One of the (rare) success stories in local media has been the combo of the website crosscut.com with KCTS-9. That took place in late 2015, just as Crosscut was running out of money and steam and KCTS was in an acquisition phase. The “merger” was actually a non-cash acquisition by the television station.
Recent figures provided by Rob Dunlop, a former KOMO executive who is now president of the merged entity called Cascade Public Media, show there are now 31 editorial employees for the combined Crosscut/KCTS newsroom (some of which are support producers and videographers). At the time of the merger, Crosscut was down to about 5 employees.
I also asked Dunlop if there was any news about a new location for the media company, whose lease in the northeast corner of Seattle Center expires at the end of December, 2024. The City will take over the building and property, leaving the station (just a renter) with no equity assets. Earlier, KCTS had looked at buying into the nearby Opera Administration Building, sharing spaces and gaining equity interests, but the KCTS board balked at the fundraising hurdles.
Dunlop sent this reply by email:
“We have a Purchase & Sale Agreement in place to acquire the building known as 316 Broadway. It is at the corner of Broadway and Boren on First Hill – just south of Swedish & Seattle University, just north of the ID and CD, and just east of downtown. It is 46,000 square feet (about 10,000 less than we have today) over four floors. We anticipate occupying three floors with the fourth for other partner organizations and/or growth for Cascade Public Media. We have not closed on the property yet and may not for a bit yet while we seek approval from the City to occupy the property and to address issues associated with our departure from 401 Mercer.”
So far, there is no clarity about what the City plans to do with the KCTS site and building, other than informed predictions that the City will want to realize significant revenue from the property. Talk about putting a public high school on the site now seems unlikely. Other possibilities, most of which have faded, include expansion of the Gates Foundation, a hotel, a public-media complex, and a performance facility.
Meanwhile, mergers of public broadcast and other media are actively being explored around the country. The latest possibility is in Chicago, where there is a non-binding letter of intent for WBEZ, a large NPR public broadcast station, to purchase the troubled Chicago Sun-Times.
Such mergers make sense, particularly as local journalism faces ebbing tides of support. However, these mergers are not easy to pull off, given the usual clashing cultures particularly when one entity is a stubborn legacy property. A recent study of such mergers found that they typically run into a rocky period after the initial honeymoon. That rocky period seems to have been overcome when the Crosscut editor at the time of the merger, initially a skeptic of the marriage, decided to move on. Also, as happened when KUOW attempted to purchase KPLU, members of the targeted organization can raise a ruckus, nixing the engagement period.