A new production model for news reporting: Outsourcing

When your cell phone breaks or your computer crashes you no longer expect to speak to a call center in the United States. Numerous companies have outsourced parts of their business operations to contractors in other countries in an effort to improve their bottom line and increase productivity. Regardless of the public perception of outsourcing jobs, there can be financial benefits. However, a domestic form of outsourcing now is reaching the struggling news industry. It was the topic of a recent Washington Post column by Howard Kurtz.

In The age of journalistic outsourcing, Kurtz argues that while traditional print media struggle, new journalism organizations, mostly non-profits, are “giving the restless and the jobless a second lease on life.” But why has it taken so long for the legacy media to realize the untapped potential of online non-profit organizations?

Many online non-profit news organizations have been around for decades. They produce quality investigative articles about a range of topics. They have been responsible for breaking news, exposing scandal and reporting stories traditional media miss. A new non-profit journalism organization seems to be appearing daily, and with that comes innovative reporting and a new approach to journalism.

However, it isn’t just the non-profit journalism organizations that are seeing the vast potential in providing journalism to the newspaper industry. Large multinational companies have recently launched or expanded their reporting capacity to meet this growing need. Included in the bunch is AOL, which is adding hundreds of journalists over the next year. Yahoo recently opened a Washington news bureau.

One reason for the delay in accepting non-profit journalism organizations as authentic news producers is the misconception that they are competition to traditional media. However, as Kurtz pointed out in his column, collaboration between non-profits and legacy media is producing terrific content that is changing the conversation in media, politics and households around the nation.

Non-profit journalism organizations are assets more print outlets should be taking advantage of if only for the cost savings that come with using non-profit news content. In fact, some of the online non-profits operate under a free “steal our stuff” model. At The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, we sponsor two news organizations — Watchdog.org and Statehouse News. These initiatives fulfill a substantial hole in state-based news coverage, and that is why the content produced by Watchdog.org and Statehouse not only is free to the public but it is free to the news media.

Illinois Statehouse News (ISN), a product of the Franklin Center, is committed to filling the growing vacuum in state-based coverage. Since going live in December 2009, ISN’s daily content has been used by more than 40 daily newspapers, 11 television stations and numerous radio stations. The coverage is an example of why non-profit journalism organizations are a desperately needed resource for local newspapers as well as national ones.

Non-profit journalism is playing a vital and needed role in the news business. The thirst for news by the American public is not diminishing just because a newspaper in a community collapses. Although traditional media has an important place in the news business, non-profits are a big part of the future of news and should be accepted as such.

Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a national journalism non-profit organization dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support.

[Editor’s note: Coming Wednesday on OJR – Editor Robert Niles reacts to two Pennsylvania court cases where judges have ordered newspapers to delete online archives of their news stories. And he doesn’t take the newspapers’ sides.]

About Jason Stverak

Jason Stverak is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing reporters, citizens and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support.