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Maximize impact with thoughtful partnerships and collaboration

Photo of Sarah Darville
Sarah Darville

Sarah is Chalkbeat’s Managing Editor for National. She’s organized partnerships between Chalkbeat and major national media outlets including the New York Times and the Associated Press.

Why this?

Competing doesn’t make sense. Collaborating with other newsrooms to create and distribute journalism allows us to reach more readers, and different readers, than we could on our own. That multiplies our chances to make an impact, which is especially critical for a smaller, mission-driven nonprofit newsroom. The entire news ecosystem grows stronger when newsrooms work not only alongside one another, but also in partnership.

The common mistake

Growing news organizations often see every potential partnership as a good one. But strong partnerships require time and effort, and that comes at a cost. In a worthwhile partnership, both parties have something to offer the other and are self-aware enough to know what that something is.

Our approach

We lean on our strengths.

At Chalkbeat, that’s our local education expertise. We brainstorm with national organizations when they’re interested in beefing up their education reporting in collaboration with us. We draw from the reporting and subject knowledge of our network of journalists who’ve forged close relationships to schools, educators, and families.

Two screenshots of articles that feature Chalkbeat partnerships. On the left is a story Chalkbeat did with the Associated Press on student enrollment. On the right is a story Chalkbeat did with Reveal on online learning.

Chalkbeat has partnered with news outlets like the Associated Press and Reveal.

We look for partners who complement our approach.

At Chalkbeat, we don’t have the resources to do it all, and we’ve found that partners can make resource-intensive reporting doable. We worked with the Associated Press to track how more than 700 school districts were handling back-to-school in 2020, a process that would have been tougher for them and impossible for us to do alone. With Block Club Chicago, we tracked the votes of more than 70 school councils as they debated the fate of school police, and we worked with the Better Government Association in Chicago, which has a long track record of city-focused investigative reporting, on a joint investigation of an order of computers and iPads from a campaign contributor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Partners can also bring your work to audiences with adjacent interests. We’ve worked with Crain’s to get our stories in front of business-focused readers. The CITY republishes our work to readers more focused on New York City politics. USA Today has put some of our narrative reporting in front of a big general-interest audience.

Lastly, we often ask for photography and video help. We’ve built relationships with news organizations that allow us to tap those resources even when we’re not working together on a specific story. 

With new organizations, we try to collaborate from the start.

When the nonprofit news organization The CITY launched in New York, we met early to talk about how they could republish our work and we could work together on certain topics. That grew into a multi-year collaboration around special education, where The CITY launched a listserv of interested parents and stakeholders, and reporters from both organizations worked together on stories.

We make it easy for organizations to work with us.

We want our partners to republish our stories as much as possible. To make this easy, we make our republishing guidelines easily accessible, adhere to a standard Creative Commons license, and offer HTML and plain text versions of every story available with one click.

A screenshot of Chalkbeat's republishing guidelines.

Chalkbeat's comprehensive republishing guidelines are available on our website.

With more involved collaborations, it sometimes helps to do the heavy lifting, particularly when the story idea originated with us or centers around the schools-based reporting we’re best equipped to do. Other times, particularly when our partner works in a medium we typically don’t have expertise in, like audio, we let the partner project manage. 

We’re patient.

Partnerships are about two organizations working together. Sometimes one isn’t ready, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future, particularly as leadership changes. Check back later.

Key Takeaways
  • Partnerships can be an important part of your audience strategy without being the only part of your audience strategy.

    Some stories are best suited for your subject- or location-specific audience, or come together too quickly to make sense for collaboration.

  • Work it out as you go.

    It can be difficult for newsrooms to get in each others’ rhythms. Sometimes the best way to figure out how to work together is to say yes to a story and try it. Just be honest about what you can offer and on what timeline.

  • Invest in relationships, not processes.

    There’s no one template for collaboration, and our partnerships work differently depending on the needs of other newsrooms and the requirements of the stories we’re working on. It’s more important to build trust and communicate than to hold fast to specific workflows.

What is the Local News Field Guide?

The Local News Field Guide is a resource for journalists and news entrepreneurs tackling the ever-changing landscape of news. The guide is written by staff members of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that provides essential local education reporting.

The Local News Field Guide is supported by Chalkbeat's partnership with the Google News Initiative (GNI).

Learn More