Strength in Numbers

St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon merge to create a force to be reckoned with

 

WHEN THE ST. LOUIS BEACON and St. Louis Public Radio merged last December, the resulting organization became one of the largest news groups in the St. Louis region. They also became one of the most formidable. St. Louis Public Radio, also known as KWMU, has long enjoyed a stellar reputation for reportage, and The Beacon in its meteoric five-year history has received four nominations for general excellence from the Online News Association. The merger didn’t happen overnight. The possible partnership was announced in October 2012, but there were countless “details to look at, think about and work through,” says Margaret Freivogel, one of the founders of The Beacon and editor of the as-yetunnamed new organization. “We decided pretty early that a full merger would serve us better than just a rigorous collaboration.”

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS Freivogel is quick to dispel any notion that The Beacon was in financial trouble. In fact, the online-only news site brought several hundred-thousand dollars to the merger, and the partnership creates a much stronger organization moving forward. A larger staff means that stories can be covered in greater depth and breadth than either organization could accomplish separately, which enhances both groups’ mission to help people understand the opportunities and challenges in the region. “It’s mostly about having more impact in the community,” says Tim Eby, general manager of the new operation. “Our hope is to bring more people to use our service, whether it’s through broadcast channels or digital and website channels.”

Just weeks into the partnership, the only surprise is that there haven’t been any surprises, and early efforts have already demonstrated the capabilities and strengths the new platform enables. Freivogel points to an investigative piece by reporters Chris McDaniel and Véronique LaCapra on the execution drug the state of Missouri is using. The story was reported in both on-air long-form versions, as well as in an even more detailed web version. But it’s still early. “We’ll find some surprises,” says Eby. “If there aren’t surprises, we’re probably not taking enough risk to try things.”

INNER STRENGTH Although other public media outlets across the country are attempting to strengthen their organizations through mergers, the KWMU/ Beacon merger is unique; it combines two fully fledged existing newsrooms, creating a very muscular reporting arm. They will also fill five additional newsroom jobs, furthering their base of journalistic coverage. The organization also aims to expand its reach by rolling out a strategy around holding more in-person events that align with its coverage areas, including politics, innovation, education, science and health, some of which will be held out in the community and some at the organization’s new home in Grand Center.

WIN-WIN Eby calls the partnership a total win for both organizations, as well as for the University of Missouri-St. Louis, thanks to academic programs geared toward future journalism entrepreneurs, to be initiated later this year. Freivogel agrees that they both got a good deal out of it. “That’s what makes a good deal, isn’t it?” she says. “When both sides see they will accomplish something through a merger that they can’t do separately? I think we both saw that opportunity.”

 

4917_1592.jpgOffice photo by Christopher Gibbons

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