Section I: How are journalists covering cross-sector collaboration?
Section II: What challenges do journalists face in covering cross-sector collaboration?
Section III: Questions journalists should consider when covering cross-sector collaboration
Cross-sector collaboration can be complex and sometimes opaque, bringing together multiple stakeholders with differing institutional logics, motivations, and practices, who are often navigating ambiguous decision-making processes with varying formality. This, by nature, makes it difficult for journalists to gather information and tell stories in a nuanced and thorough way.
There is no such thing as a cross-sector collaboration beat. Cross-sector partnerships are employed in areas as diverse as local parks, statewide mass transit, and national counterterrorism efforts, through a proliferating array of partnering types, from contractual public-private partnerships to informal alliances. The practical result of this is that while journalists are charged with telling nuanced, compelling stories of cross-sector collaboration that effectively convey financing arrangements, partner motivations, and potential risks and rewards, very few have the opportunity to develop expertise on cross-sector collaboration.
Cross-sector collaboration can be more time-intensive to cover than single-sector initiatives, due to the number of actors and complexities of the relationships. The current media landscape isn’t always conducive to these complexities, as there are often limited resources to invest in time-intensive stories. This also affects journalists’ ability to write follow-up stories, as they often have little time to return to a cross-sector collaboration to report on whether or not they delivered promised results.
Practitioners sometimes make covering cross-sector collaboration difficult for journalists, whether due to a reliance on “press release journalism,” a lack of consideration for news values when pitching stories to journalists, or the reluctance of business-sector partners to openly share information or data — potentially reducing the quality and breadth of coverage of a particular initiative. And even if practitioners wanted to share information with journalists, organizational politics and culture may prohibit them from doing so freely.
Stories of cross-sector collaboration are difficult to cover in meaningful and understandable ways that align with the goals of “good” journalism — to tell clear, cohesive, interesting stories on topics that matter to readers. Journalism is fundamentally an audience-driven business, making stories about cross-sector collaboration, with their focus on process, multiple characters, and sometimes complex financing and governance mechanisms, not always deemed “newsworthy.”
Read a full discussion of these challenges in our report, How the Press Covers Cross-sector Collaboration.