Being independent doesn’t mean going it alone

By Mary Lou Fulton

In traditional journalism, there is a proud and important tradition of independence.   But along the way many traditional news organizations came to define independence as doing everything yourself, rather than maintaining an independent perspective in practicing journalism.  Thankfully that is changing, with a new collaborative ethos that is fueling local media startups and a new awareness among traditional media about the potential of working with others.

A number of examples were shared at today’s get-together of  New Voices grantees who have started an impressive variety of locally-focused media projects:

  • Traditional media are joining forces with neighborhood blogs to create rich local media networksJ-Lab’s Networked Journalism project gave grants to newspapers to explore this opportunity, and The Seattle Times put that money to good use by collaborating with  more than a dozen neighborhood blogs in a move that makes The Times’ site more comprehensive and sends traffic to the blogs.
  • Meetup.com is being used to support community journalism. In Texas, the founder of the new investigative journalism site The Austin Bulldog needed a helping hand, so Ken Martin created  a Meetup Group that has brought together a small but enthusiastic group that is now working together to bring project ideas to life.
  • Crowdfunding catches fire. The community-funded journalism model pioneered by Spot.us is expanding beyond the Bay Area.  For example, a collaboration between OaklandLocal.com, New America Media (both California Endowment grantees), public media outlet KALW and Placeblogger.com raised  $2,000 to send a reporter to Los Angeles to report on an important local trial that was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles.    Coverage of the trial of a transit policeman accused in the shooting death of Oscar Grant will be carried by these outlets and others.  And from north of the border, the Canadian news site The Tyee has created two funds to support independent journalism.

Today, The New York Times’ Bay Area blog posted about how the San Francisco Bay Area is emerging as a hotbed of nonprofit journalism, and noted that collaboration is a key driver.   “All of these organizations have been talking to one another about doing collaborations and how we can support one another,” said Michael Stoll, the executive director of San Francisco Public Press.  “There are not enough donors or people in these organizations to make a difference on our own.”