The digital age may have increased competition between news outlets as the online fight for clicks and eyeballs becomes ever more fierce, but this week goes to show that digital journalism also enables partnerships that once would have seemed unlikely.
Before the weekend comes around, The Guardian will feature two digital collaborations with smaller, local news outlets: The last of a four-part collaborative project with The Texas Observer about the US immigration crisis and the deaths of undocumented immigrants in Texas goes online today. Later this week, The Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will be launching a collaborative project about racial profiling in the wake of the events in Ferguson.
In the past, The Guardian has partnered with far-reaching and multi-faceted organizations such as The New York Times, ProPublica, Twitter, Tumblr, and Kickstarter, but the past year has also featured a number of collaborations with local US outlets as The Guardian has gained its footing in the country.
The partnerships are a natural part of the organization’s open journalism, according to director of media relations, Gennady Kolker of The Guardian US. “Our philosophy is not about competition, it’s about making journalism better, and making the stories better,” he said.
Besides this week’s stories, collaborations have included a project about the secrecy surrounding the use of lethal injections in Missouri with the AP, the Kansas City Star, the Springfield News-Leader, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Last year, the outlet also partnered with the Texas Observer and the Portland Press Herald to report on documents it obtained containing conservative funding proposals that could potentially impact several states.
Local outlets have an institutional knowledge and insight into stories that make them interesting partners to The Guardian, Kolker says. Partnerships are usually non-financial, the final project belongs to both outlets, and they are featured on both websites, bringing the Guardian’s vast audience and resources to under-reported stories.
If it seems counter-intuitive for The Guardian to bring another outlet onto a project that it could potentially pursue alone, it’s worth remembering that the organization is backed by a trust fund that allows it to be experimental and take risks.
To local news organizations, a partnership with The Guardian offers the opportunity to dive into a pool of resources. Dave Mann, the editor of the Texas Observer, one half of the partnership behind the multimedia project Beyond the Border, says The Guardian brought a multimedia dimension to the Observer’s reporting that would otherwise be “a little beyond our capabilities right now.”
To Tony Messenger, the editorial editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that will launch its project on racial profiling with The Guardian in a few days, a partnership was interesting because of The Guardian’s understanding of the digital world, and its ability to find new voices for the opinion section. The global audience was a secondary, although not insignificant motivation, he says.
While such a partnership certainly has obvious advantages to smaller, local outlets, the dual launch on both websites raises questions about the evenness of the relationships – the local outlet pours resources into the project but may also be losing traffic and attention to The Guardian’s much more visible version.
Although few local news outlets can compete with The Guardian when it comes to online readership, it may illustrate a potential imbalance that the first part of Beyond the Border generated close to 3,000 shares on The Guardian’s website, while only 600 on the Texas Observer’s site.
Still, says Mann, “What’s most important is that people are learning and reading about the story.”
And at the Post-Dispatch, Messenger says that he worried a bit about the potential loss of traffic, but “I figured the gain from doing something meaningful, and what we could learn from it would compensate for that.”