Convergence For the Common Good In Rochester

By: Steve Outing

Cross-media alliances are hot these days. As the media business continues to march toward the eventual convergence of print, broadcast, and online news, more and more news companies are forming relationships.

While cooperation between TV news outlets and newspapers often are between entities with common corporate parents, increasingly such alliances are developing between unrelated companies. Just last week, The Miami Herald announced an alliance with WFOR, the local CBS affiliate. The Florida news operations plan some far-reaching cooperation in news-gathering, online content, promotional efforts, and even office space and personnel. For Herald parent Knight Ridder, which does not currently own any TV stations, joining forces with a broadcast partner makes sense.

In the colder climate of upstate New York, another collaboration between unrelated media companies is building steam. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (a 175,000-circulation Gannett-owned daily) is well into a convergence alliance with the local ABC affiliate, WOKR-TV, Channel 13 (owned by Clear Channel Communications). That collaboration is taking on some ideas that will seem foreign to print and TV journalists used to considering each other as arch competitors.

In Rochester, the idea of cooperating with local TV in a serious way is a couple of years old. Things heated up just over a year ago, when the D&C hired Anthony Moor as its new media director, and switched from a partnership with another local TV station over to WOKR. Moor is a former television journalist who got involved in the Internet, and his dual-media experience made him a logical choice to head up a collaboration with local TV stations, as well as shepherd a newsroom initiative to get deadline news on the newspaper’s Web site as quickly as possible.

There are several facets to the Rochester convergence initiative — some internal to the newsroom, involving the print side and the new media operation; some involving the external relationship with WOKR:

Wire-service approach: The newsroom culture is undergoing a transition to more of a wire-service approach. Significant breaking local news is expected to be put on the newspaper’s Web site as quickly as humanly and journalistically possible. Rather than the old way of producing one story for the print edition, reporters are expected on important stories to produce a Web version — often a short version that gets the word out quickly to office workers who frequent the newspaper’s Web site during the day. A newsroom Web line editor works with reporters directly throughout the day to craft online coverage, while reporters also work with print-side line editors for the newspaper edition of stories.

Shared weather: WOKR provides weather content for the newspaper’s weather page, and the station’s meteorologist is featured in a regular weather Q&A column.

TV time: Newspaper reporters are now turning up on WOKR newscasts, where they might be interviewed by TV anchors about stories they’ve written.

11 o’clock exclusives: And in the most significant collaboration to date, the newspaper’s editors provide to the TV station significant news and enterprise stories that will appear in the next morning’s newspaper in time for the 11 p.m. newscast, while not publishing those stories on the paper’s Web site — giving the TV station exclusive news that no one else has.

It’s that last item that’s perhaps most innovative. As D&C Editor Karen Magnuson explains, each evening the newspaper’s editors deliver stories to WOKR that are exclusive to the paper. Often, the TV station will merely provide a brief rundown on a story — a much-abbreviated version that promotes what will be in the morning newspaper, yet also offers viewers real information about an event or issue. The station may shoot video to go with the story, or if it’s significant enough, even lead the newscast with it.

Of course, the D&C gets the credit for these stories, and it’s an excellent marketing opportunity for the newspaper that encourages TV viewers to pick up the paper the next morning for the “full story.” What WOKR gets out of the deal is the opportunity to be the first to deliver news to its viewers — because these are stories that are exclusives by the paper, and that competing TV news programs don’t have.

Magnuson says the decision also was made on these types of stories not to publish them on the D&C Web site the evening before print publication — confirming that what WOKR broadcasts is first released to the public on WOKR. The reasoning is that if these stories were published on the Web, other media competitors in the Rochester market would pick up on them and possibly provide coverage of their own before the printed newspaper hit newsstands and driveways, and there could be competing stories on other 11 p.m. newscasts. Also, Magnuson says, the paper’s Web site has minimal traffic in the late evening — the bulk of the site’s traffic comes in early morning, around lunchtime, and at the end of the typical office workday — so it’s not a huge loss to hold the stories from the Web until the following morning.

The Web comes first

TV-exclusive, non-Web newspaper stories are a separate animal from breaking local news, which is meant to go on the D&C Web site right away, says Moor. The newspaper’s reporting staff works with the Web in mind, and if a story is important enough then it will go online as soon as it can go through the writing and editing process. Reporters have a flow-chart that they can consult to figure out if a story is something that should go online during the day, rather than be held for the morning newspaper.

Moor says that this is accommodated by a line editor who was switched from print to Web editing duties. Reporters work directly with the Web editor — for example, calling in a story upon learning of a major court verdict so that the news can be posted online quickly. Reporters also work simultaneously with print line editors for their traditional print articles.

Says Moor, “We’re fostering a culture of urgent news.” And editor Magnuson says the newsroom climate is changing to one more akin to a wire service with constant deadlines, rather than the one-deadline pace of the typical newspaper.

Straighten your tie

Another thing that’s changing at the D&C is that newspaper reporters are turning up on television more often. It’s becoming more common for a reporter to be interviewed on the air by WOKR anchors to talk about significant stories they’ve written or are covering.

This week, for example, D&C business reporter Richard Mullins attended the Xerox annual investors meeting in New York City. (Xerox is a major Rochester employer.) In addition to writing for the newspaper, he called in some information about the proceedings for use in a brief report on the WOKR noon newscast. Later in the day, he went to an ABC studio for an on-air interview with a WOKR anchor to talk about what happened during the day, which aired during the 5 p.m. newscast.

Another recent example was when a D&C reporter-photographer team traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where individuals from Rochester were involved in the security operation that imprisoned captured Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. The newspaper journalists were interviewed on WOKR’s morning show to talk about their experience.

WOKR Vice President and General Manager Kent Beckwith says he’s happy with the arrangement, and expects newspaper reporters to appear more often as the TV-newspaper alliance evolves. In the Xerox example, that was an event — important to the Rochester audience — that the station otherwise would not have covered in person, Beckwith says. Nor would it have been able to send a TV journalist to Cuba, even though the story had a strong local angle. The alliance with the newspaper allows WOKR to report on events that it otherwise might lack the resources to cover, and tap the expertise of the newspaper’s journalists.

Beckwith says the relationship especially helps in getting deeper coverage to his local TV news shows. While his reporters cover Kodak periodically, for example, the newspaper has a reporter who devotes his time almost exclusively to covering Rochester’s largest employer. That’s expertise he hopes to tap more on the air as the alliance evolves.

At some point, the D&C newsroom is expected to get a TV camera to better facilitate these on-air interviews, as well as potential joint projects worked on by teams of newspaper and television journalists.

New-media director Moor says newspaper reporters are not required to appear on television. He expects to leverage the enthusiasm of the newsroom’s “early adopters,” who want to get in early on the industry-wide trend of cross-media journalism (a.k.a., convergence). Indeed, Moor believes that down the line “there will be few single-platform reporters” left in the profession. “Most reporters are flattered to be able to show their expertise” on television, he says.

Moor also is making himself available to prep D&C journalists about the finer points of TV appearances. But as WOKR’s Beckwith points out, the idea is not to turn these newspaper people into television presenters, but rather to tap their expertise on the air. Moor says his training tips aren’t intended to make them appear to be TV people, only to be comfortable while imparting their expertise to a TV audience and projecting a professional persona that represents the newspaper appropriately.

Moor thinks that certain newspaper job titles in the news organization will make the best candidates for on-air time: columnists, entertainment critics, editorial-page editors, and political reporters.

Where’s the money?

Is there a financial imperative for this TV-print collaboration? Those involved mostly look at the Rochester convergence initiative as a smart thing to do journalistically — to provide better and deeper coverage for both print and broadcast audiences, and to react to the digital media environment where consumers split their time between various media formats rather than focusing on just one. The idea is to deliver the D&C and WOKR brand names in other media platforms, in recognition that people spend less time these days with any one.

D&C executives say they haven’t spent any extra money on the collaboration initiative — the program’s goals were met by moving some people and schedules around, mostly to accommodate deadline Web publishing. While this isn’t viewed as a short-term way to generate new revenues, it does support long-range goals of remaining important in local residents’ lives even as the digital-media environment splinters and fragments further.

Moor even suggests that longer term, increasing reliance by the TV station’s news operation on newspaper reporters could mean that the broadcast operation would have more editors and presenters, but fewer TV reporters out on the street. Not everyone agrees with that view, however.

However this turns out, the newspaper and TV journalists involved can stop thinking of each other as the competition. Expect to see more alliances of this sort as time goes on, particularly if the Federal Communications Commission finally relaxes media cross-ownership rules — which some analysts say could happen in 2003.


Small papers are phat, but not fat

It occurred to me while reading your column on fat, but not phat, home pages that smaller newspapers may once again have it right. Their home pages are slim because they don’t have a staff to fatten up the page. Most often the pages are built using a template provided by some outside source that also hosts their site, and the content is posted by a newsroom clerk. (And it’s almost always all local content.)

Mark Van Patten
Daily News
Bowling Green, Ky.


Sacrificing profit

Regarding [your column on] help-wanted ads, a job site attracts casual job seekers from around the country. A newspaper site attracts local eyeballs, and a narrower group of national people who have a specific interest in working in a given geographic area.

Newspaper Web sites could leave their job listings online for as long as a job is vacant — sacrificing some profit to be comprehensive. If you are the best, job hunters and employers will notice, thus increasing the volume of ad listings and your revenue in the long run.”

Andrew Jones

Other recent columns

Have Newspapers Lost Help-Wanted Ads For Good?, Wednesday, Nov. 13
News Sites Need To Go On Diets, Wednesday, Oct. 30
Out With the Old Advertisers, In With the New, Wednesday, Oct. 9
Google News Could Change Online News Industry, Wednesday, Sept. 25
Don’t Hide Your Multimedia Content, Wednesday, Sept. 11
See the News Of the Future At Starbucks, Wednesday, Aug. 28
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