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Local news projects rush to fill The Vindicator’s void, with the McClatchy-Google network putting down roots
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June 27, 2019, 10 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The Associated Press and Google are building a tool for sharing more local news — more quickly

“We’re living in an age of journalism where people want to help each other and are prioritizing collaboration over competition. We want to seize on that in a way that ensures no matter who is in the newsroom there’s still a mechanism for them to use this.”

In Google’s second recent commitment to local news, the Associated Press and the Google News Initiative will build a tool for member newsrooms to directly share content and coverage plans. (And no, it won’t be a glorified Google Doc or spreadsheet.)

“The AP has long been a content provider but we also want to be a provider of capability,” Noreen Gillespie, the AP’s deputy managing editor for U.S. news, told me.

The setup, known as the Local News Sharing Network, involves almost two dozen local publishers in New York state, including the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the Albany-based Times Union, Fordham University’s WFUV radio station, and the WRNN TV station in New Rochelle. Several New York members had approached the AP and complained that there wasn’t enough state news available, especially at the capital. So they had started sharing their reporting amongst themselves.

“We’ve heard about these private networks springing up all over the country. Sometimes they can be around a topic or a state or just one publication talking to another about their coverage gaps and trying to find ways to work together to fill those coverage gaps,” Gillespie said. “As the industry has changed with consolidated ownership and changes in resources at individual publications, there’s really been a trend more towards sharing. When we had this conversation… we started thinking about what could we do to fix this?”

Indeed, those informal systems started at least a decade ago, with the Ohio News Organization (acronym-ized in the best way as OHNO), Florida capital coverage, and other arrangements designed to share content and cut down on redundant reporting. There’s even a list of them from January 2009 — by the AP. The other main benefit was to end a costly deal with the AP itself as chronicled in the early days of the Lab:

The Blade has gotten notice in the past year for being one of the eight founding members of the Ohio News Organization, a collaborative in which the state’s major papers freely share their stories (and now their photos and graphics) with one another. All the Ohio papers have seen major cutbacks in recent years — The Blade’s newsroom staff is about half the size it was five years ago — and their willingness to beat swords into plowshares has been a model for other cooperatives around the country among papers with declining resources….

“The newspaper industry created you, you have an obligation to help us through this crisis now, and instead you continuously raise our rates and charge us for pictures,” [then-Blade editor Roy Rayhab described the papers’ issue with the AP in 2009.]

The AP attempted a content sharing tool then, but it was stymied by editors’ slow tech adaptation and an unclear system:

As part of a six-month pilot project, the wire service was going to begin distributing content from four top nonprofit news outlets: ProPublica, Center for Public Integrity, Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Investigative Reporting Workshop. It looked like a win all around: Newspapers could run in-depth content from well respected outlets, and nonprofits could broaden their audience….

However, there’s no alert system to notify editors when something new has been added. Nonprofits’ stories are not distributed over the AP’s main wire services, as a major AP investigation would.

“It’s very hard to find this material,” [then-executive director of the Center for Public Integrity Bill] Buzenberg told me. “The consequence is it’s not getting used.” ..

“It’s a little bit of chicken and egg with the technology right now,” she said. “Most papers are still in that transition. Over the course of 2010, we’re working with a lot of newspapers and their CMS vendors to to enable them technically, and train them to use web interfaces to get the third-party content.”

Journalism’s familiarity with tech is a bit different these days (both in using it for the work and using checks from it to fund the work), as is the state of collaboration in the industry.

“We’re living in an age of journalism where people want to help each other and are prioritizing collaboration over competition. We want to seize on that in a way that ensures no matter who is in the newsroom there’s still a mechanism for them to use this,” Gillespie said.

The tool is still in the development phase, but more than $200,000 from Google will allow the AP to hire a relationship manager to onboard and coordinate the publishers. The agreement also tasks the AP with producing a document for other collaboratives to learn from their experiences. If all goes according to schedule, the New York pilot publishers will be able to start using the tool in January, with the goal of eventually scaling to all 50 states.

“We do some news sharing right now and we’ve done it for decades. What we’re trying to learn in this space is with new dynamics in place how can we create a model that’s a little bit easier to work with and … be sure that news can be shared with the environment sooner,” she said.

This project follows the spring’s news of a McClatchy-hosted, Google-funded effort to build creative local news sites from scratch, though it is not officially part of the Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project, unlike the McClatchy project. Mandy Jenkins is leading that endeavor.

But no, Gillespie said, Google Docs are not required for this network.

Image by Patrick Atkins used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 27, 2019, 10 a.m.
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