KERA acquisition will shore up long-running Denton newspaper

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KERA in Dallas announced plans Tuesday to acquire the Denton Record-Chronicle, a long-running newspaper in Denton, Texas.

KERA is in the “final stages” of its due diligence work on the transaction, KERA CEO Nico Leone told Current. He expects the deal to close sometime in 2023. 

“We’ve agreed in principle that everything is lining up just right,” Denton Record-Chronicle Publisher Bill Patterson told Current. “I think both parties are really excited about the opportunity that we can help preserve local journalism in the North Texas area.”

The newspaper has been serving Denton, a city within the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region, for 119 years, according to Patterson, who is part of the family that has owned the paper for 77 years. Patterson, who purchased the paper in 2018, transitioned it from a daily print publication to a weekly print issue and daily digital publication. The paper has 24 employees, 13 of whom are in the newsroom. It will become a nonprofit after the acquisition is finalized. 

Leone

“We’ve been really impressed by the work that Bill and the team have done,” Leone said, pointing to the newspaper’s digital expansion in particular. “They’ve put a lot of effort into building a strong and loyal digital audience. They’ve found ways to start to convert their subscriber base to digital, so they’re pretty far down the road towards a sustainable business model. And that work really mirrors the work that we’re doing at KERA in terms of … building sustainable digital audiences.”

KERA doesn’t have plans “one way or another” about whether the newspaper will continue its print publication after the acquisition, Leone said.

“This isn’t about us acquiring them to make changes,” he said. “This is really about setting the Denton Record-Chronicle up in a long-term ownership structure that will keep it local and locally owned. So we’re really going to lean on their team to make those kinds of decisions in the future.” 

“We see this first and foremost as a way of preserving and expanding local news for Denton, [and] second, bringing those stories across the rest of the metro through our services,” Leone said.

Patterson spurred the acquisition in May 2021 by reaching out to the National Trust for Local News, a nonprofit organization that works to keep local news outlets locally owned. The publisher told Current that he hopes to retire in a few years and was aiming to preserve community journalism when he contacted NTLN.

 “I’ve been a part of this company for a long time, and I want to see it continue to succeed and grow and change and evolve,” he said. 

KERA’s expertise in areas such as podcasting and video “can really help us as we continue our efforts to be a kind of a full-service media company ourselves,” Patterson said. He added that he also believes the newspaper will benefit through increased membership and fundraising opportunities in addition to sharing content and collaborating on bigger projects. “The sky’s the limit,” he said. 

Patterson and Leone declined to share the expected purchase price. 

NTLN, which helped facilitate the potential deal and is working on national fundraising, referred to the arrangement as a “new model of community journalism” in a Tuesday press release

Under the new model, a public media organization serves as a “community anchor,” acquiring a smaller news outlet that serves a distinct area, NTLN CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro told Current. 

“What we’re hoping to show with this model is just how fantastic this can be to really partner with [and] acquire smaller-scale news outlets in their regions to really reach people where they are with a different, more grassroots level of news and information,” Shapiro said. 

“I think public stations have a huge opportunity,” she said.

For KERA, the acquisition will be the latest addition to its portfolio of local collaborations. It announced a journalism collaboration earlier this year with the Fort Worth Report, a digital media startup, and also forged a management agreement to take over operations of classical station WRR.

Recently, KERA has been putting “a lot of time and effort into thinking about how we serve our metro across Dallas and Fort Worth and across all of North Texas,” Leone said. Acquiring the Record-Chronicle “helps build our geographic strategy in North Texas in combination with our collaboration with the folks at the Fort Worth Report. It really helps us either put or keep more good local reporters on the ground in different communities across North Texas. And then as we bring content from those partnerships into our coverage, it helps us present a more well-rounded view of the community that we serve.”

Since the collaboration with the Fort Worth Report was announced in May, KERA has aired about 50 audio pieces from the news outlet. Most have been spot news, with occasional two-way interviews and a few features. KERA has also republished stories from the Fort Worth Report on its website, Leone said. 

None of the deals is at the “scope of what the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ did,” Leone said, referring to Chicago Public Media’s acquisition of the newspaper earlier this year. “But it’s a great way for us to expand the breadth and depth of our services to communities with things that are really rooted in a specific community within our coverage area.”

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