Combined Effort p. 14

By: M.L. Stein Family-owned dailies on opposite sides of Idaho
collaborate on a series about a river they have in common sp.

A RIVER RUNS through them, so two Idaho newspapers with different family ownerships agreed to combine their efforts for a yearlong series on the waterway ? even though they are located on opposite sides of the state.
Actually, the Snake River, sometimes called the Nile of Idaho, courses through 44 Idaho counties and is an important economic and recreational resource.
The Lewiston Morning Tribune and the Idaho Falls Post-Register are sharing stories, photos and graphics to acquaint their readers with the Snake's many facets.
For Lewiston, the river is a fishing bed and the artery for the state's only seaport. The Snake feeds into the
Columbia River, which flows into the
Pacific Ocean.
The Post-Register covers the 1,038-mile Snake as a trout habitat and a water supply for Eastern Idaho's famed potato crop. Part of the river is harnessed to generate electricity.
"The goal was to put together a series that gets beyond the obvious ? and counterproductive ? parochial approach to resource reporting," explained Kevin Richert, Sunday and projects editor for the Post-Register. "We are trying to teach readers about the river in a way that is as comprehensive as it is innovative."
Post-Register executive editor Mei Mei Chan added that the series, "The River Between Us," promotes the notion that "the river is a common resource, not necessarily one that has to divide us."
Richert said the two dailies, which are 509 miles apart, have exchanged reporters and photographers whose expenses in the other city are paid by their own paper.
However, he added, the costs are lowered considerably by having the visitors stay in the homes of host editors.
The out-of-town reporters, according to Richert, "were able to provide a fresh perspective when interviewing people we had talked to before."
Richert said page designers for the two papers gave up their original idea of laying out identical packages, "but overall, the products are remarkably similar."
The stories produced appear in both newspapers. The first installment ran in February, and others followed in August. A harvest series will run in October. Later, a "Snake Summit" will be held in which officials and decision makers around the state will meet to discuss the river.
Richert said the idea for the partnership sprang from a management retreat involving the Post-Register, Morning Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Missoula, Mont., Missoulian. The Snake also wends its way through Wyoming, Washington and Oregon.
"They spent most of the time talking about the newspaper business, but the Post-Register and Morning Tribune later began talking about the Snake," recalled Richert, one of the series' editors.
Tribune managing editor Paul Emerson said it was the kind of "big picture" series he'd had in mind for a long time.
"It struck me how really the problems and the issues along the river are the same," he commented.
In summing up the the project, Richert observed:
"It hasn't been easy, but staffers say it's been worth it. They learned more about the limitations of modems and e-mail than through any formal computer training.
"It's proven interesting just to set up a conference call between editors at a morning paper and an afternoon paper in different time zones."
Will this be a model for future joint ventures?
"It may be," he said, "perhaps involving more than just two newspapers. But for the first time out, two papers were plenty. A match made in heaven?
A marriage of convenience? An extended and dysfunctional family? At times, it felt like all three. But it's been worth the travel and the hassle, the phone calls and the haggling. It served to jump start the staffs and it's served our readers well."


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