Sleeping with the Enemy 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is finding common cause with some local television newscasts.

Tradition dictates that the divide between print journalists and their television counterparts be sizable. It's a gap ringed with the barbed wire of caustic comment. Print journalists call their TV counterparts "lightweights." TV reporters and editors question the relevance of print in breaking news.

A dirty little secret of this dynamic is that electronic media often crib from print. Another, less secret development is that newspapers have appropriated a glitzy tone associated with TV news. They feature shorter stories and bigger pictures in color, and they're tweaking technological advances like the Internet to make themselves as timely as their broadcast counterparts.

In fact, November's St. Louis Journalism Review led off a story about restructuring at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with an anecdote about reporters and editors at the paper congregating near TV sets for newscasts. Noting that the reporters call the televisions "tip boxes," writer Ellen Harris quotes one anonymous P-D scribe as observing, "Television is now doing a better job of covering the beats than the only daily paper in town."

To be fair, the "tip box" scene gets played every morning at many radio and television stations as the "paper box" scene. In any case, it's clear that the relationship between the print and broadcast media isn't apples-and-oranges anymore. It's "orples" and "anges."

The best evidence? Just check out the KDNL (Channel 30) 10 p.m. newscast. About halfway through each evening's newscast, anchor Patrick Emory reads some of the headlines from the next morning's Post-Dispatch as viewers are treated to an electronic mockup of the next day's front page. It's about as close to a symbiotic relationship as you can have in the media business. In fact, the nightly TV plug borders on being free advertising for the Post-Dispatch. But KDNL isn't the only station where the print-journalism tentacle has a new reach into St. Louis' television stations.

KMOV (Channel 4) has been hitting the airwaves recently with a series of advertisements touting its news resources in Washington, D.C. Given a central place in the advertisement -- along with its parent news outfit, CBS, and 24-hour-news pioneer CNN -- are reporters from the P-D Washington bureau. (The station and paper have also collaborated on political polls.)

KTVI (Channel 2) also has a relationship with the Post-Dispatch -- in the sports arena. Each Saturday morning, the station airs a half-hour look at local high-school sports called The Post-Dispatch Prep Sports Show, with P-D staffers acting as anchors and determining editorial direction for the show.

In short, you're starting to find the Post-Dispatch almost everywhere on your TV dial. It's not a bad marketing tack for a paper with circulation spiraling downward in recent decades, a hemorrhage, in fact, stanched only by this past summer's McGwiremania. Part of the reason, say those involved in the new cooperative deals, is that attitudes about print and TV journalism have changed. "Have times changed? You betcha," says KMOV news director Steve Hammel. "It's the kind of thing that we welcome. It's a positive for us, and I believe that it's a positive for the Post-Dispatch."

The old divide still exists on some fronts, however. A reporter at a station not involved with the P-D has a blunt opinion about the bedfellows: "It's really lazy on both their parts. There's a potential quid pro quo problem. And media in this town is already so small and interlocked."

The momentum of the market may be closing the gap and making it more "interlocked," according to Post-Dispatch general manager Terrance C.Z. Egger.

"I think it's fair to characterize," says Egger, "that in a simpler time -- however long ago that is -- we all pretty much stuck to our own knitting, and we wanted to do that very well. That's not to say that we're not interested in doing great work for the Post-Dispatch, but there are so many more choices out there. If there are ways that we can work together that guide the audience or guide the readers to information that serve us both, then why not explore it? I don't think there's any compromise to journalistic integrity there."

Post-Dispatch editor Cole Campbell agrees. In an e-mail response, Campbell says, "I think competitive tensions will always exist. I think print has certain standards that television does not, so print journalists will always think their work is superior to television journalists' work. On the other hand, television news does some things better than print -- instantaneous reporting, for example -- and research shows that items reported on television heighten interest in print coverage of the same items. So cooperative ventures with television should serve to increase interest in what the Post-Dispatch is reporting on."

The two news directors who use the Post-Dispatch in their newscasts are also upbeat, if not as relentlessly sanguine as Egger. KDNL news director Jeff Alan says the airing of the P-D's headlines from the next day was his idea, gleaned from watching MSNBC anchor Brian Williams. "It was my idea," says Alan. "I called them. I just thought it would be a neat thing to do here, and we had a meeting with (P-D managing editor) Dick Weil and a publicist for the paper, and we went forward with it."

As for providing the Post-Dispatch with a free ad, Alan admits, "You can look at it that way, but that's not the way we feel about it at all. We're bringing some new elements into our newscast, just by virtue of talking about a couple of things that are in the newspaper that maybe we didn't cover in our newscast." Alan is also quick to note that there's no quid pro quo for the nightly headline feature. "No money exchanges hands," he says. "No favors. Nothing. Absolutely not. There's nothing to this more than I wanted to do tomorrow's headlines tonight." Alan recognizes the benefits for the P-D, however. "They're getting quite a bonus," he says.

The KMOV/Post-Dispatch deal is a bit more complicated. The paper and the station share costs on polling projects, and KMOV has Post-Dispatch Washington bureau chief Jon Sawyer and other reporters available to talk about stories from D.C. on its newscasts.

Hammel observes, "We've had a relationship with the Post-Dispatch before." On the Washington connection, Hammel says that after both sides met in St. Louis and in Washington, "We came away with a system that seems to work, and does work, real well for both of us."

Egger adds that the KMOV collaboration "was something where our bureau had already started to work with Pulitzer Broadcasting. We were using Phil Dine and Jon Sawyer and the folks in that bureau who were doing great reports and feeding our Pulitzer TV stations." The jump to St. Louis came naturally, continues Egger: "If it came to a story that was relevant to St. Louisans, such as Gephardt or Ashcroft or aerospace, Channel 4 doesn't have someone in D.C., and we do. So it makes sense to expose that."

The lines between print and broadcast news are blurring, but Campbell insists that the Post-Dispatch won't tailor coverage of its partners in any particular way. "We cover the news," Campbell writes, "whether it affects Channel 4 or 30 or Pulitzer Broadcasting, with one primary reference point: What should readers know about the situation that will help them in decisions they need to make?

More by Richard Byrne

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