For many newsrooms, the thought of having a state or national bureau has gone the way of big classified advertising dollars.
So how do those in a newsroom, trying mightily to maintain an effective grasp on the hot-button issues in their communities, also provide coverage of key state and regional issues?
One way is by partnering with a nonprofit journalism entity, of which the number is steadily growing. Although these outfits need to be vetted, spending a little time to make sure a source can be trusted can often net some quality journalism that a newsroom might otherwise not have time to provide.
It can be a difficult relationship to cultivate. How do you, as an editor, know which groups are worthy of your valuable newsprint? And how can editors of these nonprofit groups open doors?
Let’s look at a case study to see what’s making a relationship work between one nonprofit and a small newspaper.
Watching without earbuds? Turn on closed captioning.
BARTLESVILLE EXAMINER-ENTERPRISE and OKLAHOMA WATCH
The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise has fewer than a dozen people in its newsroom, and sits about 150 miles from the Oklahoma State Capitol. The paper doesn’t subscribe to the Associated Press, yet editor Chris Day maintains that it still needs to provide insight on key state issues.
That’s where a partnership with Oklahoma Watch has filled the void. The nonprofit group, headed by Executive Editor David Fritze, proclaims in its mission statement that it will “produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state.”
The group focuses on such regional topics as poverty, common education, higher education, health care, children, mental health, public money, the elderly and the underprivileged.
And is the case with a growing group of nonprofit news organizations, Oklahoma Watch offers its content to other news sources for free, trying to spread its journalism as far throughout the state as possible.
HOW THE RELATIONSHIP STARTED
A former staffer of the Arizona Republic and Dallas Morning News, Fritze knew when he joined Oklahoma Watch nearly four years ago that he’d be facing an uphill battle. At that time, the number of nonprofits getting prime print position was small, and Fritze knew he’d have to reach out and make connections.
“I quickly realized that in order to spread awareness of Oklahoma Watch, because most people still don’t know who we are … I had to reach out in person to smaller newspaper editors,” Fritze said. “So I spent several days on the phone, placing calls to people like Chris Day and others, to offer this content by email — take it or leave it. Knowing that over time we’d just have to build our credibility.”
With just a handful of reporters in the newsroom, the EE took the opportunity and ran with it.
HOW IT WORKS FOR OKLAHOMA WATCH
Although Oklahoma Watch is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) corporation, it still has bills to pay. The group does that through personal and organizational donors, some of which have contributed as much as $250,000 over the past year. If more outlets use Watch’s material, the group’s profile is raised, and, in theory, more donors should come calling.
That’s why it’s imperative the group hits wide-ranging issues that can pertain to multiple regions of the state. Oklahoma Watch recently introduced a new “Conversations” series, starting with former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer. There’s also a series of radio pieces that are offered to all of the state’s stations, and are also available online.
As this American Press Institute piece illustrates, the introduction of nonprofit journalism entities adds some interesting ethical hurdles. As Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian wrote, “the dangers are obvious. It’s not a silver bullet. But it is, generally, a force for good. And no one has yet discovered the silver bullet.”
Fritze knows for his group to gain the trust of editors, it needs to remain completely transparent.
“We put everything online,” he said. “You want to see our tax returns, you want to see our funders, our editorial independence policy, a description of what subjects we tend to focus on, it’s all there. There are really no secrets.”
HOW IT WORKS FOR THE BARTLESVILLE EE
Although it’s by no means an exclusive, the Examiner-Enterprise can use some or all of Oklahoma Watch’s packages. And since Day has his staff stretched thin on local issues, this helps provide some much-needed depth at the state level.
Day said it’s been vital to get pieces from Oklahoma Watch in the areas of education, criminal justice, government and public health.
“For example, they’ve covered stop and seizure laws in Oklahoma that allow law enforcement agencies to seize cash and cars from suspected drug dealers,” Day said. “We localized that story by talking to our law enforcement agencies across the county.”
Fritze said he expects the two sides to build on these relationships in the future.
“I explain to other media that we have this mission of writing about large public policy issues in Oklahoma, covering some of the very serious problems that the state has. We’re not all about churning daily stories. We want to go in-depth. I’m always after the reveal, that will have something new and insightful, often driving the headline,” Fritze said.
“I think it does complement, very well, what daily newspapers are looking for. They have to cover the community news. It’s so important. It’s so vital. We certainly don’t want to replace that. We can’t do that.”
WHERE TO FIND NONPROFIT JOURNALISM
Looking for more information? A good spot to start is the Institute for Nonprofit News. Here is a link to the group’s member directory.