting to expand its own coverage by collaborating with local news startups. He also suggests that trading skills and content benefits all partners in many situations, but well funded collaboration partners can – perhaps should – help others “keep the lights on”.

You are welcome to add your own stories of collaboration or comments anywhere in this thread. Also check out our other live chats during this forum: Keith Hammonds, director of Ashoka’s News & Knowledge Initiative and former executive editor of Fast Company shared insights; based on both his past experience at the helm of a for-profit magazine and his current work supporting collaborative news and information projects that contribute to social good. And Michael Skoler, Public Radio International’s Vice President for Digital shared details of a major collaboration he’s in the middle of right now, as well as his past work coordinating the work of multiple public radio stations, developing games, and more.

Other posts in this JA series on collaboration include: Use case, the nuanced story behind the story of one successful collaboration. Resources, examples and practices to increase your yield from collaborative journalism. Costs v. benefits: What to consider as you team up. Plus the forum itself, and as captured with Storify.