Back to the future: Radio, alternative weekly paper partner to grow audiences

By David Kassnoff

David Andreatta

The evolution of newspapers may involve a return to the partnered relationships of years gone by.

In Rochester, NY, public broadcaster WXXI recently added City Newspaper, a 48-year-old alternative weekly, to its subsidiary, Rochester Area Media Partners. Operated as a separate, for-profit activity, the urban weekly has long focused on arts and entertainment, local politics, and a stew of social issues. The newspaper’s owners sold City to WXXI Public Broadcasting in mid-2019. A few months later, RAMP hired investigative reporter and columnist David Andreatta as City’s new editor.

Print-and-broadcast relationships aren’t new. In the 1930s, the Buffalo (NY) Evening News bought into a radio station and renamed it WBEN-AM. The City/WXXI relationship flips the model; WXXI’s subsidiary purchased City Newspaper from its retirement-ready founders, Mary Anna and Bill Towler.

Andreatta, who became City’s editor in September 2019, says he made a promise to management: “I said I wanted City to be a publication that people talked about, or at least got people talking,” he says. He’d admired City’s determined reporters and their ability to write with a little bleeding between editorial and opinion. Now, Andreatta wants to leverage that “conversational voice” – and be more relevant to today’s picky readers.

“I want fresh stuff,” he says.  “We need to break news in order to survive, and give readers stuff they haven’t seen anyplace else.”

To do so, Andreatta’s strategy includes a news-sharing agreement that leverages the parent operation’s broadcast newsroom. WXXI has 10 reporters and staff contributors, plus a newly hired news videographer, and recently added an arts and entertainment director. While City’s news staff is “still doing our own shoe-leather reporting,” his recipe to revitalize City includes:

  • Repurposing some WXXI radio news content, expanding from tight radio scripts to more detail-rich copy that can appear on City’s website (rochestercitynewspaper.com), bolstering its in-depth weekly reporting.
  • Growing diversity and bench depth of City’s reporting staff. “We have two reporters, three arts writers, and one editor – me – who writes, too,” he says. “I’d like to use more (freelance) reporters and stringers if they’re (well) informed. But we also struggle with a lack of diversity in our staff. We need people of color who can offer different perspectives.”
  • Building out the paper’s social media strategy. Today, a staff graphic designer creates content for Instagram, but a broader outreach that adds Facebook and Twitter is needed. To attract younger readers, “that needs to be a priority,” Andreatta says.
  • Adding video content – but in a strategic way, rather than using short, phone-based video snippets as an adjunct to advertising. “I will only look for videos that complement a story, go in-depth, or take a story in a new direction,” Andreatta says.

Randy Gorbman, WXXI news director, says allying with City enables both news operations to collaborate across news beats.

The WXXI leadership team

“It’s an opportunity for news outlets – whether commercial or non-commercial – to pool our resources, and to work together on certain stories, so it’s one way to survive in a tight media world,” he says. Arts reporters from City have appeared on WXXI’s news programming to comment on local music and entertainment festivals. Radio listeners will hear more from City’s staff, and WXXI reporters’ material will appear on City’s website.

“For example, our health reporter Brett Dahlberg did an on-air story about vaping that appeared in both print and digital format. City did a recent story on Rochester’s new master plan that we rewrote for air. And we recently brought (Andreatta) into the studio for a Q-and-A and a few sound bites on a City story about a rat issue in the city.”

Andreatta, who worked at Gannett-owned (Rochester, NY) Democrat and Chronicle for 11 years before moving to City, says that City can do better in online and growing readership. Recent circulation has reached “mid-to-high” 30,000 copies per week. And while City has its financial goals to meet, he says that WXXI is treating its newest news entity as a sibling, not a stepchild.

“We are on an even plane with the (broadcast) news operation,” he explains. “Every day, I attend Randy’s 9:45 a.m. meeting and I offer what City is working on. Not a week has gone by where we haven’t collaborated in some way, even if it’s just a short Q-and-A session for a radio segment.”

A former journalist and corporate communications executive, David Kassnoff today writes and lectures in St. Bonaventure University’s Jandoli School of Communication. He earned both his B.A. and M.A. degrees from St. Bonaventure.  He has created an award-winning online eMagazine, authored four books, and his photography has earned awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

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