Will it work?

Memo details consolidation of Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News

Memo details consolidation of Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News

CultureMap recently reported about more layoffs at the Houston Chronicle as the paper consolidates with its sister paper in San Antonio. Now, our friends at the Houston Press unearthed a recent memo with more explicit details of how the two papers plan to merge.

In the memo, which went out to staffers at both papers Thursday and was leaked to the Romenesko website, Chronicle editor-in-chief Jeff Cohen and Express-News editor-in-chief Bob Rivard announced a plan to develop joint coverage in business, features and sports — all to be directed from Houston. Chronicle business editor Laura Goldberg will oversee business coverage in both cities while Chronicle features editor Kyrie O'Connor will do the same in features. Express-News sports editor Brad Lehman is moving to Houston to direct sports coverage for both papers.

You might think it means less local coverage in both cities, but not so, according to the memo.

"In Business, for example, this doesn’t mean that both papers will emphasize — or even run — the same stories from day to day. But the editors will identify more opportunities to do advance stories, trend stories, issue stories and other features that will have broad appeal across markets. And they will take advantage of the combined resources of their staffs on others. For example, in covering the recent Big 12 realignment, Sports would have developed a joint coverage plan, assigning stories, graphics and other content to reporters at both papers, effectively treating them as one staff."

Merging coverage in two such different cities might not be as easy as the memo hypothesizes, however. For a while now, features sections for both papers have been produced in Houston, and, according to our sources, the merging of the two has not gone nearly as smoothly as hoped. For example, a recent article about gay, lesbian and transgendered characters on television that took up much of the features front page was reportedly not nearly as well received in San Antonio as in Houston.

Observers are also speculating where Rivard fits into the picture as much of his staff is shifted to Houston, where most of the production of both papers will take place. In the glory days when newspapers made lots of money, Rivard and Cohen jockeyed for supremacy in the Hearst hierarchy. Now, it looks like Cohen has won out, although the victory may be pyrrhic.

Rivard was one of three finalists for the position of the director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin but withdrew his name from consideration a few months ago.

“I do not want to be seen as walking away from the Express-News, a newsroom I have led for more than 12 years, at the very moment when my experience and leadership are needed the most,” he wrote in his withdrawal letter.

News_Jeff Cohen
Jeff Cohen Courtesy of Genesis Photographers