CMI launches collaborative media partnership

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation (CMI) is launching the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, according to a press release last Tuesday.

The partnership is supporting 20 news organizations of the Greater Pittsburgh region and their journalists as they report on the COVID-19 crisis to local communities.

“Some stories are bigger than any one newsroom can accomplish on its own, and so the collaboration brings together a diverse group of media outlets from across the region to provide varying perspectives that add up to more thorough coverage,” Andy Conte, Director of the CMI, said via email.

According to Conte, the CMI determined whether local media outlets would be interested in participating in a collaboration last year, and the enthusiastic response led to a series of discussions with journalists and the public.

Lisa Cunningham, Editor-in-Chief of Pittsburgh City Paper, has been involved with Bridge Pittsburgh meetings since the planning stages last year and says it’s been rewarding “to share space with so many talented journalists in the city.”

“Learning more about how other organizations’ newsrooms operate and working with them closely in meetings and workshops has been a huge learning experience,” Cunningham said. “It’s really nice [that] in such a competitive field that journalists have been able to work together towards a common goal.”

According to the press release, the partnership was formed earlier this year “in response to dire economic challenges facing the local news industry, with a mission to support a vibrant, diverse and independent media ecosystem.”

While still discussing the first project of the partnership, the members decided to focus on COVID-19 due to the nature of the coverage and the resources needed to cover it.

“This process has taken a while to come together, and it has been rewarding to see it move into the public phase,” Conte said. “While we are still planning to pursue a joint regional story after the pandemic, we felt it was important to address this emerging crisis and to support local journalism at this critical time.”

In addition to collaborative coverage of COVID-19, the partnership is seeking additional support including technology, grants and funding projects pitched by freelancers.

According to Cunningham, the pitch to freelancers was sent out recently, so the collaboration’s direction is still very new.

Project Editor AmyJo Brown also asserts that specifics of the project are still being figured out, but the outlets have a general idea.

“We’re looking at ways that we can help relieve the pressure on the newsrooms in places where that might make sense,” Brown said. “We’re also looking for ways still to slow it down when we can and really look at how can we step away and keep coming back and looking at the bigger picture and making that bigger picture available to our audiences as well, kind of help our audiences also slow down and see how things are changing, especially because they’re going to be changing so rapidly.”

Brown said there were two benefits of media collaboration that immediately come to mind. COVID-19 will be a topic of newsrooms for a long time, according to Brown, and multiple outlets can “relieve the pressure” and maintain information flow to the community.

“The flip side of that is for the community and audiences, the more that we are talking to each other and trying to reduce duplication, that means there will be more stories for each of them,” Brown said. “They’re just getting more and better information because everyone has more time to spend to get it.”

Although the collaborative project is still in its beginning stages, Cunnigham has already seen how greater numbers in a collaboration can improve coverage.

Unaffiliated with the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, Pittsburgh City Paper partnered with The Incline, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh and PublicSource to publish two collaborative resource guides related to COVID-19. The outlets worked together and then published the pieces on their own sites.

“It was a way for our organizations to share resources and do something for the better of the community, and I can’t say enough about the leaders in each of those media organizations,” Cunningham said. “It’s a really, really difficult and trying time for news media, especially print publications, and anything we can do to help save this industry while helping readers get even more valuable information in the process, I’m here for it.”

The outlets involved are 90.5 WESA, Ambridge Connection, Environmental Health News, Homewood Nation, McKees Rocks Gazette 2.0, Mon Valley Independent, New Pittsburgh Courier, NEXTpittsburgh, Pittsburgh Business Times, Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Postindustrial, Presente Pittsburgh Media, PublicSource, Soul Pitt Quarterly, Storyburgh, Trib Total Media, Unabridged Press and YaJagoff!

The partnership is funded by the Heinz Foundation and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.