Four years ago, WTMJ Channel 4 planted a TV camera in the middle of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom. It was supposed to begin a new era for the paper and the TV station, both units of Journal Communications. The once-fierce competitors were now going to start cooperating. Except nothing happened. “The camera sat and […]

 Four years ago, WTMJ Channel 4 planted a TV camera in the middle of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom. It was supposed to begin a new era for the paper and the TV station, both units of Journal Communications. The once-fierce competitors were now going to start cooperating. Except nothing happened.

“The camera sat and no one ever went on it,” says columnist Daniel Bice.

Change came slowly. Years before, the JS had added columns by TMJ’s forecasters to its daily weather package. Now, the paper began sharing its daily rundown of the next day’s big stories with the TV station, which would promote them on the air. And gradually, individual JS reporters began going on the air at TMJ’s TV station and its AM radio sibling to discuss their stories.

Cooperation hit a new threshold in June 2009 in a story that, as it happened, involved this magazine. Bice and TMJ 4 reporter/anchor Charles Benson were both tracking down a report that Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn had an affair with writer Jessica McBride, author of Milwaukee Magazine’s 2009 profile of the chief, some three months after McBride wrote her story (though the fact of its timing has often been obscured in coverage).

The day before Bice’s article, he broke it on TMJ 4’s news show. Indeed, he got top billing over Benson, who covered reaction to the bombshell after Flynn confessed to an affair.

In February 2010, JS reporter Tom Kertscher did a story, “Prescription for Tragedy,” on legal drug addiction, and TMJ anchor Mike Jacobs followed up with coverage promoting the newspaper’s story. Jacobs also interviewed the mother of a fatal overdose victim who was the subject of a sidebar to Kertscher’s story.

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With a May follow-up story by Kertscher on doctors who allegedly overprescribe drugs, “We started the coordination earlier,” says Greg Borowski, JS editor of projects and investigations. For the first time, the paper and TV station began planning together well before publication. TMJ 4 reporter Courtny Gerrish interviewed one of the doctors accused, and Kertscher’s story used the comments Gerrish aired to cover the doctor’s side of the issue.

Both the JS and TMJ 4 have done ongoing reports drawn from public records on restaurants flagged by city health inspectors. In May, the newspaper’s coverage was, for the first time, limited to an extended chart instead of a story – and used to promote Gerrish’s “Dirty Dining” TV feature.

“You’ll see more collaboration,” Borowski promises. By bringing together print, photography, video, audio and other media, “We are telling a more complete story.” Online readers will see it all in one place, he continues, while print or broadcast audiences will benefit from coverage by both and might be driven to the other medium as well.

The cooperation hasn’t yet reached the seamless level advocated by former JS classical music and dance critic Tom Strini in a memo to Journal Communications brass a few years ago (covered in our November 2009 Pressroom). And it might never. But it’s certainly moving in that direction.

Newspaper insiders say more collaboration is inevitable in an era of strained resources. TV raises the profile of newspaper stories and can add more dramatic, visual treatment. Meanwhile, says one JS insider, “Our beat reporters have expertise that they don’t have.”

But the new era of cooperation is not without tensions. Sources at the paper say TMJ station manager Steve Wexler called the paper in May to complain that a story on the Honor Flight taking World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., didn’t credit TMJ-AM talk host Charlie Sykes for promoting the event. The complaint annoyed some JS staffers as presumptuous – especially given Sykes’ routine bashing of the paper as part of the “liberal media.”

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(Sykes told Pressroom he was unaware of any such complaint, while JS Editor Martin Kaiser noted only that the newspaper’s story mentioned the radio station’s involvement but didn’t confirm or deny the call from Wexler. Wexler didn’t respond at all.)

Just how far collaboration with the radio station can go is open to question: Some JS reporters only talk to the radio station’s news shows and won’t talk to Sykes or his fellow editorialists. If Sykes and other TMJ talk hosts stay true to form, they’ll keep bashing the paper. Yet if they pull back, they could cede ground as “independent voices” to rival Mark Belling at WISN-AM.

Bice says collaboration of the sort he’s done “is good for the paper, it’s good for the brand” of his own column. But he also admits he misses the competition from the old Journal and Sentinel days – and is uneasy about sharing information. On some stories, he says, the paper and the TV station still compete fiercely.

Still, a new era has arrived. Channel 4’s 3 p.m. weekday newscast now has a daily segment, “JS On Air.” It’s filmed in the JS newsroom – using that once-lonely camera put there four years ago.

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