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Partnerships & collaboration: A primer

It’s an unfortunate and unavoidable truth of modern news: Local journalism outlets are constantly stretching their limited resources.

But by embracing partnerships, third-party services and other flexible resource and staffing arrangements, news organizations can tap into a wealth of resources that would otherwise be out of reach. This collaborative approach can also help publishers share risks and manage their costs more effectively. 

The possibilities for partnership and collaboration are almost endless, as are the potential partners and collaborators themselves. Local and regional news organizations have successfully partnered with each other, national and niche media outlets, universities and colleges, community organizations and other businesses to streamline functions from content creation and technology to marketing and distribution. 

The core objective in these arrangements is to lower all partners’ costs and risks by playing to each partner’s strengths and pooling collective resources. When evaluating a potential partnership, news organizations must weigh their in-house capabilities and capacities against their editorial and business goals. In situations where those in-house resources fall short, buying third-party services or partnering with outside organizations may prove the best path forward. 

For instance, a news organization with a slim IT department can invest heavily in new hires, contract with an outside technology firm or seek to form some kind of “coding collaborative” with other outlets facing the same problem. Collaborating carries the distinct advantage of reducing costs and maintaining flexibility. That can help publishers navigate future challenges and cost constraints more efficiently. 

Effective collaborations can also act as force multipliers, creating opportunities for audience and revenue growth that would not otherwise exist. By partnering with a local university, for instance, The Times Union in Albany, N.Y., launched a popular new weather product with meteorological data that reporters could not have gathered on their own. In Philadelphia, Philly.com partnered with seven other news organizations to cover the city’s mayoral election. That nine-year-old initiative, called The Next Mayor Project, has since attracted significant financial support from philanthropic foundations.

Whatever their form, partnerships push modern news outlets to reconsider the assumption that they can, and should, do everything themselves. Building a sustainable organization in the digital age requires a more collaborative mindset.