Tampa Sees Convergence of Media
Apr. 15, 2000
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ At a $40 million media laboratory, reporters abandon the long-standing tradition of competing for stories and instead share them to get news on the air, online and in print at the same time.
It's part of a new trend in journalism called convergence, and it's distinctly apparent in Tampa, where three major media outlets owned by the same company are housed inside a 121,000-square-foot building called the News Center.
At the downtown site are The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV and Tampa Bay Online, all owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General. The Media General-WFLA alliance predates the 1975 federal law that prohibits newspapers from owning a television station in the same area.
The concept behind the partnership is to keep pace with changing lifestyles and technology, to give more reach to the newspaper, the TV station and the Web service, and to entice advertisers to cross-promote.
``We don't know where it's all going _ but we don't know where the business is going anyway,'' said Reid Ashe, Tribune publisher and president.
``It's the wave of the future,'' said John Sturm, president and chief executive officer of the Newspaper Association of America. ``If I were a stockholder, I'd be wondering if they didn't do it.''
James K. Gentry, dean of the journalism school at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, was a consultant for the partnership.
``I don't know if Tampa is unique, but it certainly is unusual,'' Gentry said, citing a trend toward multimedia conglomerates.
Gentry noted that The Dallas Morning News and WFAA cooperate and have created a cable company, although they are not in one building, Gentry said.
The move toward multimedia journalism occurs as newspapers and television in general are experiencing declines in customer interest.
In a survey of the top 50 markets, adult readership and viewership slipped over a three-year period, according to a 1999 Scarborough Research report prepared by NAA. Adults reached by daily newspapers slid from 58.8 percent to 56.9 percent. In TV prime time, viewing declined from 45.3 percent to 38.5 percent.
The Tampa Bay area is the nation's 14th-largest market, with 1.5 million households in the highly competitive west-central Florida area. In addition to aggressive TV stations and a 24-hour all-news cable TV station, it is served by two major daily newspapers: The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times.
For the past year, Tampa Tribune editors have been working with counterparts at WFLA to pave the way for change and create what Tribune Executive Editor Gil Thelen calls the ``rules of engagement.''
Dan Bradley, WFLA news director, said audiences already are converged: A person is likely to read a newspaper in the morning, flip on the TV or a radio and hit the Internet to check something out _ all before going to work.
``So why shouldn't journalists catch up with people who already use it?'' he said.
At the center of the four-story News Center is a super desk of assignment editors, a researcher, a multimedia editor and others.
When word of a school bus crash came in on the police radio scanner, TV crews were immediately dispatched, newspaper reporters were sent to the scene and a Tribune photo editor sent a photographer aboard WFLA's helicopter. Tampa Bay Online moved stories and pictures on the Web site as they came in.
Steve DeGregorio coordinates between the newspaper on the third floor and WFLA on the second floor. He attends meetings of both outlets and makes sharing recommendations. At times, he serves as a negotiator.
``Instinctual sharing will take time,'' he said.
Newspaper reporters do television packages and interviews on air, while TV reporters write newspaper columns. Stories that go to TV from the newspaper staff are promoted during a newscast. An anchor tells viewers they can read more about the subject in the Tribune. Viewers also can find expanded information on Tampa Bay Online.
Journalism schools are tailoring courses to reflect the trend. At the University of Kansas, the curriculum has been adapted to expose students to video and the Internet even if they plan a newspaper career, Gentry said.
The synergy isn't entirely new, since Media General has owned WFLA for 45 years and there has been a growing legacy of cooperation, said Thelen. And there's been interaction between the Tribune and the online service for the last five years.
Tribune reporters are given an option to take part _ unless they are on a breaking story and their input in the other medium is needed, but new hires will be expected to do stories for all three outlets.
Some print reporters find it intimidating and call it cheap labor, since they are not paid extra for the additional duties. But some are going with the flow.
``It's a challenge learning a whole new medium. It's fun and it's unnerving,'' said Peter Howard, a Tribune general assignment reporter who has done several TV stories.
``News on demand demands new things from all reporters,'' said Rob North, a veteran TV news reporter. ``Otherwise the industry will become a dinosaur.''
On the Net:
Tampa Tribune: http://www.tampatrib.com
Tampa Bay Online: http://TBO.com