AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Cox Ohio Media Share Space, But Not Scoops

While working together on a 14-acre Media Center, WHIO Dayton, three radio stations, four daily and four weekly papers plus digital properties cooperate on some stories, “we are staying away like the plague from the homogenization of news,” says Alex Taylor, the Cox VP for Dayton. “Reporters are still going to compete against each other.”

Now operating in fancy new digs, WHIO, Cox Media Group’s CBS affiliate in Dayton, Ohio (DMA 62), has all kinds of new tools to improve its newscasts — state-of-the-art studios, a high-def weather center inside and a Sky Deck to show what the weather actually looks like outside.

But in making the physical move into the Ohio Media Center late last year, WHIO staffers are also getting used to some significant cultural and operational changes as well.

Located on a 14-acre campus, the Media Center is also home to Cox’s other Dayton area properties, including the Dayton Daily News and three other daily papers, four weekly papers, three radio stations and array of digital properties. Cox completed a $13-million renovation in December.

Cox calls the facility — which houses 633 employees in 250,000 square feet of office space — a “catalyst for an improved work culture through greater collaboration, customer focus, innovation and opportunity.”

“Having everyone in one room is a very powerful thing,” says Julia Wallace, who oversees news for all the media. But Wallace and other Cox leaders want to take the collaboration only so far. While news staffer will cooperate on some stories, they say, they will continue to work on their own stories for their own media.

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“We are staying away like the plague from the homogenization of news,” says Alex Taylor, the Cox VP for Dayton. “Reporters are still going to compete against each other.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

When it comes to sharing content between entities like, say, WHIO and the Dayton Daily News, “We only do it when it makes sense,” Taylor says.

By encouraging competition and different content for different properties, Cox is not only preserving the integrity of each property, but also keeping the reporters and other staffers happy, they say.

“It’s not easy,” says Doug Franklin, EVP for Atlanta and Dayton. “It has been most challenging to get the TV station [staff] around it because they are so competitive around the newspaper.”

The company also plans to keep the websites separate, Taylor says, particularly with daytondailynews.com and whiotv.com consistently ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the market.

The media will work together mostly on breaking news — accidents, fires and severe weather.

Staffed from 6 a.m. to midnight, the Media Center’s assignment desk is the “breaking news hub,” where news directors and editors from the various platforms coordinate news coverage, pooling resources when possible, Wallace says.

The area is equipped for live newsroom newscasts, and assignments are tracked on monitors rather than hand-written on whiteboards as they used to be.

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Each property holds its own editorial meetings, although representatives from other platforms may sit in on them, Wallace says.

Reporters who break stories get first dibs on airing or printing them. If those stories are repurposed for other platforms, they are done so at an appropriate time and credited to the original reporter and outlet, Wallace says.

Although pooling reporters can bring tremendous strength to news coverage, not everyone is cut out to do the work of their counterparts in other media, Taylor says. A print reporter, say, may simply not have what it takes to shine on TV. “You don’t want to force something that’s not natural,” he says. “But when we find little diamonds in the rough we put them to work.”

Although the Media Center has been up and running only since December, the collaborations it is designed to foster have been brewing since August 2009, when Cox reorganized its media properties along regional lines rather than by media. At that time, the GM positions at WHIO and the radio stations were eliminated, as were publishers of Cox’s newspaper. In their places, Cox created four new Ohio group SVP positions overseeing content (news and programming); sales; marketing and client solutions; and operations.

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One of the hallmarks of the collaboration was the coverage of a small plane crash in Dayton last year when reporters from the papers and stations turned out in full force, pooling information for deep coverage otherwise not possible, Taylor says. “They probably produced more content about that event in the first day then any of them individually would have done over two or three days,” he says.

Just how those relationships, both inside and outside the newsroom, ultimately take shape is still anyone’s guess, as people like Wallace and Taylor say it is still a work in progress.

And while they search for a new model for local media, the Cox executives are determined not to destroy the best of the old. “We are not doing stupid stuff,” Wallace promises.”As we live together, we’ll learn what makes sense.”

 


 

Diana Marszalek writes about local TV news every other week in her Air Check column. You can reach her for comment on this column or with ideas for upcoming ones at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.


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