‘NY Times’ TV Partnerships Are Paying Off

By: Jennifer Saba

The New York Times has reason to celebrate its recent Pulitzer Prize win for “Dangerous Business” — the Web, print and TV series on workplace safety. Aside from coming out of nowhere to receive a Pulitzer in the most sought-after category of public service — the series apparently wasn’t one of the original finalists in that category — the win validates the newspaper’s foray into television. “This adds credibility to the whole notion that we can do TV,” said Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times.

“Dangerous Business” was a joint project among the Times (Click for QuikCap), Frontline, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Besides the benefit of having multiple media outlets, the Times also benefited from having partners to help foot the bill. Keller wouldn’t break out how much money the Times’ newsroom contributed to the series, which took about a year and a half of reporting, but there’s little doubt the cost-sharing helped keep the fires stoked.

The partnership among the broadcasting companies, along with a first Pulitzer win for the Times in regard to a joint effort, will mean more developments along the way. (“Dangerous Business” also took home Peabody and Polk Awards.) “I don’t think there’s any question that the project helped both the TV and the newspaper ventures,” said Michael Oreskes, assistant managing editor and director of electronic news.

For sure, the newsroom benefits by giving reporters more leeway in terms of travel and time, especially for investigative pieces where leads can quickly turn into dead ends. This particular series required traveling to many small, out-of-the-way places, said Lowell Bergman, one of the lead reporters on the project. Bergman has been on contract with the Times since 1999 to work on print and television projects. He noted that while in broadcast — most recently as a producer for “60 Minutes” — he would end up doing a tremendous amount of reporting that would never end up on the air. “Dangerous Business turned out bigger than we thought. It evolved all over the U.S. and Canada,” Bergman said.

More time meant more money. When Oreskes approached Thomas Carley, president of The New York Times News Service, about the financial commitment to see “Dangerous Business” through, he said that Carley didn’t bat an eye. “When I went to Tom on the business side I said that we can’t promise that it will make profits, but that it will make us proud. He didn’t flinch,” Oreskes said.

Of course, the business end doesn’t shy away from making money. And these joint projects are structured as such that if one happens to lose money, others will make up for it. “The philosophy of synergy — please forgive the word — is to have each platform have a self-sustaining group of people,” Carley said. “Some projects lean more on the financial side of the ledger and some on the journalistic side. They’re all designed to be profitable.”

Since the introduction of New York Times Television back in 1995, Lawrie Mifflin, executive editor of television and radio, said that more reporters are thinking cross-platform. “It’s grown exponentially, each year, it’s more than a trickle,” she said, noting that the flow of ideas works both ways. “We have a lot of smart people working with us and they constantly come up with ideas that may or may not involve the newsroom.”

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