Why Newsrooms Should Start Partnering More. (Immediately.)

Stry.us has had several incredible partners this summer, for both live events and news syndication. Our founder explains why every news organization should have partnerships — and the big questions that need to be asked before you start one.

story by Dan Oshinsky
published August 22, 2012

A story from Stry.us syndicated in the Republic Monitor.

If news organizations take only one thing away from the Stry.us news experiment here in the Ozarks this summer, I hope it’s this:

We need more news partners.

We’ve been lucky to have several incredible partners this summer, for both live events and news syndication. These partners have helped us schedule and execute live events; reach a large audience through syndication; and find and tell great stories all summer long. Without them, I cannot imagine what our Springfield project might have been.

I think that news organizations everywhere need to start looking for great partners. They’re the ones who are going to help journalists get beyond the newsroom and get into the conversations happening all around a community. They’re the ones who are going to help newsrooms tell better stories and build better communities for news.

If you’re serious about a partnership, there are five big questions you should be asking first:

1. Do your goals align? — The Springfield-Greene County Library has been an incredible partner for us. They see themselves as a hub for storytelling and discussion about Springfield, and we see ourselves as an integral part of that same conversation. Right off the bat, our goals lined up.

With our news partners, like Community Publishers, we had a different set of shared goals. We wanted to syndicate stories and get them out to a wider audience. They wanted more original feature stories. So, with that shared interest, it was easy to agree that we should partner to share stories.

2. What do these partners bring to the table? — The library brought so much to the table: A space to host events, the infrastructure/technical support to pull off events and even the PR connections to help us publicize the project. Community Publishers brought their biggest asset: Seven weeklies in the Ozarks. Missouri News Horizon brought their website and their daily radio broadcast. They, too, could help us get good stories out to a wider audience.

3. How will communication happen? — I started talking to News Horizon back in the fall of 2011. I started talking to Community Publishers and the library in February. We established communication early.

Since the team arrived in Springfield, the way we’ve communicated has changed. We’ve been meeting regularly with the library in person — it helps that my team spends a lot of time working at The Library Center.

For our publishing partners, we’ve been sending out a weekly digest of stories, with a listing of content — words, photos, audio, data — that can be packaged into the story. For Missouri News Horizon, we’ve recently started sending out a slightly different version of the email, as we try to tailor our stories for a more regional audience. This means pitching a story around the larger news hook — not the individual, local characters in the story.

4. Are they excited/willing to partner? — This seems obvious. But gauging interest is a huge deal. If you find average partners, you’ll get average results.

Here, I have to single out the library staff. Their energy and enthusiasm for storytelling has been amazing. They deserve huge credit for our “Letters to Springfield” panel. Next week, we’re partnering with them to distribute eBooks based on our stories from Springfield. Thanks to them, they’re going to get our books — like “Joplin, 59 Weeks Later” — into library catalogs we didn’t even know existed.

5. Do they have the staff/time to execute the partnership? — The library is a huge organization. Community Publishers is bigger than us, but only slightly. Their news staffs are pretty small. Missouri News Horizon is actually smaller than us.

And that’s mattered. The library has had more people/resources to throw at our projects, which has allowed us get more done. On the other hand, Missouri News Horizon has been a huge supporter of Stry.us, but their staff is tiny, and they’re very focused on getting their work done on a day-to-day basis. They haven’t had a lot of time for us.

But all in all: Our partners have been a tremendous asset to us. It’s been wonderful to have partners inside and outside the newsroom. They’ve helped take us places we otherwise couldn’t go.

And they’re not our only partners. City Hall came to help us with the “Letters” campaign. The Atavist stepped up to help us produce eBooks.

The takeaway for newsrooms: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Together, we can do great work.