Knight Foundation's John Bracken: funders shouldn't force collaboration

by Amanda Hirsch

John Bracken, director of Journalism and Media Innovation at the Knight Foundation, wants to know what I mean by "collaboration."

We're chatting by phone about how collaboration fits into Bracken's vision for news innovation.

I throw out a modest definition. "Working together," I say. "Playing nice." (It's not a sophisticated characterization, to be sure, but it'll do.)

He's right to make sure we're working with a common understanding of the term, since, as he observes, "Collaboration means different things to different people." (Carrie Lozano wrote about that very issue here on MediaShift earlier this year.) Bracken notes, for example, that for some news orgs, linking to each other constitutes collaboration; for others, collaboration means a complete merging of operations.

Bracken is wary of what he calls "collaboration with a capital C."

"A funder can come up with an idea and get two organizations at a table and force a relationship, or strongly encourage a coordination of activities," he says -- this is capital C collaboration, in his book -- but "my hunch is that's going to be less effective and less fun for all involved than if two people who are doing the work have a cup of coffee," or develop an idea together over Twitter or IM. Those people, by the way, tend to be "in the middle" of an organization, in his experience -- not at the executive level (or at the most junior level).



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