Civic-Minded Donors Contribute $3 Million to Help Fund Unique Media Merger For Deeper, Expanded Coverage
Twenty-four individuals, four foundations and two trusts have contributed $3 million to support the expanded news operation of St. Louis Public Radio – the local NPR member station licensed to the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
The expanded newsroom is the result of a merger that integrated 13 veteran journalists from the online news publication St. Louis Beacon into St. Louis Public Radio late last year. The combined news staff is located at UMSL at Grand Center, 3651 Olive St. in St. Louis, which houses university classrooms and St. Louis Public Radio. Grand Center is the region’s largest arts and entertainment district.
Longtime benefactor of St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, contributed a $1 million lead gift.
Donors contributing more than $100,000 include Josephine and Richard Weil, Connie and Dan Burkhardt, Nancy and Ken Kranzberg, William H. Danforth, M.D., Harriet and Leon Felman and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The merger, the first of its kind in public radio, brings together two fully-staffed newsrooms to provide expanded in-depth coverage of the stories and issues that affect the St. Louis region. As the consumption of news across digital platforms has increased significantly over the past several years, the need to reach more people in more places has become paramount. The merger, which provides for robust coverage both on air and online, came about to enable people to become more deeply informed of the issues that affect their lives, to be better prepared to make decisions and to become more engaged in the community.
“We’ve created a national model for a sustainable, multiplatform news operation that can provide in-depth coverage of issues important to a vibrant democracy and flourishing region,” said UMSL Chancellor Tom George.
The St. Louis Beacon began publishing in 2008 as an exclusively on-line, not-for-profit news organization. Margaret Wolf Freivogel, a veteran journalist and former reporter and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was a Beacon founder and served as editor throughout the publication’s life. Freivogel worked closely with St. Louis Public Radio’s general manager Tim Eby in seeing the historic merger of the two media into one multi-platform organization.
As more people continue to seek news and information in different ways on different platforms, St. Louis Public Radio will create content that offers insight, has long-term value, and has the potential to stimulate and promote conversation within four areas of inquiry.
How We Learn:
A focus on how education and lifelong learning can be transformative for our region;
How We Grow:
A focus on economic development, sustainable growth, jobs, urban planning and environmental issues;
How We Live:
A focus on the people, neighborhoods, culture and diversity of experience within our community;
How We Decide:
A focus on policy- and decision making, and the mechanisms of elections, with an emphasis on information that helps people weigh options and take action.
Since combining forces on December 11, 2013, St. Louis Public Radio has seen a strong increase in audience on its web site, a deepening of engagement with people across social media and increase in the stations’ radio market share. St. Louis Public Radio is now serving the St. Louis community better than ever before and is better suited to provide seamless coverage across its many platforms.
“This is a unique endeavor that might not have been possible without the generous support of individuals and foundations whose interest is community development and an informed democracy,” said Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU and Quincy Public Radio | 90.3 WQUB provide the St. Louis and Quincy regions award-winning, in-depth news on-air and online, insightful discussion, and entertaining programs that focus on the issues and people who shape our communities, our country and our world. Signature programs include: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air, This American Life, Marketplace, Car Talk, St. Louis on the Air, BBC World Service, The Tavis Smiley Show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and A Prairie Home Companion.
St. Louis Public Radio, which broadcasts in HD on 90.7, 90.7-2 and 90.7-3, and is online at www.stlpublicradio.org reaches 515,000 people a month in the bi-state area. Quincy Public Radio, which broadcasts in HD on 90.3, reaches nine counties in western Illinois and northeastern Missouri.
St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU and Quincy Public Radio | 90.3 WQUB are member-supported services of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Next week will mark the three month anniversary of the marriage between The St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio and the signs are looking good for a very long honeymoon period.
The storyline since bringing our two organizations together on December 11, 2013 is that we’ve seen a strong increase in audience to our web site, a deepening of engagement with people across social media and, most importantly, the journalism that we’ve produced has been compelling.
During these first few months of the honeymoon we identified ourselves as “St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon” to signal that our two organizations are now operating as a single organization with one of the largest newsrooms in the St. Louis region. The next evolution of our marriage rolled out this week with our “News That Matters” campaign.
We’ve also returned to using St. Louis Public Radio as our brand name.
The use of the term “radio” shouldn’t suggest that the radio platform is our only focus. While radio (audio) is one of our core strengths, we feel the merging of The Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio is about connecting with people wherever and however they use media as they seek to gain a deeper understanding of our region and the world–be it through broadcast, websites, mobile devices, social media, or in person.
Over the months leading up to and in these first few month of the merger, we’ve been refining our public service pledge to our audience and stakeholders. These promises drive our work on a daily basis.
A SPACE WHERE FAIRNESS, FACTS AND CONTEXT PREVAIL
As public media, our community relies on us to gather, investigate, focus on and prioritize the significant issues affecting our region — free from any external influencing forces, whether commercial, political or financial. We will delve deeply into critical issues, always striving to place these issues into an historic and factual context, and sharing insight from across our diverse community. Our work will counter ignorance with information, and prejudice with understanding. We will keep watch on powerful interests, challenge conventional wisdom and expose nonsense. We will create a unique and trusted space where the people of our region connect with each other, learn about each other, and come to understand each other, our nation and our world.
A FOCUS ON FOUR DISTINCT LINES OF INQUIRY
We will create content that offers insight, has long-term value, and has the potential to stimulate and promote conversation within four lines of inquiry:
- How We Learn: a focus on how education and lifelong learning can be transformative for our region;
- How We Grow: a focus on economic development, sustainable growth, jobs, urban planning and environmental issues;
- How We Live: a focus on the people, neighborhoods, culture and diversity of experience within our community;
- How We Decide: a focus on policy- and decision-making, and the mechanisms of elections, with an emphasis on information that helps people weigh options and take action.
FOR THE GOOD OF OUR COMMUNITY
We will help the people of our region understand this moment in our history, appreciate its culture, recognize its strengths, meet its challenges and embrace its opportunities.We will promote conversation and engagement that give rise to thoughtful and informed actions and solutions. We will promote democracy by providing open access to information our audiences need to understand the events and ideas that shape our world.
WE CONNECT WITH PEOPLE ACROSS MEDIA
Using all tools at our disposal, we will make our content available to our diverse audience in broadcasts, online, in person and through partnerships with other organizations.
These promises align with our belief that the St. Louis region benefits from a vigorous, forward-looking and public news organization. As public media, service to our community is the sole focus of our work. We believe unbiased, influence-free reporting is foundational to a strong and thriving region.
With this belief, our purpose is centered around the idea that we exist to help people become deeply informed about the issues that affect their lives, better prepared to make decisions and more engaged in our community.
This is why we brought our two organizations together and it’s our hope that we’re delivering on that purpose to you, however you experience us. If you agree we’re delivering on this worthwhile purpose, I want to encourage you to support the service that you use by making a gift of financial support during our Spring Membership Campaign that is beginning today. Thank you.
The St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio have merged today. The purpose and direction of the new organization are clear — to serve the public with the highest quality reporting on local news and issues. But many details remain a work in progress as we officially begin our work together as one newsroom.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the merger:
How long has this been in the works?
In October 2012, we announced the intent to explore an alliance. In January 2013, we started working with the independent consulting firm Coats2Coats to identify the best path forward.
What will the new organization be called?
We don’t know yet. We’re currently working with TOKY, a local independent branding and design firm, to answer that question. In the meantime, we have co-branded many of our platforms.
Where will I be able to find the content?
We’ll be one organization, so all new content will be on the co-branded St. Louis Public Radio and Beacon website. Beacon reporters will also contribute to the on-air content on 90.7 FM. The previous Beacon website will refer you to the co-branded St. Louis Public Radio website for some time. And, until we can get the archives imported, you’ll be able to see past stories on the Beacon site. There will be one newsroom located in St. Louis Public Radio’s building, UMSL at Grand Center.
What about e-mail newsletters?
Subscribers to the Beacon’s e-mails will be added to the merged organization’s daily news e-mail and general e-update lists. You can edit your preferences at stlpublicradio.org.
What will the budget be?
The annual budget will be about $7 million.
How much did this merger cost?
Because St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon are nonprofit organizations, this was not a traditional purchase or acquisition. Together, the organizations have been raising $3 million in special funding over the next five years for the new organization. Of that total, $2.5 million has already been pledged in private funds.
How many employees will the new organization have?
The combined staff will total about 60 people, with roughly 40 dedicated to the reporting, editing, and production of content on air, online and in other ways.
For more information about the combined organization, see Editor Margie Freivogel’s welcome letter.
Today, the Curators of the University of Missouri System approved the merger of St. Louis Public Radio and The St. Louis Beacon. Beginning in December, the organizations will combine newsrooms and begin to change the face of independent local news in our region and beyond by providing even more depth and perspective on issues and stories that impact our community.
Additionally the new organization will work closely with the University of Missouri system, particularly the School of Journalism in Columbia, to train journalism students in public media and to develop a sustainable business model for the industry.
From Beacon reporter Dale Singer in a detailed report about the approval of the merger: “Dean Mills, dean of the journalism school at Mizzou, told the curators at their meeting that he was excited about the chance for students to work in the St. Louis area and for the Reynolds Journalism Institute on the Columbia campus to apply its research on a new journalistic structure. When approached about the idea, he said, ‘it took me 20 seconds to say yes, yes, yes.'”
Today St. Louis Public Radio general manager Tim Eby said, “We are excited about this first in the nation merging of an non-profit online news start-up and a public radio news operation. We feel that this is a model that will bring about a stronger local service for the St. Louis region on-air, on-line, and in the community.” In a post on this blog in September Tim detailed more of his take on the last year of merger talks.
Beacon editor Margie Freivogel is set to lead the newsroom effort of the combined media organization. Her thoughts on today’s developments are detailed in her editor’s column.
National press has been paying to attention to the merger. Here’s what other news organizations have been saying:
- Poynter: Merger between St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis Public Radio Gets Closer
- Current (public media industry news): University board approves St. Louis Public Radio merger with St. Louis Beacon
It was just about a year ago that the St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio jointly announced their intention to explore forming an alliance to better serve the St. Louis region through journalism.
Through the past year we have been investigating how, by bringing our two organizations together, we can better serve the St. Louis region. Through this exploration we have come to believe that high quality journalism is an important component in creating a narrative about the challenges and realizations of a region reinventing itself. By providing deep reporting, thoughtful discussion and interesting perspectives on key questions, citizens in the region will gain a better understanding of the important issues happening in our region.
Our two organizations combined will have nearly 40 news and content staff producing audio, text, video, data, and photography across digital and broadcast platforms. Of course this is in addition to programs and content from our public radio partners on-air and on-line.
The discussions of the merger over the past year have also triggered exciting academic and research initiatives in a three-way partnership with the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ College of Fine Arts and Communication, and the University of Missouri – Columbia’s School of Journalism.
Through this partnership utilizing UMSL at Grand Center (the home of St. Louis Public Radio) as a base, UMSL and UMC are cooperatively investing further convergent media opportunities and research in emerging technology and interactive design, where best practices learned from the Reynolds Journalism Institute are being used to develop models for sustaining quality, multi-platform journalism in metropolitan areas.
This vision was presented earlier this month to the Board of Curators of University of Missouri System, the governing authority for St. Louis Public Radio, UMSL, and UMC. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the Curators and we have been given the go ahead to formalize an agreement between the Beacon, the University and St. Louis Public Radio that the curators can consider for approval at their next meeting in November.
As a follow-up to the Curators meeting earlier this month, Board Chair Wayne Goode and University system President Timothy Wolfe sent a letter to stakeholders of our two organizations outlining why the prospect of the merger is so exciting.
“The list of partners at both the regional and national levels for this endeavor is amazing. We recognize that the world of media is watching this with keen interest. We are proud of this pioneering effort in the future of media and journalism…”
To learn more about this effort, you can read a report from Coats2Coats Consulting from our initial work on the merger that was funded through a grant from The Knight Foundation. If you’re interested in learning more about the merger, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.