Collaboration comes with numerous potential benefits for local news organizations — including shared resources, more reach, and greater depth of reporting. But workflow and logistics can reduce the scale of those wins. For shared content, web editors might find themselves in the labor-intensive processes of copying and pasting stories, chasing down image rights clearances, or manually updating corrections for multiple publishers using different content management systems.
With those challenges in mind, Local Media Association partnered with Distributed Media Lab on a technical solution for story sharing, and was awarded $200,000 from the Google News Initiative to implement the approach for newsrooms in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative.
We’re excited to share that tool, and some early successes.
The story-sharing method runs on deceptively simple technology: a news organization needs only paste a few lines of code into its site to display content from news partners. The story-sharing system is built to use Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework, so it works across a variety of content management systems. Any website that’s already “AMPed” (many are) is ready to contribute content.
This approach to displaying reporting grouped by geography is already helping us tell a global story in a local way. Partners from across our 25 newsrooms in the Covering Climate Collaborative are organized into five collections by region, each telling the unique story of climate change as it impacts the communities they serve. Each collection displays four of our most recent partner stories, with past work available to those that click through.
Trusted local content rather than clickbait
This method lets us share vetted, trusted content from partners about stories that matter, and the regional grouping ensures that stories are relevant to audiences in each of those specific areas. For example, while the Southwest might be covering record drought, the Gulf Coast and Southeast regions could be tracking a busy hurricane season.
One of the early positive takeaways we’ve noticed is that this method of story-sharing allows content to be viewed in its intended presentation. Member newsrooms contribute content through RSS feeds of relevant beats, with some light curation from an editor. When readers click a story in the widget, they get a pop-up “lightbox” that loads the content from the original newsroom’s website.
There, they can engage with a story as it’s meant to be seen — with the original images, text, and credits. If a story is updated by the newsroom that produced it, it updates in this view as well. There’s no copying-and-pasting, which reduces the friction of sharing content and provides a seamless reader experience.
Benefits for authors and partners
An additional benefit: this process helps news partners take advantage of each other’s audiences to boost distribution, since both the host site and originating news site benefit. The originating news site gets a page view from a place it would not have before, and the host keeps its traffic without redirecting readers away into the void of the internet. You can view examples of the regional collections embedded on news partner sites like KSAT’s “Forecasting Change” page (midway down), and Planet Detroit (scroll the bottom of the homepage).
Most importantly, it doesn’t matter which CMS a newsroom uses, nor to which ownership group it belongs. Stories are widely shareable, and everyone involved gets traffic (and well-deserved credit for the work).
Pathway to new monetization
Beyond reducing the friction involved in story-sharing, this solution also offers monetization opportunities for news partners. DML built out several options for local newsrooms to generate revenue, including sponsoring their regional collections, training on selling the collections, and offering tracking for advertisers. LMA and DML are also exploring opportunities to bring additional content contributors onto the platform.
“We believe a new approach to story sharing is foundational to new ways of doing the news business on the web,” said Dave Gehring, CEO of Distributed Media Lab. “Using the DML platform to easily share important journalism is a start. Growing audiences to power new distributed media business models is what’s next. It’s exciting to play a role and an honor to support such important journalism.”
We are still developing this solution to story-sharing, and admittedly, there are challenges and limitations. Some newsrooms do not use AMP on their sites, which makes adding content more complicated. In a recent panel at the Collaborative Journalism Summit in Chicago, an audience member asked how we share elements of stories in progress. This tool isn’t designed as an editorial collaboration tool, but for completed story-sharing to increase distribution and enable monetization.
But we’re excited about the possibilities here, and looking forward to expanding the project with new contributors and features in the coming months.
About the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative
LMA launched the Covering Climate Collaborative on Earth Day 2021 with a mission to humanize and localize the impacts of climate change, and empower residents in local communities to take informed, meaningful action.
The local news outlets in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative include publishers recognized as leaders in local climate reporting, three TV broadcast groups, multiple public radio stations, as well as digital-native climate websites. The partners are grouped into five regional hubs.
East/Southeast includes The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), The Post & Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), The Miami Herald, WJCT Radio, WJXT-TV Jacksonville, WKMG-TV Orlando, and Florida International University’s South Florida Media Network (Florida).
The Gulf Coast group includes The Times-Picayune and WWNO/WRKF Radio (Louisiana), KPRC-TV Houston, The Current (Savannah, Georgia), and KSAT-TV San Antonio.
In the Great Lakes, WBEZ Chicago (Illinois), Great Lakes Echo at Michigan State University, Planet Detroit, and WDIV-TV (Michigan).
In the Southwest, participants include ABC15-TV (Phoenix), ASU/Cronkite News (Phoenix), The Paper (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and NMPBS (New Mexico).
The West includes The Sacramento Bee, KGO-TV San Francisco, Southern California Public Radio (California), KGW-TV (Portland, Oregon), and Investigate West (Washington).
Science and journalism partners in the collaborative include Climate Matters, Climate Communication, SciLine, the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, Solutions Journalism Network, and the Society of Environmental Journalists.