Media merger creates new St. Louis news source

St. Louis Public Radio, St. Louis BeaconWith the merger of St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon comes an all-digital nonprofit news-gathering organization expected to do more than draw a new face on both operations.

The merger became official when the University of Missouri Board of Curators endorsed it Friday. Both sides began exploring the possibility with a letter of intent signed in October 2012.

UM owns and operates St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU, 90.7 FM) as well as three other National Public Radio outlets, in Columbia, Kansas City and Rolla. KWMU has been on the air since 1972.

The Beacon, an online newspaper and community engagement site, launched in spring 2008 with the backing of several former reporters and editors from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who had left after the newspaper was purchased by Lee Enterprises from Pulitzer Inc., in 2005.

No name was announced, but a distinct brand on the combined effort is expected to appear in some form starting Dec. 10. For now, the online portal will resemble St. Louis Public Radio’s existing site, said Tim Eby, general manager of the station and head of the new operation. Margaret Wolf Frievogel, Beacon editor and co-founder, will oversee the newsroom.

“Many details remain a work in progress,” Frievogel said in a statement on the Beacon’s website. “But our purpose and principles are clear — to provide the solid reporting and thoughtful discussion St. Louisans need to understand the problems and opportunities we face. Our region is reinventing itself. So are we.”

Expect academia to play a prominent role in the reinvention, says Wayne Goode, chairman of the Board of Curators.

“By combining these operations with (the University of Missouri-St. Louis) College of Fine Arts and Communication and (the University of Missouri at Columbia) School of Journalism, we will maximize the research and academic potential of our journalism and communications disciplines,” Goode said in a news release.

The new venture’s staffing amounts to about 60, including 26 journalists. They will all be University of Missouri employees.

By joining the merger, the Beacon escapes a rough patch. Both the Beacon and the radio station relied chiefly on grants and donations, as will the combined operation. But in 2011, one of the Beacon’s principal donors, the Danforth Foundation, shut down after 84 years.

That year, the foundation gave the Beacon about $1.25 million.

Although the merger constituted a long journey, it ends with a short trip of a few yards. The Beacon’s staff and resources relocate to St. Louis Public Radio’s facilities from the building next door, The Nine Network (KETC, Channel 9), where the Beacon has resided nearly six years.

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