And , Jim Moroney, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, provided two memorable defenses. “I’m so tired,” he said, “of the death-of-newspapers narrative.” After all, on most subjects they remain the chief source of original reporting, and the best of them are moving to become leaders in what Moroney calls “PICA”: perspective, interpretation, context and analysis. And he said that while it’s “just a fact” that digital advertising will never produce enough revenue to solve newspapers’ business-model woes, he pledged, to wide applause, that his company will continue to invest in accountability journalism: “We’re here to save the democracy.”
When was the last time you heard a publisher say that?
Collaboration: Going beyond the ad hoc
In general, there was a consensus in favor of more collaboration—though the details of how to do that remained fuzzy, frankly. The Chronicle’s Proctor was the leading advocate for partnerships—the old sense of competing for a share of the audience is outdated, he said, and news organizations should think in terms of serving one common public. He said he wants to work not just with other newspapers in other markets, but with broadcasters in his own market—who still enjoy substantial reach, and a different audience from newspaper-readers. (Debbie Hiott, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, noted that her paper currently shares a reporter with a local TV station: “We want to reach people however they want to be reached,” she said.)
From my perspective, there’s a real opening here to make collaboration more structured, formal, and effective—and to produce coverage that is richer editorially and has greater reach and impact. Such an approach may not have an analogue elsewhere, but growing, changing Texas would be a fine place to start. And the moment is ripe: the big organizations in the big cities don’t compete against one another like they did a couple decades ago for statewide dominance—and statewide ad dollars. Now they pretty much stick to their markets, focusing on targeted local and even hyper-local advertising
So what might such collaboration look like? Think about the subject of immigration, and marry Univision’s reporting on the experience of deportation within San Antonio’s Hispanic community with the Morning News investigative chops and feel for the story on a statewide or even national scale. Imagine a policy story richly textured, aggressively reported, and presented in English and Spanish for Anglo and Hispanic audiences alike. Done well, this kind of initiative could set the news agenda in Texas and potentially beyond.
Surmounting ethnic and language barriers isn’t the only potential benefit of that sort of collaboration. But it’s a real one—and our panelists agreed that those are real challenges, especially for the Anglo media. The Chronicle’s Proctor said coverage in the English-language press isn’t delivering the full story of immigration. And the American-Statesman’s Hiott noted that in about 10 years, Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group in Austin—a pattern that mirrors the state as a whole. “That’s not reflected in our newsroom right now,” she said.
And finally… the business model
Collaboration, frankly, might go beyond editorial to best business practices, too. There may be benefits to the broader journalism ecosystem from sharing information in such an environment, as opposed to protecting it for entirely proprietary benefit.
Hiott of the Statesman discussed her paper’s relatively recent dalliance with a paywall; it sounds very much like a work-in-progress. The Defender’s Jiles described an industry that is every day “rolling the dice” to see what works. Smaller organizations face unique challenges, but they can use insights gleaned from larger ones which have moved ahead faster. And maybe vice versa.
Of course, scale is relative. Not long after our panel, the Morning News ditched its paywall model in favor of a free basic site and an optional “premium digital service”; CJR’s Ryan Chittum, who doesn’t hold high hopes for the new venture, sees in the episode the Morning News’ failure to stick to the trail blazed by The New York Times. And on the very day of our discussion, the Morning News announced that it’s venturing into native advertising—new (and controversial) terrain earlier staked out by major digital brands like Gawker and BuzzFeed.