With more televisions than newspapers in homes these days, it's little wonder a print outlet would want to call a broadcast counterpart an ally--rather than a competitor--in the quest for news. Now, instead of worrying about being scooped by the local TV station, one North Carolina paper is giving some scoops away--for credit, of course.
The Winston-Salem Journal and High Point's WGHP-TV/FOX8 have embarked on a venture of shared newsgathering resources, resulting in not only more editorial sources but increased marketing plugs for each party. "It should be win-win, to use a cliché," says Jon Witherspoon, president and publisher of the Journal, a Media General newspaper.
The relationship, "The New Connection," was put into effect in mid-December and was touted with a big advertising push: TV ads feature a newspaper rack trailing an electrical cord. The partnership is a novel media form in the Piedmont Triad area of High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, North Carolina. Details of the agreement include:
•In the hour-long 10 p.m. newscast, the Fox station devotes five to six minutes to highlighting a few of the best stories that will appear in the next day's Journal, and at the same time refers viewers to its Web site (www.fox8wghp.com), which also links to the Journal's site (www.journalnow.com).
• Journal reporters talk to FOX8 staffers throughout the day, sharing news tips and source info. FOX8 cameras will sometimes come into the Journal newsroom during the live 10 p.m. broadcast to show the headlines as they are being written by copy editors.
• The paper prints a 1-by-5-inch ad every day, teasing items that will air on the evening newscasts, and it occasionally uses the station's video clips as photos.
• The Journal uses FOX8's weather forecast, along with a photo of chief meteorologist Van Denton and the station's logo, as its daily weather page. It's an improved look, says Cheryl Carson, vice president of news for FOX8, over the old AccuWeather map.
• Together, the organizations recently opened a bureau in Davidson County, just south of Winston-Salem and High Point. There are plans, Carson says, to incorporate a FOX8 presence in an expanded Journal newsroom and also to use the paper's reporters on the air.
Both FOX8 and Journal executives say the focus of the alliance is shared news. "Some of our editors grumbled about sending stories over, but it's been fun," Journal Managing Editor Carl Crothers says. "FOX will highlight our 10 p.m. stories, and other stations will scramble for them for the 11 p.m. news. They'll go to our site and have to credit us."
Journal enterprise stories, however, stay quiet during the day. At 6:30 p.m., the Journal sends over one-paragraph summaries of all stories, and FOX picks the ones it will use. Not until 8:30 does the Journal give up the whole story for the 10 p.m. broadcast.
In the beginning, the Journal's newsroom, which has seen a lot of changes come and go in its 101 years, wasn't sure it wanted to share. "There's a real learning curve at first," says Valerie Bauerlein, a Journal police reporter. "You don't want to lie [about your information], but you don't want to share everything."
"There used to be this hard-core line between print and television journalism," says Liam Sullivan, former managing editor of FOX8 News, who left the station in March. "But it makes you bigger with two teams. It seems natural to work together."
Four years ago, while he was Ft. Lauderdale bureau chief for Miami's NBC 6, Sullivan was part of a team that launched a similar newsgathering alliance with the Miami Herald; it's still going strong. He also was the one who initiated talks between the two North Carolina groups last summer.
Although High Point is about a 25-minute drive from the Journal's home in Winston-Salem, the organizations discovered that their markets complemented each other. The Journal's goal is to attract more subscribers and readers, especially younger ones, who make up a large part of FOX8's audience, and FOX8 wants increased viewership in nearby areas served by other local stations.
The Journal's circulation has been stable for the last couple of years at about 92,000, Crothers says, but the last months of 1998 brought a 2,000 decrease. Crothers believes there is no "magic bullet" for circulation growth but says the FOX highlights of exclusive Journal stories have boosted the number of visitors to the paper's Web site--up to 10,000 overnight on some occasions.
TV/print joint efforts are not unheard of: Crothers was assistant managing editor at the Tampa Tribune about five years ago when the paper began working with WFLA Channel 8 in Tampa. Both are owned by Media General. And the notion of two organizations with different owners linking up may be spreading. Executives at Greensboro's News & Record, the largest paper in the Triad area, have been exploring a newsgathering alliance with a local TV or radio station, says News & Record Editor John Robinson. "We see the upsides and downsides of an alliance, but you have to balance them out," says Robinson, whose paper has no immediate plans to set up such a partnership.
"This is part of a trend," says Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. "They're not the first to do it; it is one of the more elaborate collaborations."
If anything, the power of television has become more apparent, Bauerlein says. Journal stories are now reaching a broader nonsubscribing public. "My family, sisters, friends, they don't take the paper," she says, "but they do watch the TV."