Will Combined Content be the Future of Newspapers?

With all the buzz around newspapers declaring bankruptcy, cutting print versions to a few days, moving exclusively online, or closing their operations completely, a lot of people are wondering what will happen next. How will newspapers change their business model to continue to create great content and make enough money to stay afloat?

Tennessee recently started a new venture – their four largest dailies (the Knoxville News Sentinel, The Tennessean, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal) have made an agreement to share content. They decided this would best serve their writers by eliminating duplication and encourage collaboration of coverage such as state elections or legislation.

This looks like an incredibly positive new venture. These papers have decided to forgo competition to create better content and forge relationships between editors and writers across the state.

But I wonder how this will affect the reporters. Will it create more jobs and opportunities for them? Since they won’t be duplicating coverage, it could give them more freedom to do investigative reporting – something many papers have lacked in the past few years – as well as cover local issues and events in greater detail. They may be able to bring in more reporters to cover special interests – like religion, pets, and travel (the first sections to get cut when a newspaper loses revenue). In fact, they could even stop syndicating local Associated Press content and rely entirely on their own reporters.

Of course, there is also the worry that by combining efforts, there will be a lesser need for numerous reporters covering the same beats, which will end up eliminating jobs. But I like to think on the bright side, so I hope this will end up creating more jobs and better content, and will allow newspapers to flourish in the digital age. We’ll just have to watch and see how it works out. If it does, we may see more of these kinds of mergers in the next few years.

North Carolina’s The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer combined efforts completely last year, but it followed numerous layoffs and a major reconstruction of both newspapers. They have been consolidating coverage since 2006. Gary Schwab, currently senior sports editor for both papers, discusses how it improved their investigative reporting here.

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