Public media stations begin planning for Ohio news collaborative


Three public media stations in Ohio are starting the planning process to implement a statewide public radio and digital news collaborative in 2020.

With support from a $70,000 grant from The George Gund Foundation, ideastream, which serves Northeast Ohio, will lead the statewide news collaborative. WOSU Public Media and Cincinnati Public Radio will serve as additional anchor stations. The three anchor stations will lend their expertise to the collaboration to ensure its continuity, stability and sustainability. Combined, the anchor stations have approximately 50 news staffers. Ultimately, the goal is for all of Ohio’s 13 NPR-affiliate stations to be involved, coming together to coordinate editorial resources and an efficient network of local journalists.

As local news organizations across Ohio suffer from layoffs and closures, the statewide news collaborative addresses a significant need. A recent report from Policy Matters Ohio stated, “With more than 100 newspapers shuttered, Ohio has 32% fewer newspapers today than it did in 2004, according to the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. Total circulation in the state fell by 47%, from 5.5 million to 2.9 million. Many newspapers that remain are ghosts of their former selves, struggling to cover local news with reduced staff.”

To assist with the planning process, the stations have hired Edison Research, a national market research firm. Edison Research will collect and provide valuable data about the news consumption habits of Ohioans and consumers’ interest in a regular statewide news service.

The stations have also enlisted the services of Judith Smelser, a nationally respected public media innovator. After leading public media newsrooms for over a decade, Smelser launched Smelser Editing & Consulting in 2013, providing a variety of high-quality services to news organizations around the country. Through her consulting work, Smelser has helped establish Indiana’s Regional Journalism Collaborative and was involved with the Texas Station Collaborative, which recently became the first NPR Journalism Hub.

“Ohio is in a great position to launch a public media journalism collaborative. Its stations have a history of working together, both through the Statehouse News Bureau and through informal content sharing among news departments,” said Judith Smelser. “Deeper collaboration is a natural next step, and I’m looking forward to helping station leaders and journalists design the collaborative that works best for them and for their audiences across the state.”

When the collaborative is implemented, it will be Ohio’s only daily statewide radio and digital news service. With Ohio’s public radio stations all working together, the collaborative will allow for enhanced news coverage and widespread community engagement. Its output could include daily newscasts, a radio program, a website and a daily newsletter, made available to all stations.

“One of the glaring holes in statewide coverage is rural Ohio,” stated WOSU Public Media general manager Tom Rieland. “We believe this initiative will allow for quality reporting about the special challenges faced by many small towns and the people who live there. There are so many important stories that go unreported across Ohio, because journalism has all but disappeared in many small and even mid-sized communities.”

WOSU Public Media, ideastream and Cincinnati Public Radio are working with existing public radio news collaboratives in California and Texas to help inform the upcoming venture in Ohio. In the coming months, ideastream will complete a feasibility study, which includes measuring audience interest to help inform strategic direction. With those building blocks in place, the collaborative will be set to begin in early 2020, ahead of the presidential election.

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