Partnering with Others

A survey of U.S. public radio stations shows modest levels of editorial partnering with outside organizations.

A notable finding is the prominence of partnerships between local stations and local newspapers (30%).

The data also reveal the involvement of stations with non-profit news organizations (22%) such as ProPublica.

Not surprisingly, the most common news partnerships were between a station and a regional network (40%).

A quarter of public radio stations were frequently involved with a consortium of stations (26%), such as the new “Local Journalism Centers.”

Also found were partnerships with local websites (18%), local radio stations (16%) and local TV stations (14%).

The least common partnership type was that between a station and a local blogger (7%).

Why Partner Up?

Partnerships are widely seen as a low-cost method of expanding a public radio station’s service commitment by enjoining like-minded, complementary organizations to accomplish shared goals, such as

  • engaging the public
  • deepening news coverage
  • distributing coverage more widely
  • combining core competencies
  • creating cross-promotion opportunities
  • cost-sharing

How the Question Was Asked

A 2010 invitation-only survey (to CPB-qualified public broadcasters) contained the following question:

How frequently does your local news and public affairs commitment involve sharing with an outside entity you could call a “partner”?

The rating options were:

None    Infrequently    Frequently    Very Frequently

The 10 partner-types listed were:

  • A Local News Website
  • A Local Radio Station
  • A Local Newspaper
  • A Nonprofit News Org
  • A Regional Network
  • A Local Blogger
  • A Consortium of Partners
  • A Local TV Station
  • NPR Bureau Chief
  • NPR News Desk

The partnerships with NPR were reported earlier here. Below are the individual charts for the remaining eight partnership types, presented in order from most frequent to least frequent.

Partnering with Regional Networks

Regional radio networks are quite common and have been round a long time, so it is not surprising to see them as the most frequent form of partnering.

Regional networks can take many forms. Some are loose networks for story swaps. Some are hub and spoke models in which a central operator provides content out to multiple stations (e.g., The California Report). Some are variations on the news cooperative idea in which stations co-create stories for common usage (e.g., The Northwest News Network).

The chart below shows 40% of public radio stations partner with regional networks “frequently” or “very frequently.” Another 22% partner with regional networks on an “infrequent” basis.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with Local Newspapers

Almost a third of public radio newsrooms partner with a local newspaper “frequently” or “very frequently.”

The survey does not reveal the exact nature of these partnerships, but these are known to range from collaborative reporting projects, to featuring newspaper reporters on the air, to content-sharing arrangements. Newspapers, who have suffered steep losses in advertising, and thus staffing, have been pushing new forms of collaboration — which makes this form of partnering a fairly rich opportunity for both parties.

Note that when you consider another 32% of stations are partnering on an “infrequent” basis, you are left with the lowest “None” percentage of any of the partnership types (36%).

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Consortium of News Providers

Partnerships built upon a consortium of stations may also take many forms. One of the emerging models in 2010 was the “Local Journalism Centers” sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These “LJC’s” consist of 3 to 5 stations working in collaboration to concentrate multi-platform reporting on a specialty topic of regional interest.

The chart below shows the consortium model to be used “frequently” or “very frequently” by 26% of U.S. public radio stations.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

Partnering with a Non-Profit News Organization

Public radio stations are non-profit news organizations and thus may readily align with the mission of other non-profit news organizations — especially if those organizations are able to provide specialty coverage or investigative coverage to augment local coverage. Examples of non-profit news organizations include ProPublica, and the members of the Investigative News Network.

About one fifth of public radio stations partner with a non-profit news organization “frequently” or “very frequently.” Another fifth do so “infrequently.”

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

Partnering with a Local News Website

Working with a local news website would seem to be an emerging form of partnering. An example might be the way KPBS in San Diego draws upon the coverage by Voice of San Diego (and vice-versa).

Partnering with a local news website is more common than working with a local broadcaster but less common than working with a local newspaper.

The chart below shows 18% of U.S. public radio stations have working relationships with local news websites. They aren’t “very frequent” in scope as much as they are just “frequent.”

Still, 82% of stations have infrequent or no relationship at all with news websites.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local Radio Station

Working in tandem with another radio station is not very common. (FYI — The other station’s status as commercial or non-commercial was not specified.) Some 16% of public radio stations were found to partner “frequently” or “very frequently” with other radio stations.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local TV Station

Only 14% of public radio stations say they strike up frequent partnerships with local TV stations. Over a fourth have infrequent relationships with local TV.

(The status of the TV station as commercial or non-commercial was not specified. It’s also possible that joint-licensee radio stations consider their joint-licensed TV station as partners in these results.)

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local Blogger

Local bloggers are the least common partnership type among local public radio news providers in the United States.

The “None” percentage of 72% is the highest of all the partnership types measured.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

All Partnerships Compared

Below then is a final graph showing how all ten partnership options stack up among all U.S. public radio stations. The scale is based on the following values:

4=Very Frequent, 3=Frequent, 2=Infrequent, 1=None

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

About the Survey

A direct-invitation survey was conducted between July 26 and August 15, 2010 by Michael Marcotte of MVM Consulting with help from Steve Martin of SFM Consulting and Ken Mills of the Ken Mills Agency. This survey was conducted as a supplement to a CPB/PRNDI census of local public broadcasting journalists. (Download a copy of the survey.) Ninty-two percent of all CPB-qualified public broadcast organizations took part in the main survey, and about 80% of those went on to complete the supplemental (or about 380 stations). The section reported here combines the radio and joint licensees, and leaves out the TV respondents.


Published by

Michael V. Marcotte

Hi, I'm the (first-ever) Professor of Practice in Journalism at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I teach multimedia journalism and launched are innovation/collaboration lab: New Mexico News Port. Previously, I was the 2012-2013 Reynolds Chair in Ethics of Entrepreneurial and Innovative Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno... and, before that, a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. I'm also very active as a consultant in public media news, having spent over 20 years as a news director. My website is or on Twitter:

3 thoughts on “Partnering with Others”

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