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Partnerships for news: Promise and pitfalls

by: Michele McLellan |

July 12, 2011

Partnerships for news: Promise and pitfalls

Partnerships are a promising way to support community news and information. By joining forces to create, distribute and market content, news sites and local institutions, such as universities and legacy media, can better serve the information needs of their communities. But there’s a catch. Or two. How can you tell if a partnership will work? What needs to be determined at the outset?

Obviously, partnerships often play a vital role in sustainability - and the emerging and fragile news ecosystem needs all the help it can get. Large sites still have wide distribution channels in many communities, for example. At the same time, small, highly local sites provide granular coverage that big sites cannot equal. Deal made in heaven? Sadly, not always.

Working with community news start ups, I see two recurring characteristics of partnerships that don’t work:

1. Failure to understand the capacity of the partner. This failure generally rears its ugly head in the pre-launch or operational phase of the project with a partner simply fails to deliver on a commitments. The problem may be detectable (and solvable) earlier in discussions. If you are contemplating a partnership, make sure you take the early courtship beyond conceptual agreements - ask very specific questions and chart very specific roles for each partner. This can surface unanticipated gaps and create a forum for filling them before work is under way.

2. Failure to understand and take responsibility for the goals and expectations of the partner.
This is the big one. If you are contemplating a partnership that will deliver strong benefits to your organization, make sure you understand equally well what the prospective partner needs to get out of the deal. And make sure you are willing to do all you can to make it happen. If all you really want is free content for your site, for example, you’re probably not going to do what it takes to help a partner attract more traffic to her site. If you are not, it’s time to stand back and consider whether you’re really looking for a partner - or just a cheap date.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

By Michele McLellan, 07/12/11 at 4:28 am

Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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