Sun, Washington Post to share stories, photos

December 24, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, longtime rivals in covering Maryland news, said yesterday they would begin sharing stories and photos in a deal intended to save resources for both organizations.

Editors stressed that they would still compete on coverage of state government and other areas such as University of Maryland athletics. But the papers will share some suburban, national and foreign content, along with certain sports stories.

"I know journalists in both newsrooms may find this anathema," said Timothy A. Franklin, editor of The Sun, "but we're talking about daily, breaking, fairly routine stories so The Sun can use its resources developing original, unique content, which I think is a key part of our future success."

The Sun will use The Post's coverage of Navy football and have access to The Post's federal government coverage, which will be of interest for the many federal workers in the region, Franklin said. And The Post will use The Sun's coverage of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, as well as its horse racing stories. When news breaks in more remote areas of the state, the papers may confer about coverage.

Editors may decide to send one reporter whose story will be used in both papers, said Robert McCartney, assistant managing editor for metropolitan news at The Post. "Or if it's such a big deal, we might both want to send reporters," he said. "But a lot of times, we'll be able to send just one."

McCartney said he doesn't expect staff reductions as a result of the agreement, but redeployments are possible. Franklin also did not expect staff reductions but said The Sun would save money on travel expenses and some freelance costs. Franklin said there will be no change in the staffing of The Sun's Washington bureau.

Both papers contribute to the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service but have been blocked from using each other's stories. That restriction will be lifted Jan. 1. That means The Sun, which in recent years closed its last five foreign bureaus, will have access to The Post's international coverage.

But enterprise and exclusive stories are off-limits. And the newspapers' Web sites cannot publish each others' stories until after they appear in the originating paper's print editions. "If we have a big exclusive, we're going to pop that story in The Sun," Franklin said. "Neither one of us is ceding that coverage."

Content-sharing has become more common in the news business as papers, facing steep drops in advertising as well as the loss of print-edition readers, have sought ways to conserve. Last month, the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, two dominant papers in Florida, announced they would combine their staffs in the state capital bureau in Tallahassee.

The Sun-Post deal came out of a lunch Franklin had in October with Marcus Brauchli, the new executive editor of The Post. Franklin broached the idea, and Brauchli was receptive. The deal was announced one day after Franklin said he was stepping down as editor of The Sun, to be replaced Jan. 1 by J. Montgomery Cook, director of content development for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Franklin resigned to accept an appointment at Indiana University.

Observers said the collaboration is a sign of the troubles facing the industry. "It's [a deal] that even two years ago would have been truly inconceivable," said Thomas Kunkel, former dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland. He said the arrangement would be closely watched.

"I understand what the thinking is, but it's hard to imagine how it will play out," Kunkel said. "I don't recall two formerly bitter rivals with different owners engaging in copy-sharing to this extent. ... Whatever rules used to be in play aren't in play anymore."

The papers have frequently competed on major state news such as the 2002 sniper shootings and various political stories. McCartney said that while some content will be shared, the papers will continue to "compete like dogs" in other areas.

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