One-on-one with Peter Bhatia, CEO of the new nonprofit, free-access Houston Landing


To say that Peter Bhatia is a successful newspaper editor would be akin to stating that Tom Brady was a good quarterback. As Bhatia reminisces during this vodcast interview with E&P Publisher Mike Blinder, when he left Stanford in 1975 to begin his journalism career, the first operation he worked at was using "hot type”  typesetting to lay out the daily edition.

Since those early days, Bhatia has managed newsrooms that collectively have won 10 Pulitzer Prizes. He spent time in academia as the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism director at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism. Bhatia was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and received the 2020 "Benjamin Bradlee Editor of the Year Award" from the National Press Foundation. He is the first journalist of South Asian descent to lead a major daily newspaper in the U.S. And was featured on the cover of E&P Magazine as our 2008 "Editor of the Year."

For the last seven years, Bhatia was part of the Gannett/ USA Today company, serving as vice president and editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer from 2015-2017. He then worked for the Detroit Free Press until January 2023, when he decided to be one of eight to take a voluntary severance departure, sacrificing his job to save others from being laid off the next month.

Some thought now that Peter would take advantage of a long and prosperous career, perhaps watching the rest of us struggle to swim in the turbulent waters of today's news publishing industry from his front porch rocking chair. However, that was not to be the case.

A few months after he departed from Gannett, Bhatia announced that he was launching a nonprofit, free-access local news website in the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area, entitled Houston Landing.

 Stating its core mission is to be “an independent, nonpartisan news organization devoted to public service journalism that seeks to strengthen democracy and improve the lives of all Houstonians one story at a time," the Landing was started with a 7 million dollar seed investment from three Houston philanthropies – the Houston EndowmentArnold Ventures and Kinder Foundation.

Bhatia states that the Landing was born out of a study spearheaded by the American Journalism Project that found many Houstonians do not feel they have access to a trusted source for deeply reported stories that impact their daily lives. As of the time of this interview, they have used those funds to hire over 20 journalists led by Editor-in-Chief Mizanur Rahman, who spent 15 years in the same post at the Houston Chronicle.

On June 7th, 2023, Bhatia announced the Houston Landing's launch in an editorial where he states: “We formally launch today, without the legacy that traditional journalistic outlets face based on long years of practices and viewpoints. (We will not have an “editorial page," nor will we endorse political candidates.) We are unburdened with debates about the past. Ours is a clean slate, bolstered by the nonprofit, nonpartisan, no-paywall principles we embrace, and by carving an independent way to make Houston a better place, but to do so through truthful, thoroughly reported, and fair journalism.”  

In this episode of E&P reports, we go one-on-one with Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom leader Peter Bhatia, who recently exited his post as editor-in-chief of Gannett's Detroit Free Press to lead a new free-access, nonprofit, Texas-based digital local news startup, Houston Landing. We ask Bhatia why he believes this new project lacking paywalls, editorials and local sports can become a sustainable business in today's news ecosystem. We also ask his thoughts on managing newsrooms for over seven years at major market Gannett newspapers and where he sees the news media industry today and the future for its survival.







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