Seattle public television station KCTS is combining with the nonprofit news and civic-affairs website Crosscut, and acquiring another small local website, as it strives to provide content across web, mobile and broadcast platforms.
KCTS will remain a Public Broadcasting Service station, and all staff at both KCTS 9 and Crosscut will keep their positions in the combined organization, according to a KCTS statement.
The move is part of KCTS’ strategy to provide more content across web, mobile and broadcast platforms.
“Crosscut helps us strengthen our journalism chops,” Robert Dunlop, president and CEO of KCTS, said in an interview. “We don’t do the kind of daily publishing in journalism that Crosscut does.”
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KCTS also plans to launch an online local storytelling platform around February next year that will feature some of Crosscut’s stories as well as its own broadcasts, along with commissioned and curated content.
To reflect the changes, KCTS has filed to change its legal name from KCTS Broadcasting to Cascade Public Media, which will be the name of the nonprofit umbrella organization for the media entities.
KCTS’ public-affairs programming in the past has focused more on longer-form weekly or quarterly shows. But that’s changing.
Earlier this year, it laid off 11 production staffers and changed the format of its regularly scheduled weekly 30-minute program on local issues, “In Close.” Now the show ranges from one to 14 minutes, airing between other shows.
That change has doubled the audience for “In Close,” Dunlop said.
KCTS will continue to produce and commission some long-form piecesbut is also thinking of how to create local content in other forms.
“What we recognize is the need to create content that strengthens the relationship with how and why audiences are spending their time,” Dunlop said. “That’s why we’re looking to focus primarily on digital platforms.”
Crosscut will retain its stand-alone presence on the web and continue to hold its membership drives, while also now having the resources to possibly turn stories into television and video content.
KCTS and Crosscut will each “retain their distinct editorial voices,” said Greg Hanscom, Crosscut editor-in-chief.
Crosscut, founded in 2007 by local civic leader David Brewster, became a nonprofit in 2009. It has about 1,360 members and gets about 1.2 million unique visitors a year to its website, said Crosscut executive director Tamara Power-Drutis.
Last year, Crosscut spent about $150,000 more than it brought in: It had total revenue of $512,328 and expenses of $665,257.
With the merger, KCTS is assuming Crosscut’s outstanding financial obligations of $50,000 from a maxed-out line of credit, Power-Drutis said.
Crosscut now employs four full-time and four part-time staffers. With the merger, which is effective immediately, all eight will become full-time employees.
KCTS also purchased What’s Good 206, a Seattle website presenting a millennial perspective on issues, for $2,500. The website has had no paid employees but will now be able to pay one employee.
With the website, run by a recently graduated University of Washington student, “we saw the opportunity to support them as content creators and perhaps extend that concept into other universities and colleges in the region,” Dunlop said.
KCTS, which first went on air in 1954, is seen in Western Washington and in Canada. It reached 2.2 million viewers and logged 940,400 visitors to its website last fiscal year, the station said in its annual report to the community.
The station posted $18.85 million in revenue, and $18.38 million in expenses, for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. It now has 84 full-time and 30 part-time employees.
Barry Mitzman, professor of strategic communications at Seattle University, says KCTS is turning to a digital strategy as it is “struggling to figure out its role and how to respond to changes in people’s media habits.”
It has the ability to support Crosscut, which, in turn, brings to KCTS an already established online news presence, said Mitzman, a former Crosscut board member and a former producer and reporter at KCTS.
“It has the appearance of movement, which may be a good thing,” Mitzman said. “Is it really movement? We’ll see.”
KCTS’ announcement comes just a few weeks after plans for another public-media merger were announced.
Last month, the University of Washington’s Board of Regents voted to allow the public-radio station it owns, KUOW, to purchase KPLU, the public radio station owned by Pacific Lutheran University. That $8 million deal took KPLU’s staff and listenership by surprise, and drew opposition from its own advisory board.