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May 5, 2010, 8 a.m.

Media Consortium offers members cash for collaboration

The Media Consortium, a network of about 45 progressive-leaning independent media organizations wants to get its members to do some real-world testing of the future-of-news ideas we all talk about. The best way to get their members on board: Pony up some cash.

The consortium is taking applications to sign on to three separate collaborative projects that cover exploring new revenue streams (members are both non- and for-profit), moving into mobile, and community engagement. Outlets will work in cross-organizational teams to come up with testable projects, which the consortium will then support with at least $5,000-$12,000 in seed money to get projects off the ground. The consortium will also provide some administrative and logistical support as needed. When all is said and done, the wrapup findings will be made public.

I asked Tracy Van Slyke, the project director at the consortium, which outlets are on board so far. She laughed and said the deadline to apply is May 12, and she is expecting the bulk of applications to land that day. The consortium has been in one-on-one talks with members, who Van Slyke said seem interested — which is not surprising as the the three research areas came out of discussions at their annual meeting, and a consortium report, The Big Thaw, which looked at trends in independent media, including its member organizations. Van Slyke also noted that they’re only inviting member organizations to apply, but perhaps they’d be open to the right partner signing on. (That is: If you’re interested, it can’t hurt to contact her).

Most consortium members are relatively small operations. For example, my last two employers, the nonprofit Washington Independent, with a staff of about ten people, and Talking Points Memo, now up to 20 or so, both belong. All news organizations are struggling to innovate, but smaller shops face an even higher hurdle. When a swamped staff is busy with day-to-day operations, and the technical development team is one person — or nonexistent — collaboration offers huge potential.

“The point is that usually, these organizations wouldn’t necessarily have the money or the staff time, or the resources in terms of brainstorming to do it on their own,” Van Slyke told me. “So we want to do it collectively and be able to put the money in to actually experiment. It’s not enough to talk about it. You have to actually experiment.”

The mission of the consortium is wrapped up in the project. Van Slyke wants to see organizations thinking strategically about revenue, mobile, and audience engagement to amplify their work as media organizations. “How is it going to help them, a, build their audiences, b, identify new revenue generating opportunities, and, c, ultimately build out their impact.”

POSTED     May 5, 2010, 8 a.m.
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