STL BeaconJust as St. Louis is reinventing itself economically, two area news organizations are merging to reinvent how to produce and deliver quality news in the digital age — with an eye toward economic efficiency.

The University of Missouri Board of Curators has approved the merger of the St. Louis Beacon online newspaper and St. Louis Public Radio. The merger had to be approved by the Board of Curators because St. Louis Public Radio is owned and licensed by the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) – part of the UM system.

St. Louis Public RadioResearchers from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) are interested in learning how this unique merger can help not only this new operation (and its surrounding community) but news outlets elsewhere. RJI is partnering with the new entity to provide research support.

“We could sort of lay down a trail for how it could be done,” says Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor and founder of the St. Louis Beacon. “It could be a way to really reinvigorate local news coverage in a lot of places.”

RJI’s proposed roles include:

  1. Providing a non-residential fellowship in fall 2014 to someone from the new organization who will focus on revenue development and new business models for nonprofit news organizations.
  2. Obtaining research assistance from professors and doctoral students at the Missouri School of Journalism to determine how a ‘strong vibrant journalism community’ affects the economic development and quality of life in a region.“In many ways we want to put a value on journalism in a community, much like in the old days when people put a value on having a railroad spur running through a town,” says Randy Picht, executive director of RJI.
  3. Conducting additional research to develop better methods for reporting news on digital, mobile and online platforms.

As RJI conducts research, its leaders hope to include other news organizations in St. Louis and elsewhere in the study.

“RJI sees a lot of opportunities to learn more and use this partnership to help the industry,” says Picht.

How the merger came to be

Leaders from the two news organizations, who have been collaborating on projects since the Beacon was created in 2008, began talking with the Beacon’s board of directors more than a year ago about a possible permanent partnership. They discussed how they could potentially strengthen the news organizations by becoming one operation.

“There were a whole lot of things that we both aspired to do that we weren’t doing,” says Freivogel. “Combined we’ll have all in all more resources. I think we’ll be able to do a better job.”

The merger includes combining the staffs from both operations — 65 employees in total.

Freivogel says by merging, the organization hopes to:

  • Cover more significant news developments.
  • Use video, as well as data analysis and visualization tools, more effectively and become a multiplatform news organization.
  • Apply more energy to learning from and joining ongoing discussions in social media and elsewhere in regard to regional news and issues.

The partners also need to develop multiple revenue streams to move forward.

“This will put both organizations in a very strong position on the business side, as well, and to do the type of work that makes us a secure and sustainable organization,” says Freivogel.

Becoming self sustaining

The two organizations have been raising funds to help cover the costs of a five-year transition period as the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio merge operations.

During this time the new organization will have the opportunity to build new revenue sources, in addition to its existing revenue streams and fundraising efforts. The hope is that the organization can become self-sustaining by year six, says Tim Eby, general manager at St. Louis Public Radio.

No decision on a new name or branding has been announced. The Beacon will move next door to St. Louis Public Radio’s building. The merged organizations will operate under one website and broadcast presence.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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