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Jan. 31, 2011, 12:08 p.m.

NewsBeast and CPI: A mutualization made in heaven

Newsweek/The Daily Beast — the entity most of us know as NewsBeast — announced earlier today that it’s struck a deal with the Center for Public Integrity: It’s paying CPI for exclusive investigative stories.

There’s a lot to be said about the arrangement, but for the time being, just a quick note. The partnership gives a nod to the intra-outlet cooperation that’s increasingly defining the journalistic ecosystem. A cooperation, significantly, of the kind being spearheaded by ProPublica and California Watch and the like: cooperation between for-profit and non-profit outlets. There’s a baked-in efficiency to the thing: You have an outlet that excels at the kind of time-intensive, resource-intensive investigative journalism that daily and weekly outfits generally can’t produce…but which is also looking to extend its impact through finding a broader audience for its work. At the same time, you have a daily/weekly outfit that has an interest in running brand-burnishing investigations; comes with a sizable audience; and generally lacks the resources to do extensive reporting. And: bingo. A perfect pairing.

Still, as eminently logical as it seems to be, the partnership also marks a pretty big shift. Journalists, after all, tend to be proactive, self-starting people. That’s largely to our credit, but it’s also a trait that can backfire on us. News organizations — those institutional collectives of proactive, self-starting people — can be reflexive in their self-starter-ness: “We’re on it. We’ll figure it out.” Admirable, sure — except that, often, simply outsourcing the challenge would make much more sense. We tend to waste, as a journalistic culture, large amounts of time and effort doing ourselves what could, much more quickly and easily, be done by somebody else.

So: The custom CMS. The in-house fact-checking. The in-house copy-editing. The in-house reporting. Etc.

That’s not to say that we should go outsourcing everything, of course; some things need to be — and, more to the point, should be — proprietary. But consider how many wheels have been reinvented in the name of driving journalism forward. The redundancy built into journalism’s ecosystem is enough to horrify even the most stoic of efficiency consultants. And while that inefficiency certainly has its role — layers, particularly when it comes to the editorial process, are an important check on informational accuracy — it’s worth asking how much of the work we do actually needs to be done by us. Or how much of it, NewsBeast-style, could be outsourced.

And it’s worth asking all that because, often, the most meaningful innovation can be about something painfully simple: recognizing our own limitations. That’s the basis of the hyperlink. And it’s the core idea behind Alan Rusbridger‘s notion of “mutualized” (sorry: “mutualised”) journalism — the ideal of informational porousness that is guiding The Guardian’s editorial and business vision. And it’s what makes the innovation going on at the Journal Register Company so exciting. When the newspaper chain embraces free, web-based tools in its news production, it’s changing its mindset as much as its production practice. It’s a small revolution embedded in a small recognition: that you don’t have to do everything yourself.

POSTED     Jan. 31, 2011, 12:08 p.m.
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