UMSL Chancellor Thomas George (center) beams as Richard Weil (left), chair of the St. Louis Beacon Board of Directors, and Dean Mills, dean of the MU School of Journalism, celebrate the integration of the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio news staffs. UMSL and MU are creating academic and research programs based around the news operation. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Newsrooms around the country are becoming quieter as layoffs and closures silence once-thriving organizations, but a University of Missouri–St. Louis site in midtown St. Louis will soon be bustling as its population of journalists doubles.

St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU and the St. Louis Beacon will integrate their news staffs, under an agreement that will take effect in December. St. Louis Public Radio is the local NPR affiliate, and is licensed by UMSL. The Beacon is a nonprofit online news service established in 2008 by veteran journalists and overseen by a board of directors. The Board of Curators of the University of Missouri System approved the consolidation Nov. 22.

The combined news staff will be located at UMSL at Grand Center, 3651 Olive Street, which houses university classrooms and St. Louis Public Radio. Grand Center is the region’s largest arts and entertainment district.

The consolidation creates an innovative model for a multiplatform news operation that provides in-depth coverage of urban events and issues. The endeavor will allow longtime journalists to practice their craft, while providing training for student journalists at both UMSL and the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. Other academic research opportunities are also being considered.

“We’re creating a national model for a sustainable, multiplatform news operation that can provide in-depth coverage of issues important to a vibrant democracy and flourishing region,” UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said. “We’re also developing unique opportunities for UMSL and MU students to learn and apply issue-based journalism in an urban setting across multiple delivery platforms. The potential for collaborative academic programs emanating from this partnership is as exciting as it is limitless – including social media, public relations, journalism and nonprofit business management.”

In addition to in-depth news coverage, the project will serve as an example of how news organizations can thrive in an ever-changing media environment that involves tighter competition for consumers and financial support.

“The cutting-edge new partnership between St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon follows a new model that represents the future of media and journalism, while also providing new opportunities for students and faculty,” said Wayne Goode, chair of the UM System Board of Curators. “By combining these news organizations with UMSL’s College of Fine Arts and Communication and MU’s School of Journalism, we will maximize the research and academic potential of our journalism and communications disciplines.”

The newsroom will start with 26 staff members – 13 each from St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon. Margie Freivogel, Beacon editor and co-founder, will lead news operations as editor, while Tim Eby will remain as general manager of the radio station. Beacon employees will officially become UMSL employees.

Beacon leaders and supporters are also enthusiastic about the alliance.

“The merger of these trusted news organizations will be something far greater than the sum of the parts,” said Richard Weil, chairman of the St. Louis Beacon Board of Directors. “It will provide better and more creative coverage aimed at serving the St. Louis region in new ways. General Manager Tim Eby and Editor Margaret Freivogel already have established themselves as an outstanding team. They’re aligned in philosophy and will keep getting better as things move forward.”

Emily Pulitzer, a major benefactor of the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio, echoed those sentiments.

“Joining two quality institutions that are currently providing first-rate journalism augurs well for the future of maintaining and increasing informed and thoughtful St. Louis citizens,” Pulitzer said. “The curators of the University of Missouri System are to be commended for their support of an effort that will put Missouri in the forefront of journalism and convergent media.”

A name for the new alliance is still being determined. Philanthropic sources, grants and underwriting revenues are expected to fund the increased cost of the new operation.

Click here to view UMSL Chancellor Thomas George’s presentation to the UM System Board of Curators. Visit the UM System website to read a news release about the new partnership.

Media Coverage:
St. Louis Beacon
St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU
Letter from St. Louis Beacon Editor Margaret Freivogel
Blog post by St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
KSDK (Channel 5)
Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune
St. Louis Business Journal
Associated Press
The Heartland Beat (Society of Professional Journalists Region 7 blog)

Rachel Webb

Rachel Webb