How collaboration moves to transformation for LMA

An LMA hypothesis about collaborations has seen US$900,000 raised for three industry projects in five months.

Local Media Association & Local Media Foundation chief executive Nancy Lane says the three groups "picked a topic to cover and are publishing, sharing and collaborating on important community issues". Since May, they have raised more than US$900,000 to support their work.

"What if news industry collaborations focused on business transformation in addition to journalism efforts," she says. "Would the result be better local news and reporting combined with a better outlook for business sustainability for the media partners involved."

Lane says the LMA believed this was the case, and tested the hypothesis with the launch of three industry collaboratives amid the global pandemic.

"Now the hard work begins on business transformation," says Lane.

Word in Black is a collaborative of ten US publishers which more than 290 individuals, foundations and corporations have supported with more than $200,000. The group is focused on the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 education in Black communities. LMF with funders such as the Walton Family Foundation, pays stipends to Word in Black publishers to report on these important community issues relating to education - all with a focus on solutions. This reporting would not be possible without this financial support.

A virtual event, scheduled for 6 pm Eastern time on October 20, is focussed on voting with purpose, and will see two Emmy-award-winning producers run the event with Megaphone TV as technology provider. The broadcast approach is something the group of publishers would not have been able to do on their own, and is an official coming-out party for Word in Black.

Their goal is to run one virtual event every month in 2021, with sponsorship sales of more than $500,000. The group also plans to take its website to the next level, building on the Newspack platform. Word in Black will also launch a major newsletter strategy with a goal of 500,000 subscribers by the end of next year. "The website will host a contributions platform with a goal of raising $1 million in the first year," says Nancy Lane.

"The biggest reason that Word in Black is successful is the buy-in from key stakeholders. The ten owners are on every call. These calls happen on Fridays and often go longer than two hours. All of the publishers contribute and do some of the heavy lifting. That is why they have had incredible success in such a short period of time.

"The next opportunity for this group is with branded content. We are in major discussions with several national brands that want to reach Black audiences."

"The publishers have a lofty goal to raise $25 million over the next three years. They intend to reimagine the Black press in America. I have no doubt that this group will do just that.

Oklahoma Media Center has seen remarkable success, leading efforts with more than $450,000 raised to support their work. "Inasmuch Foundation is the lead funder and is heavily involved in the initiative. The Walton Family Foundation is the sponsor of the journalism focused on the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 education in Oklahoma," she says.

"The focus is now shifting to business transformation for this group. Steve Baron, LMA chief strategy officer, is meeting with each company to understand their business key performance indicators, and work with them on strategies to meet their goals."

Already the group has received training from Dan Oshinsky, the architect of Buzzfeed's newsletter strategy (now a consultant), that helped many companies launch or fine tune their efforts in this space. Soon the group will look at opportunities for virtual events/town halls, which will come with sponsorship revenue that can be split among the partners.

The OMC team is working to hire a local project manager and the group has access to a shared resource - a data journalist - to assist the news organizations with their storytelling.

Thanks to Inasmuch, OMC will kick off an innovation fund in Q4 and all of the partners will be able to apply for micro-grants to test experiments on the business side. The group is in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status. By 2022, the Oklahoma Media Center should be well on the path to long-term sustainability. The winners are the residents of Oklahoma and the media companies involved. When "news collaborative meets business transformation" - everyone wins, especially the public.

Solving for Chicago - funded primarily by the Google News Initiative with additional support from Solutions Journalism Network - is tackling the topic of essential workers.

Lane says the group had a slower start but is picking up the pace. "The first group of stories has been published and a website has been launched. Rodney Gibbs, head of the Rev Lab at the Texas Tribune, recently met with the partners to share best practices with virtual events. Like the other two collaboratives, an important next step for this group will be to produce virtual town halls/live-streaming events, complete with sponsorship revenue.

This week, the group will meet with a top executive from the Google News Initiative to discuss new and interesting ways to partner, and use Google tools.

"We're in the early days but couldn't be more pleased with the results so far," she says. "We're bullish on the opportunities that exist when media companies come together and collaborate."

Collaborative journalism and journalism funded by philanthropy together were identified as one of three core pillars in the LMA strategic plan for 2020-2021. Our plan was to launch one collaborative - Solving for Chicago - and prove out the business model. COVID-19 and the social injustice issues provided an opportunity to launch the two others. Now we are in a position to learn from all three and share those learnings in real time.

Our top three takeaways so far:

  1. The collaborative can only be successful when the media partners are engaged and excited to be part of the initiative.
  2. Finding the right funders that align with your mission is critical to success. The Oklahoma Media Center would not be successful without the tremendous support of Inasmuch Foundation (beyond just financial).
  3. The group has to be willing to take risks and get out of their comfort zone. Bringing in broadcast experts to put on an event for 10 newspaper publishers is a great example.

Publishers interested in launching a collaborative in their region or around a certain topic are invited to make contact as LMA starts to plan its strategy for 2021.

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