November 18, 2014

Key to a successful collaboration is buy-in

Credit: Flickr / jdhancock

Credit: Flickr / jdhancock

A collaboration between investigative journalism studio InvestigateWest and Seattle public radio station KUOW-FM aims to forge a new brand of journalism stretching across several mediums.

The two organizations are developing a new series that will live on the radio and the web, and could extend to live public events. The first installment in the series is expected in early 2015.

Since spring of this year, InvestigateWest has led the collaboration after winning a $15,000 grant from the INNovation Fund to spur innovation and explore new revenue models that lead to financial sustainability.

Due to the scope and depth of the project, InvestigateWest is in constant dialogue with KUOW’s editorial and underwriting departments. And even though InvestigateWest has the start-up funding to move the project ahead, a key ingredient for it to succeed is organizational buy-in, says associate director Jason Alcorn.

“You have to understand incentives of people that you’re working with,” Alcorn says. “Each organization has its own incentives; key leadership within each organizations has its own incentives.”

If successful, both will share the fruits of premium on-air underwriting and event sponsorships from businesses and institutions in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.

InvestigateWest spent two days this fall with staff from KUOW-FM designing a new series that will showcase investigative journalism.  Credit: Jason Alcorn / InvestigateWest

Credit: Jason Alcorn/InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest spent two days this fall with staff from KUOW-FM designing a new series that will showcase investigative journalism. Credit: Jason Alcorn / InvestigateWest

The project works like this: InvestigateWest will provide the foundation of a story through data analysis, public records and traditional reporting. KUOW will join in on the reporting, and also provide writing, editing and post-production that will make for compelling radio journalism. The organizations will work together on community engagement.

Alcorn says the team looked at NPR’s Planet Money as a source of inspiration for the project. Planet Money airs short bits on public radio shows like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and This American Life, while the longer version of its programming can be heard online as podcasts.

“What Planet Money does very well is they have a recognizable brand,” Alcorn says. “When you hear it, you know what to expect and you know it’s going to be good. When we look at that, it’s inspirational—we want to showcase consequential journalism.”

The stories will air during KUOW’s peak morning and evening drive-time hours when the station’s audience is the largest. In turn, InvestigateWest will receive a larger showcase for its local investigative journalism.

Both news organizations seek to benefit from the partnership because KUOW and InvestigateWest will enjoy increased audience engagement that on a story-by-story basis may include in-studio interviews, extended stories on podcasts and public forums and exhibitions.

The new collaboration is not entirely new for either outlet. InvestigateWest and KUOW have worked together on stories for several years.

In fact, the model is adapted from one that brought InvestigateWest some success last year and was a finalist for an IRE Award: In July 2013, the organization spearheaded a series of stories that focused on challenges local law enforcement agencies face when dealing with missing persons cases involving subjects with Alzheimer’s disease. The stories, which ran on both television and radio, spurred several police department to request training materials. The reporting also served as a reference as a law was drafted to create Oregon’s “Silver Alert” system, a mandate that requires policies and training for police officers throughout the state.

“We began talking about a year ago with KUOW about a more formal partnership with them, working together to have an ongoing relationship as opposed to just project by project,” Alcorn says.

Given the previous working relationship with KUOW and funding from the INNovation Fund, Alcorn says there is mutual interest to push the project forward.

But collaboration—not just working together, but rather sharing a vision—is a critical ingredient to the project because each organization brings its own strengths, Alcorn says. He cites InvestigateWest’s five years of award-winning work and the philanthropic support to achieve such work; KUOW has a much larger audience and infrastructure.

“Both want to produce independent investigative journalism on consequential issues,” he says. “There are costs associated with that — it’s expensive journalism.”

And whenever a collaboration like this happens, Alcorn says InvestigateWest shares the spotlight with those partners.

“We want to grow the audience of individual supporters,” Alcorn adds. “KUOW does good investigative journalism, but right now they don’t have a showcase for that work that allows them to monetize and build an audience around it and ultimately attract financial support.”

Alcorn says that this project hopes to address and answer those challenges for both organizations.