Next month, newspapers all over the United States will begin sharing sports stories online and in print as part of an initiative that sprung from the Associated Press Sports Editors. Then, early next year, the Washington Post and Bloomberg will unveil a new co-branded business section on the paper’s website that will offer content from both organizations.

These are just two of the next-generation content-sharing initiatives being pursued by news organizations. The first generation of sharing agreements saw stories swapped by papers in Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey among other places. (Read this previous MediaShift article about the Ohio News Organization [OHNO].) These agreements focused on print editions, and involved little or no revenue sharing. Content-sharing is now moving into its next phase by bringing stories online and looking at ways to share revenue.

This spirit of cooperation is largely driven by the fact that newspapers have fewer reporters in the newsroom, which means they produce less content. So they are teaming up with once-hated competitors, striking alliances with strategic content partners, and looking at ways to share their content online, while still reaping the resulting clicks and ad revenue. In the process, some long-held taboos of the news business are falling by the wayside.

Breaking Taboos to Survive

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Jim Willse

After the Northeast Consortium announced its content-sharing agreement earlier this year, Jim Willse began uploading his story budget so that other New York and New Jersey papers, including the Record, Times Union, Buffalo News and New York Daily News, could see what the Star-Ledger was preparing for the next day’s edition. When asked if he could have conceived of doing that 10 years ago, Willse, who recently retired as editor of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, chuckled.

“Probably not even five years ago,” he said. “I think the exigencies of the economy are forcing people to create, in some cases, fairly ad hoc alliances to save money and to keep the level of content high. A few years ago, we could not have imaged sharing a State House bureau with the Bergen Record. We couldn’t have imagined exchanging [story] budgets and running Bergen Record stories on the front page, and vice-versa. In an era of diminished resources, some of these traditional and non-productive rivalries have got to be put aside.”

That same view has helped papers in Florida and Ohio come together to share content that would have been considered sacred just a few years ago.

Long-simmering rivalries are also being set aside in other countries. In Canada, the national public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, this month launched a content sharing arrangement with the National Post, a newspaper that has regularly published opinion columns and editorials calling for the closure or gutting of, yes, the CBC. It also ran a regular “CBC Watch” column in the paper. But tough times call for fresh ideas.

Dylan Cohen, global team leader for content syndication at Bloomberg, and the person who helped broker the recently announced deal with the Washington Post, said these agreements signal a new era for content.

“There’s an old phrase that used to be used in the business: ‘NIH,’ meaning not invented here,” said Cohen. “If you didn’t do it, didn’t report it, you pretended it didn’t exist. With the web, there is no possibility to do that anymore. For me, it’s very positive and I think the newspaper industry needed this.”

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Alan Mutter

Still, it should noted that most of these content alliances are used as a way to fill a newspaper while having less reporters in the newsroom, according to Alan Mutter, a former media executive and journalist who writes the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur.

“From a quality journalism point of view, it’s definitely a step in the wrong direction,” said Mutter. “The reason I say that is competition in all things makes for better product. Papers who are taking content from other papers and sharing, they’ve sort of eliminated the need to compete, and that means the newspaper is in danger that it will be less aggressive in enterprise and investigative coverage.”

Sharing Stories and Revenue Online

The Bloomberg-Washington Post deal was announced on October 1 and includes several components. The two companies are creating a news service, the Washington Post News Service With Bloomberg News, that will sell their content to other organizations. The Post previously had a similar deal with the Los Angeles Times, but that has ended. Bloomberg also has several of its terminals in the Post newsroom, and some of its content, including market information and other data tables, appear in the Post.

But the novel part of the relationship is the co-branded online business section that will be launched on the Post’s website in the first quarter of 2010, according to Bloomberg’s Cohen. (Asked if the new co-branded business section was part of an overall Post web redesign for 2010, Cohen said he didn’t have any information to share.)

The new business section will display the Post and Bloomberg logos, and will offer content from both parties. All Bloomberg stories will be presented as excerpts and will link back to its website, thus driving traffic for Bloomberg. The two companies will also share ad revenue generated by the co-branded section.

“Building out our own website is a critical strategic initiative for our company,” Cohen said. “The revenue sharing is an immediate return for our bottom line.”

The CBC-National Post deal also includes a similar online revenue sharing component, something that’s not present in older content-sharing agreements in paces such as Ohio and New Jersey-New York. News organizations are now putting a priority on developing a content-sharing strategy that also shares clicks and revenue.

Neither Bloomberg nor the CBC would share any specific financial details. Jeff Keay, a spokesman for the CBC said, “The financial model is based on revenue sharing of ad modules.”

Linking as a Form of Compensation

While its arrangement doesn’t include a revenue-sharing element, the soon-to-launch sports content sharing service that grew out of discussions held by the Associated Press Sports Editors will have an online element. Roy Hewitt, sports editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is helping set up the new collective. He says roughly 60 newspapers in the U.S. have expressed interest in sharing their sports content, and he expects their service to launch by next month. Members will be free to browse story budgets and use full articles in their print editions. But online will be different.

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“If I have a story running in my paper tomorrow, then you can have the same one, too,” Hewitt said. “On a website, we only allow use of a limited number of words and then the story links back to the original newspaper’s site. So the hits go to the paper that originally produced the story, and not to someone else.”

The maximum online excerpt is 150 words including the headline, according to Hewitt. Right now, the collective is free for newspapers to join, as the third-party that’s hosting the service is donating the back end.

“It’s just matter of newspapers trying to help other newspapers,” he said. “You still get credit for [your reporting]. I think we understand that our competition really is for readers’ time, not with the newspaper down the street.”

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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