Pennsylvania newspaper, TV station team to compete with less frequent Patriot-News

The Sentinel | WHTM
The (Carlisle, Pa.) Sentinel and Harrisburg, Pa., TV station WHTM have struck a content-sharing agreement that they think will give them an upper hand when the competing (Harrisburg) Patriot-News goes to a three-day-per-week print schedule in January.

“There will be a real vacuum for people who like to read the newspaper seven days a week,” [WHTM] President and General Manager Joe Lewin said. “I think the regular subscribers to The Patriot-News feel abandoned, and I know that The Sentinel management sees this as a real opportunity.”

WHTM will provide the Sentinel with weather content, and both news organizations’ stories can end up on both platforms. The Sentinel competes with the Patriot-News in Cumberland County, just west of Harrisburg.

“They literally moved out of Harrisburg/Dauphin County and into our suburban county (Cumberland) a few years ago,” Sentinel Editor George Spohr writes in an email to Poynter. “We fight aggressively already over an affluent, highly educated part of Cumberland County called the West Shore. Our goal here is to tip the scales in our favor.”

According to the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations), the Patriot-News has average Sunday circulation of 118,655 and average daily circulation of 70,446. The Sentinel is much smaller: 13,902 Sunday and 12,838 Monday-Saturday. In Cumberland, Spohr says, the competition is much closer.

Interestingly, WHTM is owned by the Allbritton Communications Company, which launched an online newsroom called TBD in 2010 with the goal of competing against The Washington Post in local news. I worked for TBD, whose online staff was supposed to work with Allbritton’s D.C.-based ABC affiliate WJLA. Let’s just say that partnership didn’t really pan out. The Sentinel-WHTM arrangement seems less like another bite at that apple, though, and more a chance to shore up each news org’s strengths.

Spohr says The Sentinel didn’t consult with the Baton Rouge Advocate, which announced plans to launch a New Orleans edition after the Times-Picayune — like the Patriot-News, owned by Advance — said it would print three days per week. “In the other models, like Baton Rouge/New Orleans, a competitor decided to go into their market. Here, The Patriot-News made that decision for us when they left Harrisburg for the suburbs,” he writes.

“What we really like about this TV partnership is it’s an ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ arrangement,” Spohr writes in his email. “Combined, we have more than a dozen feet-on-the-street journalists covering this suburban county. That’s more than The Patriot-News has here, and we’re hoping that strong journalism and a large number of journalists is what it’ll take to win this mini-newspaper war.”

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