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The “backfire effect” is mostly a myth, a broad look at the research suggests
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Dec. 4, 2014, 1:52 p.m.
Business Models

A new report out today from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project takes a look at how partnerships work in journalism by way of five case studies. Rick Edmonds and Amy Mitchell write about collaborations between Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress; I-News Network, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUSA-TV; five Texas newspapers; The Lens and WWNO Public Radio; and The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald. It’s worth noting that these examples include both nonprofit and commercial partnerships.

The report finds that, broadly, the majority of these partnerships are born out of economic necessity, and that, despite their increasing prevalence, they can be difficult to manage successfully. Interestingly, the authors say that many of these collaborations are easier to execute in legacy media — namely print and broadcast — than digitally, because of technological barriers such as incompatible content management systems.

Also of interest is the observation that few of the partnerships are financial in nature. For the most part, the goal is to work more efficiently, reach a broader audience, and tell a better story, rather than for one side or the other to increase revenue. For example, the Texas Front-Page Exchange has been sharing content gratis for five years now. From the report:

What stood in the way of this sort of cooperation for decades was industry prosperity, big newsroom budgets and a tradition whose definition of quality began with running only the work of your own staff along with wire stories.

But particularly after papers scaled back any statewide circulation ambitions as hard times set in, there came to be very little competition for audience among the five.

Other editors share Mong’s view that the cooperation, while not central to editorial strategy, is a distinct plus. Nancy Barnes came to the Chronicle in October 2013 after years at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and began as a skeptic. “I was surprised—giving away all that content for free? But in fact these are all very distinct markets. The exchange helps us avoid redundant effort. It seems a very innovative solution.”

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