November 20, 2013; Poynter

At the University of Missouri, the curators are due to make a decision about a proposed merger between St. Louis Public Radio and the nonprofit news site, the St. Louis Beacon. The former is currently a part of the university, and if the merger goes through, the whole entity will stay there.

This is an interesting situation. The Beacon, according to this report, has $2.5 million in assets, but last year it ran a significant deficit of more than $890,000. St Louis Public Radio came through the year with a surplus of $200,000, but perhaps more importantly, the two appear to have futures that could align if they work quickly.

The consultant’s report is an enormously interesting read if one is at all attentive to the state of the new news. It notes little overlap in current donors, and thus a larger potential base presumably, but also a number of challenges that both groups face. Neither has a well-developed array of digital platforms, and neither has done much in terms of investigative work. The report suggests that a combined organization should focus on creating content that engages the community in a different way and “create[s] an identity as a news source that makes users smarter.” It is also clear that everyone understands that optimizing venue from digital platforms is a challenge that the two will be taking on as if their lives depended upon it.

Students at the University of Missouri will be engaged to work in urban journalism, potentially giving the organization more oomph.

This strikes us as betting on a race against time. Can this combined site solve their revenue problem within the period of time allowed by capital at hand? Can they meet a standard of community engagement and high quality original content? Will other donors come forth as a result of the merger, unusual as it is? What will we learn from this experiment? Stay tuned.—Ruth McCambridge