“Collaboration” became a buzzword in journalism in 2020, but the Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News were thinking about how they could partner up to better serve communities in and around Dallas before everyone else started talking about it.
For Jamie Hancock, the North Texas editor at The Dallas Morning News, and Cheryl Smith, the publisher of Texas Metro News, collaboration was an obvious next step when they spoke in 2019. Both women saw holes in coverage from their outlets that they knew their counterparts could help fill. Not to mention, they saw a great opportunity for their teams to learn from each other, helping to shore-up any gaps in their coverage and build a community with their readers.
How It Started
Hancock, who leads coverage of suburban Dallas, noticed a lack of Southern Dallas coverage from Dallas Morning News. “We felt like we couldn’t just start covering that area after really not paying enough attention to the needs of readers in those communities,” Hancock said. So, she and her team met with leaders from the communities to figure out the best way forward, and one of them happened to mention Cheryl Smith.
Hancock was familiar with Smith and the Texas Metro News, so it was a no-brainer that she would reach out to her about a potential collaboration. Their first meeting was exploratory, with a lot of questions and answers from both publications, but Smith said she felt like the collaboration was a good fit from the start.
“This is not seen as a ‘little sister, big sister’ type venture, but equals,” Smith explained.
Hancock agreed, noting, “It was really important to us that The Dallas Morning News [wasn’t] coming in and trying to Bigfoot or tell anybody what to do, or say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this thing and you guys are along for the ride.’”
“I’m big on collaborations,” Smith added. “This isn’t something that just hit me this year.”
Smith was slightly concerned that people, upon hearing about the collaboration, might think the Dallas Morning News was trying to take over Texas Metro News, which has been growing and receiving more local acclaim. With Texas Metro News being a Black-owned publication, she knew people would be watching, especially as more Black-led publications have been sold to white-owned companies in recent years. One industry leader went so far as to tell Smith that “the leaders of the Black press would be turning over in their graves” because of the collaboration. But after getting to know Hancock and the Dallas Morning News team, Smith knew she didn’t have to worry. “We were doing good journalism before, and it’s only getting better,” Smith said. Now, when asked about the collaboration, Smith said, “I tell people, ‘Oh no, to the contrary, I bought The Dallas Morning News,’” Smith joked with a hearty laugh.
Another concern was that people would think this collaboration came about after the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. However, both Smith and Hancock are clear that this partnership is not an effort by the Dallas Morning News to reach out to the Black community because of recent events – the two publications discussed the partnership at the start of 2020 and, although it wasn’t formally put into place until June, they had been building the framework for months beforehand.
What the Partnership Entails
The partnership kicked off with staff development trainings for reporters from both publications on a variety of topics, from how to cover certain types of stories to finding new sources and covering the current news events like COVID and the new civil rights movement.
“I’m really happy that we have Cheryl’s voice and the voices of her team members in the room when we have these training sessions, because it really matters to us that we get it (coverage of the Black community) right,” Hancock said. “We don’t want there to be issues with our coverage. We want to speak to the community and hear from them before we even cover a thing. So that’s part of why we’re in this partnership. I think it’s going to strengthen the coverage of the Black community in Dallas. And that’s something that’s really important for us going forward.”
“We’re having some really good conversations,” Smith added. “When we get out of these sessions, we’re talking about what we learned, what we need help with, and we’re sharing different perspectives.”
The partnership also involves content-sharing, which has only recently launched. Texas Metro News has a “DMN Stories” tab on their homepage with short blurbs about and links to recent Dallas Morning News stories that may interest them. Meanwhile, Dallas Morning News has worked with Texas Metro News to source stories and has cited their reporters on some of their local news.
Collaboration in Action
One prime example of how this collaboration works was a piece about the recent death of the mayor of DeSoto, a Dallas suburb. Hancock heard the news of the mayor’s death directly from Smith. Hancock said, “That allowed us to have a story up much, much sooner than we would have otherwise. And it would not have been as well-sourced if not for Cheryl.” Dallas Morning News published a story that night, while Texas Metro News published their own story the next morning.
It never occurred to Smith to keep the news of the mayor’s passing to herself so that she could “break” the story.
“I want to be respectful and not take something that Cheryl wouldn’t want us to,” Hancock explained. “I wouldn’t post anything from Texas Metro News if I wasn’t sure it was okay to put on our site first, and I think she would be the same way. She wouldn’t tweet out a tip that we gave her … without knowing it was okay.”
The partnership is still in its infancy, but Hancock is certain that even when the relationship is tested by breaking news, their positive working relationship with Texas Metro News will keep things from getting competitive.
“There are just fewer journalists on the street these days than we used to have. It’s a basic fact and an unfortunate fact. But that means … that we all work together to collaborate and get the best stories out there and tell the best stories to our audience to help them help them live better lives and know about their communities,” Hancock explained. “And if the best way to do that is to collaborate with each other … rather than compete with each other, than that’s what we do.”
Smith wants her staff to form relationships with the Dallas Morning News staff, as well as to help them. She wants to make sure that she leads by example, so she checks in with Hancock and her team whenever she can to make sure they’re offering as much help as they can.
“If The [Dallas] Morning News suffers, journalism suffers,” Smith added. “We’re in the business together.”
The Partnership at Work in the Community
The two newsrooms have also held events for the community together. Their main event this year was called “Vote About It,” a voter-registration drive. Thanks to their partnership, they were able to reach more members of the community.
The event also ended up being much more diverse – and much more representative of the community – because of their partnership. Smith pointed out to the Dallas Morning News marketing department a lack of diversity on a panel they were arranging for the event. In this instance, Smith especially wanted to see some younger people on the panel, because, as she put it, “I don’t want to hear from all these [old] folks!”
“I’m proud to say that the panel we ended up with [thanks to Cheryl] looked really great,” Hancock said. “It was very representative of what I think Dallas looks like.”
What the Future Holds
“When I think about other cities trying to do this, [I think] ‘every city needs a Cheryl,’” Hancock said with a laugh. “If your city doesn’t have a ‘Cheryl’ leading a Black-owned newspaper, then I think it’s going to be a tougher lift, because she’s somebody who has a deep commitment to journalism and to getting things right.
“She has the connections in the city to make it happen and the foresight to think about [others],” Hancock added. “I hope that other cities have that type of person.”
The ease of the relationship between Hancock and Smith has certainly made the partnership easier to maintain, both admit, though the commitment from their newsrooms also helps.
While their formal partnership launched amidst the pandemic, neither publisher has “sat around idly waiting for this to be over,” Smith said. Both newsrooms have taken active roles in the workshops they’ve attended (virtually) together, and both have worked to make sure they’re offering real value to their new partners.
During their weekly meetings, Hancock and Smith discuss their individual coverage, chat about new ways to enhance their partnership, and catch up with each other, as both colleagues and new friends. They also plan for the future of their partnership. Smith is looking forward to doing more community events with the Dallas Morning News, while Hancock is looking forward to collaborating on more community-focused journalism. Hancock has even asked Smith to be part of the team at the Dallas Morning News to help them better focus their reporting efforts in South Dallas and in the suburbs that Texas Metro News serves.
“I’m really looking forward to doing [stories] that will benefit the community and to involving Cheryl and her team in that process,” Hancock said.
“We often talk about the stories we go into other communities to tell, and all the negative stories about these [communities], but we don’t seek them out when we have a regular story to tell, and that’s what we want to be doing,” Hancock added. “We’re doing that more and more now. A lot of our journalists are now committed to getting diverse sources and people of color in their stories and not just [for stories like] ‘your community is a food desert.’ We want to tell stories that resonate with those communities. I’m really looking forward to that.”
“Dallas is so diverse, and there are so many stories to tell,” Smith said. “And I’ve come to the realization that I can’t [cover them all] on my own. But guess what? Between the two of us, we can do a whole lot more.”
The partnership so far has been incredibly beneficial to both newsrooms. “In a short amount of time, I think we’ve done a lot, but there’s still so much that we haven’t done and so much under the surface that we haven’t scratched yet,” Hancock said. “I’m excited for the future.”
“I am so optimistic about it,” Smith agreed. “I get giddy just thinking about the possibilities because there are no limitations.”
Keep reading: The Dallas Morning News/Texas Metro News collaboration is featured as a case study in the News Media Alliance’s Collaboration Guide, Tips for Successful News Publishing Partnerships