In South Bend, A TV-Newspaper News Partnership Takes Off

Gray-owned WNDU has partnered with the Gannett-owned South Bend Tribune to share content and collaborate on a wide array of reporting projects. The upshot has been a win-win for both outlets and the broader “Michiana” community, says the Tribune’s executive editor. Read a full report here in addition to the video above.

If there was ever an accurate illustration of the stark contrast between the worlds of TV news and print journalism, it came on March 10, 2023. That day, Twitter user @ShawnHils posted a picture of actors Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling walking alongside each other in the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In the photo, Carrell’s newly divorced dad character is wearing ill-fitting jeans and a distasteful horizontal-lined yellow polo matched with white cross trainers. Next to him, Gosling’s pick-up artist type rocks designer clothes, a shipshape physique and a general air of self-confidence.

The tweeted photo was captioned with just four words. Above Carrell’s schlubby character: “print reporter.” Atop his movie mentor with the flawless look: “TV reporter.”

But while there are plenty more differences between TV and print journalists than their style choices — or lack thereof — the one thing they have in common is far more important than anything that separates them: Their respective dedication to informing communities. That’s why when, in April, Gray Television’s NBC affiliate WNDU in South Bend, Ind., partnered with Gannett’s The South Bend Tribune, to share news tips and even content, on the surface it didn’t make much sense. However, as the people responsible for the partnership point out, their naturally aligned mission to serve the market colloquially called “Michiana” made it a no-brainer.

Ron Bartholomew

“I’ve had people in my newsroom, who’ve actually been here 35, 40 years, they just never could see this happening,” says Ron Bartholomew, WNDU VP-GM. “I’m just like, ‘Well, it’s a new day and a new time.’”


Early on each day, the two newsrooms exchange email rundowns of stories they’re working on. (Breaking stories are also shared as they occur.) This may make one group aware of a story and prompt them to assign a reporter to it.

But in the minds of the respective team leaders at WNDU and the Tribune that’s not the primary benefit of their arrangement. They’re happiest about the prospect of more robust reporting on a given story over the short and long terms.

“On a practical level, the very nature of what we do is very complex,” says WNDU’s News Director Gary Wordlaw. “Everybody has sort of a different appetite for a piece of a story that can’t all be told in the newspaper, it can’t all be told on television — or the radio or the internet. But working together, we are one powerful force.”

Posing a hypothetical, Wordlaw says when it comes to covering a drought, WNDU would present quick-hit facts and information bits that viewers may need to know so they can make daily decisions. But a print outlet like the Tribune might write up longform stories about drought histories, its potential impact on area farmers and other angles that generate greater context.

Gary Wordlaw

“We can’t do that in the sound bites we have on television,” Wordlaw says. “But we can certainly point to our partners at the Trib and say [to our viewers]: ‘Hey guys, if you want more information on this, go there.’”

WNDU is better equipped to cover breaking news, Wordlaw adds, but the Tribune can continue coverage of the same story with greater detail over time. Wordlaw says he’s told his staff that WNDU and the Tribune, therefore, are not “competitors,” but “partners in keeping the people informed.

“That’s the beauty of a relationship like this,” he says.

WNDU sometimes sends video segments over to the Tribune where writers will generate a print version of the story, adding context and reporting, but more easily publishing a new piece of content for the paper’s website. The TV station also provides the paper with weather forecasts for publication as well. More collaborative efforts have also been forged.

When Tribune reporter Jordan Smith got word that a homeless encampment was being broken up by South Bend police in May, he rushed to the scene to collect facts and quotes for his article. He shot photos, too, and later both he and his pictures appeared in a WNDU segment about the event.

“That was the first time that we’ve worked together on a story that way,” says Tribune Executive Editor Ismail Turay Jr. “We hope to do more of that moving forward and I thought that worked out extremely well.”

Bartholomew, Wordlaw and Turay envision joint investigative reporting projects in the future, and in a few months, about the time Notre Dame’s varsity football season kicks off, Michiana residents will enjoy a new Fighting Irish-focused podcast featuring staffers from WNDU and the Tribune. Turay was recently treated to a dry-run episode that left him gobsmacked.

“I loved it, it was incredible, and if that’s what they can do together on their very first try?” Turay says. “The synergy there, it was just great. They acted as if they have been working together and doing that podcast for a long time.”

Bartholomew says the partnership between WNDU and The South Bend Tribune is in its early stages and is a work in progress. The groups’ leaders meet monthly to discuss how they can better leverage their collective manpower to create news content.

The union originated in a casual conversation Bartholomew had with Turay in December 2022, when the pair sat on a local Chamber of Commerce panel discussion. The discourse continued for weeks, then months, and each of them kicked the idea up the chain to decision makers in their respective companies. They say it was an easy sell.

Unlike most media mergers, this combining of forces won’t result in layoffs. The newsrooms are still backed by separate companies, and the union of the two newsrooms did not come about, Bartholomew says, out of a lack of resources. (Wordlaw volunteers that, in fact, he’s looking to add staff at WNDU.)

“If you cut back, you’re defeating the purpose of the partnership,” Turay says.

And while many media outlets, in TV and print, are broadening the subjects they cover to draw more eyes, WNDU and Tribune leaders say they’re committed to local coverage — a disposition maintained by Gray and Gannett each, they say.

Since he assumed his post at the Tribune in August 2022, Turay says he’s reached out and spoken with many people in the Michiana market about what they crave from their news outlets.

“They want more local news,” Turay says. “They don’t care about what’s going on in Chicago or Indianapolis or anywhere else. They care about what’s going on in the South Bend region, so that’s been our focus and by having this partnership, we’re just giving them more of what they want. It’s a win-win for us, but ultimately the winner is the community.”

Editor’s Note: This is the latest of TVNewsCheck’s “Newsroom Innovators” profiles, a series showcasing people and news organizations evolving the shape and substance of video reporting. These profiles examine the inception of their innovations, the tools they employ and how they’re reconciling experimental approaches to news storytelling within daily workflows. You can find the others here.

Comments (1)

Leave a Reply

SparkyAJ says:

June 20, 2023 at 8:04 pm

If course this media merger took off. The Tribune, if memory serves me correctly, was losing readers along with being printed out of town. WNDU has been going gang busters for years. Congratulations to both companies. May you prosper in this adventure