WKSU in Kent, Ohio, and ideastream in Cleveland are looking into a possible partnership with help from a $100,000 CPB grant to study “opportunities for growth and expansion,” the stations announced Monday.
The stations have overlapping broadcast coverage areas in Northeast Ohio and have collaborated on journalism and co-hosting Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Following long-term strategic planning at both stations, they began more deliberate talks in February about working together more closely, said Wendy Turner, executive director of WKSU.
When the pandemic hit and the stations were seeing a “voracious appetite” among their audiences for local news, “it just seemed like this was a sign that we needed to move ahead and move more quickly to actually see where our intersecting aspirations could lead us,” Turner said.
“This is a unique market. It’s different than any other place I’ve ever worked,” said ideastream CEO Kevin Martin, who has worked at CPB and has studied other stations with overlapping broadcast areas. “And we don’t know the outcome. But certainly what we want is to improve our services to all” audiences and station members, he said.
Journalism jobs in the region have fallen in the past two decades, and Turner said she sees a possible partnership as a way of “reversing the trajectory of the news landscape in northeast Ohio.”
Martin said that stations in Ohio often duplicate efforts covering large events, yet “you’re not able to cover other parts of Ohio.”
“What I’m hoping is really a deeper dive into Northeast Ohio,” he said. “There’s a lot that we could be doing that neither one of us have the capacity to do at this point. But … that’s certainly a possibility with looking at how to work closer together.”
Beyond journalism, Martin said the stations will examine how their classical music services could benefit through a possible partnership. Ideastream’s WCLV “is serving a really small audience at this point,” he said. “And there’s an opportunity to really expand that.”
The stations received a Collaborative Operations and Services grant from CPB, which supports exploration of partnerships. A Facilitation, Analysis, and Research grant, the first step in the process, allows stations to analyze coverage, audiences and other factors to see where efforts are being duplicated.
“As far as I know, there’s never been an exploration of what the totality of Northeast Ohio’s public service impact is through all of our services, both in terms of public service and public support,” Turner said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing how Northeast Ohio stacks up and if there is capacity and opportunity to grow and expand and then start thinking about a bigger future, potentially.”
The stations hope to finish the research process by the end of the year, Martin said. If they decide to move forward with a formal partnership, they could apply for a second CPB grant to implement those changes.