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Thursday, October 22, 2020
Entertainment Publisher announces launch of nonprofit news outlet: The Fort Worth Press

Publisher announces launch of nonprofit news outlet: The Fort Worth Press

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You could say we are just trying to keep a 25-year tradition alive.

On Sunday, May 31, 1975, The Fort Worth Press, a competitor to the Star-Telegram, closed after 44 years in business.

It was owned by the Scripps Howard chain.

Jack R. Howard, Scripps Howard general editorial manager, said: “The Fort Worth Press, never economically strong, has not made a profit in the last 25 years. In the last five years expenses have increased steadily and inevitably losses have mounted.”

You can’t say Scripps Howard was faint of heart, short of cash, or couldn’t take a punch.

Which brings us to a new undertaking that is likewise short of cash, but not faint of heart and hopefully will be able to take a punch: We are bringing The Fort Worth Press back to our city.

And in keeping with that proud newspaper’s tradition, this “paper” will be a nonprofit.

Will local citizens and foundations and businesses support local, nonprofit journalism? We plan to find out.

We – that is to say I, along with a group of like-minded associates – are launching The Fort Worth Press as an independent and contribution-funded online news provider. An online prototype will follow in the next few weeks.

The loss of local news reporting as the Star-Telegram has declined over the last few years has prompted local business leaders to search for a new local news provider.

The Fort Worth Press will be that vehicle.

We believe we will need to raise between $500,000 and $1 million a year to fund a newsroom of reporters, editors, and photographers. Interviews have already begun with potential employees, and solicitations to foundations and individuals will be conducted in the coming weeks.

The Fort Worth Press is already a 501(c)(3) and is putting together an impressive board of directors that includes a high-ranking online and digital news executive, one of the best in the new media sector and based out of New York. I will serve as chairman and as editor and publisher. I have over 50 years of journalism experience at all levels. I’ve served on Pulitzer Prize nominating committees, won numerous awards locally and nationally for writing and reporting, and lived in Fort Worth most of the last 35 years.

Paul Harral, a well-known and respected editor and writer who has held senior positions at a number of major news organizations and has worked with me at both the Star-Telegram and the Business Press, will be executive editor.

No more than one-third of the nonprofit’s budget will be spent on executives, management, and administration. A total of two-thirds will be spent on news coverage.

There will be no direct relationship with the Fort Worth Business Press, other than perhaps to rent temporary space to the new organization.

News from the Fort Worth Press will be delivered online seven days a week and will be available to all media, including the Business Press. The Star-Telegram may, for instance, choose to run our stories.

Key areas of news coverage for the Press will include city and county government, education, courts, crime and law enforcement, other publicly funded boards and agencies, and sports. We will also feature the kind of investigative journalism that many news organizations have let fall by the wayside in recent years.

The former Fort Worth Press spawned the careers of some of this city’s finest reporters and writers. Its sports staff was among the finest in the country and once home to a long list of legendary journalists that includes Dan Jenkins, Blackie Sherrod, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright and Jere Todd.

We plan to launch and re-launch the careers of a new generation of fine writers and diligent reporters.

The need for a resurgence of relentless fact-finding and hard-nosed public-interest reporting can be seen no more clearly than in the long-ignored mess surrounding the Tarrant Regional Water District’s Trinity River Vision/Panther Island project, which has been plagued by mismanagement, exploding costs and a frightful lack of transparency.

“If we had been provided good public service, watchdog reporting on the water district this disaster could have been averted,” said a prominent former elected official and current Fort Worth businessman recently.

We plan to provide that kind of reporting.

This is, plain and simple, about journalism and nothing else.

Over the years, nonprofit journalism has flourished in states such as ours with the Austin-based Texas Tribune and in cities such as San Antonio with the Rivard Report, run by former San Antonio Express-News editor Bob Rivard. He started the Rivard Report in 2012.

Estimates are that local people and foundations have donated over $1 million a year to the Texas Tribune.

We sympathize with the woes of the Star-Telegram, which just this month offered another round of buyouts, this time to 11 staffers.

When I ran the Star-Telegram through the 1980s and well into the ’90s we had over 1,500 full-time equivalent employees and 400 in our newsroom. Things are different today and daily newspapers everywhere have faced constant staff reductions.

Those cuts have resulted in fewer feet on the street to ferret out news. And many newspapers now have folks running them and reporting for them who do not know the cities where they live and work. There is no sense of history.

We are neither unique nor alone in our effort to bring privately funded journalism and local reporting to Fort Worth.

Here is a report from the Poynter Institute about others trying this experiment:

“As local newspapers and their reporting and editing staffs continue to shrink, a perennial question has become even more relevant: How big is the new network of local sites springing up to provide serious local coverage?

“The Institute for Nonprofit News, a group of 180 such organizations, took a stab at sizing the sector in a survey released Tuesday. The results are encouraging: estimated revenues of $325 million to $350 million and staffers numbering 3,000 – with 2,200 of those journalists.

“The survey, called the INN Index, also quantifies the frequent claim that these organizations, unburdened by paper, presses and home delivery, can devote a much higher share of the money they take in toward reporting and editing.”

Our application to INN has been filed. It has strict provisions we will follow.

The big difference between us and the former Fort Worth Press is we won’t be trying to make money. We will only be trying to give our city the journalism it deserves.

More on nonprofit news: Read Richard Connor’s column.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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