The Sun severs news, ad links to WMAR-TV

Newspaper intends to seek broader audience

February 03, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

The Sun announced yesterday that it would sever its 2-year-old exclusive arrangement with WMAR-TV, in which the newspaper's reporters appeared on the station's newscasts and the two news outlets swapped ad space for commercial air time.

Sun executives said that although future collaboration with WMAR is possible, they intend to seek a broader audience for their reporters' work than could be derived from the newscasts of the ratings-poor station. All possible broadcast media partners are open for consideration.

"Today's move was about getting more exposure for more of our content and more of our journalists on more stations," Sun Editor and Senior Vice President Timothy A. Franklin said. "At a time when the media are fracturing, it's important for us to recognize that we're in the news business, not the newspaper business."

WMAR General Manager Drew Berry said Sun officials had told him the newspaper sought to drop the exclusivity, but not all links. "We think it's been a very good relationship," Berry said last night. "We've got to figure out where the partnership goes from here."

The deal prevented Sun journalists from appearing regularly on WMAR's three primary commercial rivals, but they participated frequently in programs on Maryland Public Television. The newspaper also collaborated in polls with WTOP-AM, a Washington-area news radio station.

The partnership was created with much fanfare in February 2002 with the promise of integration on three fronts: news gathering, cross-promotion and joint sales for ads in the newspaper and commercials on WMAR, which is owned by the E.W. Scripps Co. The goal was also multi-fold: to use the free marketing opportunity to reach new viewers and readers.

Neither side claimed any such gains yesterday. The Sun's readership has stayed relatively steady of late, with its most recent audited daily circulation of 306,799 for Wednesday through Saturday and 466,916 for Sunday circulation in 2002. WMAR remains a weak third in the local news ratings.

Mireille Grangenois, The Sun's vice president of marketing and interactive media, said the newspaper had learned much from the two-year venture. Now, she said, the newspaper is thinking anew about how to capture more readers in three primary demographics: residents of the suburbs ringing Baltimore, especially in Howard and Anne Arundel counties but also in Carroll and Harford counties; young adults between the ages of 18 and 34; and African-Americans.

Franklin and Grangenois indicated a desire to create smaller, specific agreements with a variety of outlets - radio and television stations, both commercial and public.

When Franklin was editor at the Orlando Sentinel, it had separate partnerships with a regional 24-hour news channel in which it once had a partial stake and with a local network affiliate owned by Hearst-Argyle Television Inc.

The Sun and the Sentinel are owned by Tribune Co. Within the industry, Tribune has been a leader in pursuing such alliances, but it is far from alone.

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