Content is King; Collaboration is Queen (a drag queen?)

Here’s an easy riddle: What do you get when you gather up some of the strongest public media programs and networks and ask them to share content on a single platform? Answer: EconomyStory.Org.

The idea behind this effort is that the sum is greater than the parts, that public media can have a deeper impact and reach a broader audience by working together, helping each other. In short: duh! It means tearing down the walls between TV, radio and online, and building bridges of cooperation between institutions that typically compete for slices of CPB and foundation pie. It means cross-platform, cross-pollination, cross-promotion. Check out this new video about Economy Story:

The Economy Story is slated to end April 30: just one week from now. Does that mean the recession is over? I wish.

Certainly, the Economy Story collaboration wasn’t perfect, but it aggregated some excellent content, along with ace blogging and beaucoups tweets. I would have liked to see all public radio and TV stations put an Economy Story widget on their website home pages for the duration. And in a year of listening to public radio, I didn’t hear the words “Economy Story dot org” on the air at all. I’m not saying it wasn’t mentioned, only that I never heard it. It doesn’t seem that all partners were equally engaged. But that’s part of the nature of collaboration.

It wasn’t the first giant collaboration in public media and it certainly won’t be the last. WGBH is exploring another potential public media collaborative based on its WORLD channel. And some of the new CPB-funded Local Journalism Centers will operate cross-media.

I, for one, would love to hear some more truth-telling about the nitty-gritty of collaboration. How does it work in the real world of deadlines and real competition for eyeballs and “earballs?” Perhaps, at some point, we can discern what best practices might be in forging new projects across different institutional work cultures.

Some of this conversation is underway at the National Center for Media Engagement/NCME which is profiling Economy Story on its site, along with links to archived webinars about the project.

The inconvenient truth is that public media can’t afford to be separate (or unequal) anymore. We all need each other. We operate in silos at our peril. Public media is a huge and diverse brand, a big tent, but it does mean something: public ownership, public opinion, public space, public interest, public good, public trust; media by, for and about the people.

Most Americans don’t know the difference between NPR and PBS, NPR and PRI, PBS and ITVS, and all others in the pot of alphabet soup. For years, many of us working in public radio and TV have either lamented that confusion or have been mildly amused by it. Some of us have asked ourselves if we’ve failed when it comes to branding. But in this era of new media, could that confusion actually be an asset waiting to be seized?

What do you think? What do you think makes for a good cross-media collaboration? What works? Share examples.