By: Lucia Moses
Lessons Learned At Belo, Cox, Tribune
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by Lucia Moses
Newspapers, with their rich news-gathering resources and the space to
tell in-depth stories, and TV, with its mass-audience reach and visuals,
seem to be a match made in heaven. That was the thinking at Belo’s The
Dallas Morning News a couple of years back when it began ramping up its
news partnership with local ABC affiliate WFAA Channel 8, also a Belo
Hotlines were set up in each newsroom so assigning editors could pass on
news tips. Print journalists were encouraged to think about how their
stories could extend not only to the Web but to TV.
But over time, cultural differences between the two media began to assert themselves. When the two decided to have their movie critics collaborate
on a story, the Morning News felt that the two should play by the
newspaper’s ethical standards and refuse all freebies from sources,
according to Managing Editor Stuart Wilk.
Then there was the question of how the Morning News would cover the
station. Because the two share Belo as a parent, the newspaper has often
been criticized as being too soft on its sibling. But now that the two
were official partners, the News decided it could no longer cover WFAA
objectively. Rather than exclude that one station from its coverage, the
News halted all TV criticism.
‘Basically, we’ve called a timeout and let [TV critic Ed Bark] cover the
news – comings, goings, ratings – but, for the moment, let’s not weigh
in on the critique level while we figure it out,’ says Wilk.
Welcome to media convergence. As newspaper-TV alliances become more
common, both sides are finding that their cultures aren’t easily
reconciled, and often they are making up the rules as they go along.
Says Wilk, ‘There is no playbook to consult in the broadcast-print
relationship we’re forging.’
Print journalists have traditionally looked askance at their broadcast
brethren. But in a world where news outlets risk getting drowned out,
newspapers are looking to TV as a way to publicize their names among a
While it’s hard to find numbers to back it up, the theory is that a
mention of the next day’s newspaper headlines on the nightly news can
lead to increased sales the next morning, driving circulation and,
ultimately, advertising revenue. ‘The days of thinking we’re going to
scoop ourselves [on TV], that’s ludicrous,’ says Jay R. Smith, president
of Cox Newspapers, which has alliances of varying degrees in most of
Examples of cross-pollination abound in markets big and small. The Wall
Street Journal contributes news programming to CNBC through a partnership
with NBC. In a three-way collaboration in Norfolk, Va., Cox’s cable
channel, Belo’s ABC-affiliated TV station, and Landmark Communications
Inc.’s The Virginian-Pilot produce a cable news show. And news-gathering relationships are blossoming in New York, Los Angeles, and Hartford,
Conn., where the Tribune Co. has three new newspaper-TV combos.
In some cases, a shared corporate parent drives the partnership. But while
the federal cross-ownership ban now prohibits newspaper companies from
buying TV stations in their markets, it hasn’t stopped them from sharing
newsroom resources with those stations.
The Indianapolis Star, for example, recently expanded its partnership with
local NBC affiliate WTHR by hiring a news manager who reports to both news
outlets. Jon Schwantes, a 13-year Star veteran whose new title is associate editor/director of news partnerships, is all too aware of the cultural
divide he straddles as he tries to foster cooperation between the two
newsrooms. To help break down mistrust, he’s encouraged print staffers to
get to know their TV counterparts, and vice versa, so they realize that
‘they do have common goals and see they don’t have horns and spiked tails.’
Schwantes plans to bring in talent coaches from WTHR to help train the
print staff to go under the hot TV lights. While Schwantes says the first
few weeks of his job have been ‘Human Relations 101,’ he’s excited to be
at the forefront of an industry trend: ‘You don’t have a lot of
opportunities to build something from scratch.’
Schwantes opted to let the Star’s TV writer, Marc Allen, continue covering
WTHR. Allen has no complaints. ‘No one’s said, ‘We have this partnership;
you need to be nice to them,” he says. ‘My credibility is too important
to me, and too important to the paper.’ Overall, Allen thinks the
partnership can give the Star more exposure, but says opinions of his
fellow reporters run the gamut, ranging from ‘people who think we give
them way more than they give us’ to others ‘who like the exposure and like
to be on TV.’
The Star’s model for stepped-up convergence is the Tribune Co., where
Star Executive Editor Tim Franklin last worked and was impressed by the
company’s aggressiveness in allying its print and broadcast properties
in both Chicago and Orlando, Fla.
Tribune Vice President/Intergroup Development David Underhill says his
company insists its properties remain editorially separate, even when it
means properties owned by Tribune get slammed by its own newspapers.
‘There’s no question that it poses new sets of challenges, but if you
get back to basics, it’s pretty clear-cut,’ he says.
Not everyone would agree. The alliance between the Chicago Tribune and Tribune-owned WGN Channel 9 led the American Federation of Television
and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to file a grievance against the station after
a WGN reporter (an AFTRA member) was asked to write a column for the
newspaper without additional compensation. ‘I think that with the
consolidation of media, it’s a real danger,’ says Eileen Willenborg,
executive director of AFTRA’s Chicago chapter. She raises another issue
as well, ‘You can’t spread professionals so thin and still have a
professional product.’ Tribune executives declined to comment.
And while it’s clear that these alliances are fraught with a tangle of
cultural and labor issues, many print executives point out that sharing
is sharply limited by what they tactfully call ‘different priorities.’
As Cox’s Smith puts it, ‘Let’s face it: a lot of television news is
15-second or 30-second stories. What leads the TV news might make the
fourth or fifth page of the newspaper.’
Lucia Moses (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor for
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