North Carolina’s third largest newspaper, The Greensboro News & Record, recently renewed its partnership agreement for a second year with ArtsGreensboro, a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports local arts and that will underwrite the newspaper’s arts coverage.
Under the agreement, ArtsGreensboro will provide $15,000 to cover the costs the newspaper will need to hire freelancers who will continue to write arts features and previews on plays or art exhibits. The partnership will also allow the newspaper to reintroduce art criticism reviews of theater, dance, music and exhibitions.
“The benefit for the newspaper isn’t financial,” said News & Record editor Jeff Gauger. “It’s about increasing arts content in our newspaper, which in turn benefits readers because readers like the newspaper better when they have content that they enjoy reading.”
The idea came about after several conversations in 2013 between Gauger and Tom Philion, president and CEO of ArtsGreensboro, about how to increase arts coverage in Greensboro. Gauger said they were not able to have staff reporters dedicated to covering arts for financial reasons.
That is when Philion offered to provide $30,000 over the next two years for the newspaper to hire freelancers. Since then, the bulk of the money has helped pay for freelancers and a part of it pays for staff editors who manage the freelancers and take time to edit all stories.
“While newspapers are not a not-for-profit business, we explored some of the challenges that limit arts coverage and came upon the idea to help pay for some of the costs without any control or participation in the editorial process,” said Philion.
Philion also noted that arts coverage in print has declined in recent years as most national newspapers have moved on from covering classical art and theater to covering pop culture. He wanted to reverse that same trend in Greensboro so their partnership with the newspaper is their way of being proactive in keeping traditional arts coverage alive.
The partnership was launched in July 2014, with $15,000 to begin. The total amount of articles and reviews the newspaper produced was nearly 90 pieces in the first year, which is above and beyond the number Gauger and Philion agreed upon.
When they announced the partnership last year, Philion received inquiries from arts organizations around the country wanting to know how ArtsGreensboro was able to launch this underwriting model, which is rarely heard of among newspapers.
Gauger admitted that the partnership is not conventional but their efforts have paid off despite criticism. In addition, Gauger and Philion wrote independent columns in The News & Record to clarify any misconceptions surrounding their agreement.
“We established that our newspaper is independent. We choose to cover the events we want to cover, the people we want to cover and when we want to,” said Gauger. “We serve the public, not the arts organizations, and if our reviewers write something negative about an event, then that’s OK and that’s something we agreed upon.”
Much like many newspapers in the U.S., The News & Record has experienced staff reductions and currently has one full-time arts reporter.
The agreement between ArtsGreensboro and The News & Record is an answer to a drop in arts coverage stemming from the general cutbacks in resources at the newspaper. However, Gauger said they made sure the financial assistance was not taken from funds that ArtsGreensboro received from any government entity.
“We made it clear that we would not accept the money if it was funds that would otherwise go towards a nonprofit arts organization,” said Gauger. “I didn’t want our newspaper, a commercial business, to benefit at the expense of a community theater or an art gallery.”
The partnership will last “as long as ArtsGreensboro wants it to last,” said Gauger. The newspaper and organization have reported positive changes in increasing arts coverage as readers have given the News & Record encouraging feedback. According to Philion, the agreement has created a “culture climate” where they are able to spotlight the arts in a novel way.
“We’ve done something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago,” said Philion. “We’ve been able to work toward a common goal by helping the arts in Greensboro and we’ve re-engaged some of the newspaper’s readers.”
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.