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Five Tips to Build a Media Lab in Your Station

Localore 2013 teams experimented with media and audience — but as pop-up R&D labs, they learned a lot about building teams that could do what no one has done before.

Graphic summary of five ways to collaborate with indie talent
Design by Emily Boghossian

The projects were what Columbia Journalism Review calls intrapreneurship: building innovation units inside legacy newsrooms. We gathered the Localorians’ advice about how newsrooms and media incubators can find (and work with) the gunslingers they need.

 

1. Go hunting
Neenah Ellis, the station manager at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, walked across the street to find her collaborators.

When Ellis decided WYSO would apply to be a Localore incubator, she strolled from the station to the home of two accomplished filmmakers, Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar. Ellis asked them to apply for Localore and to request WYSO as a partner.

The result? “Reinvention Stories,” where WYSO’s staff, the filmmakers, and community volunteers walked through the communities of Dayton, Ohio and profiled who they met on video, audio, with web pieces, and an immersive documentary. If Ellis hadn’t approached Reichert and Bognar, none of that storytelling would have happened.

 

2. Be adventurous
When Paonia, Colorado’s KVNF applied in the last round, they had a specific project idea and lead producer in mind but were open to new ideas. Ultimately, they were matched with a different mediamaker and project: Julia Kumari Drapkin and iSeeChange.

“The year that Julia came to join us at KVNF, it was transformative,” Sally Kane, the CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and former executive director of KVNF, said in a speech at an NFCB summit. “We lifted the ceiling off our brains. We had someone come in who was so enthusiastic and ready to work hard and it lifted the bar on everyone around her in such an inspiring way. … It really gave us this experience of realizing we are capable of so much more than we ever imagined we were capable of.”

  • Look for someone whose creative force and judgment you respect.
  • Don’t think of an independent collaborator as a hired hand.
  • Be open to surprises, which is where innovation starts.

 

3. Start with your mission
Twin Cities Public Television wants to reach the “next generation” as an audience — it’s in their mission and strategic plan. TPT’s Director of Content Strategy and Innovation Andi McDaniel used that as a guidestar for designing Localore collaboration Ed Zed Omega, the story of five fictional high school dropouts that was produced and shared using social media.

“There are ways to position innovation inside an existing plan,” McDaniel said in a webinar with PBS. “For us, that has been about finding a space for innovation within an area in which we’re specifically targeting an outcome that had already been determined.”

  • Share your vision or mission statements and ask the community and collaborators for project ideas that start from the station’s principles.
  • Ask: Will this collaboration fulfill the bigger goals of the station?
  • Consider which parts of the mission statement are getting lip service or are unrealized. Start there.

 

4. Involve the whole station
KUT’s Localore project Austin Music Map was housed in the music department — and the news department didn’t know about it early enough, KUT news director Emily Donahue said in a webinar with PRNDI. While the departments eventually collaborated on the project and on a huge music festival, MapJam, even more could have been done if the other departments had been invited to add their ideas and resources.

  • Ask departments what they could offer to a project, and what they’d like to get.
  • Look for input widely. Again, surprise is a great starting point for innovation.
  • Engage and involve a wide range of station staffers. Ask them to host phone calls or brainstorming sessions with potential collaborators.

 

5. Be honest: Are you really ready for experimentation?
The move from a top-down management culture to bottom-up development of new and unfamiliar productions was both startling and refreshing for Localore teams in 2013.

“We had to sometimes make things up as we went along” was a common refrain among the Localore teams. This is the nature of invention, especially in collaborative productions. Other advice along these lines that Localore producers shared was “get out of the way of the story” and “go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see further.”

  • The point of Localore: Finding America, and the point of innovation in our industry, is to go where public media hasn’t gone before and try things public media hasn’t done.
  • The best collaborators will have high tolerance for uncertainty and failure (and the tenacity to fail until they succeed).

 

Have your own tip to add about how to build a successful collaborative team? Tweet it to @airmedia or email Teresa@AIRmedia.org.

Need inspiration? Visit finding-america.org to see how stations are hunting for collaborators, or go to localore.net to see 10 projects that emerged from stations working with indies.