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Aug. 3, 2010, 10 a.m.

California Watch’s distribution model, by the numbers

In mid-July, California Watch posted the results of an investigation by reporter Louis Freedberg: After surveying the 30 largest K-12 districts across the state, Freedberg found that some were cutting the school calendar to as low as 175 days in an effort to balance their budgets.

It’s an explosive story, one that has resonance for an interest group whose welfare everyone has a stake in: kids. And California Watch wanted it to have as wide a reach — and as big an impact — as possible. To do that, the outlet treated its story’s distribution process as an integral part of the editorial process — to the extent that, if you read editorial director Mark Katches’ detailed description of that process, it’s hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins.

As Katches explained:

As we carve our niche in the California-media landscape, we are finding new ways to reach an audience. If we had one word to describe our distribution model it would be this: flexible. We craft a new distribution strategy for each story we produce, depending on the topic and the intensity of local interest.

I was intrigued, in particular, by the sheer numbers behind the distribution effort. Here’s the breakdown:

Media partners for this story: 20

Media partners California Watch has teamed with since its launch: 70+

Languages the story was distributed in: 5 (Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese)

Platforms it was distributed on: 4 (print, web, TV, radio)

Individual shows that discussed the story on KQED, Northern California’s public radio station: 3 (“California Report,” “Forum,” “This Week In Northern California”)

Words in California Watch’s original, full-length story: 1,900

Words in the abridged versions of the story tailored for print publication: 1,100-1,200

Versions of the abridged story: 3 (one for Northern California, one for central, one for Southern)

Words in initial story summary circulated to media partners in advance of publication: 335

Weeks media partners has to edit the story for themselves before its embargo was lifted: 1

And, then, the totals:

Estimated newspaper subscribers reached: 1.15 million

Estimated TV viewers and radio listeners reached: 200,000

Of course, “reached” is a tricky metric; eyeballs are one thing, but attention is another. More interesting to me, though, is how California Watch is doing that reaching in the first place: through a collaboration strategy that could almost be called “aggressive.” In a good way. The outfit is making it as easy as possible for other news organizations to use its content. In the past, that kind of generosity would have been, basically, suicide; now, though, with the influence of the link economy and the journalistic culture coming around to collaboration — and, of course, in California Watch’s case, with a nonprofit model that values social good ahead of financial gain — having content used by other outlets is not just acceptable, but something to be strived for. (Their goal: add at least one new distribution partner for every big new story they publish.) It’s a new model of journalistic impact that reimagines replication as the sincerest form of flattery.

POSTED     Aug. 3, 2010, 10 a.m.
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