When Scripps Howard News Service stops the presses on 2002, more than 35,000 stories, columns and commentaries delivered by the Washington, D.C.-based agency will have run in some 400 newspapers.
Increasingly, this part of parent company E.W. Scripps Co. is becoming a cross-promotion vehicle for another unit — its Scripps Networks stable of cable channels.
More than 600 stories written by News Service personnel this year were related to shows from Home & Garden Television, Food Network, Do It Yourself and Fine Living. In addition, the service syndicated 10 weekly columns based on Scripps cable programming to its client base, as well as the company's 21 wholly owned newspapers.
Most stories and all of the weekly columns are available online, at each cable network's Web site.
Just three years ago, only HGTV on-air host Chris Casson Madden was invited to write a pair of one-shot columns offering 101 home fix-up tips.
"It was a product of some smart people at the cable networks, and some smart people on our side of the company, who got together and shared ideas about how all of us could benefit from some form of convergence," said News Service editor and general manager Peter Copeland.
White House convergence
One recent convergence showcase was HGTV's primetime special White House Christmas 2002, which premiered Dec. 15. Prior to that airing, the News Service had run a story on Laura Bush showing off the White House's tree decorations, with observations by an HGTV expert and tune-in information.
White House Christmas 2002
became the channel's highest-rated hour ever, earning a 1.9 household rating and more than 1.5 million viewers.
"We are using our cable networks as another content provider," Copeland said. "We don't write about them. We translate their good work from one medium to another.
"I consider us an information hub, moving information and entertainment across platforms."
The columns have even stronger network ties. Each week, "Ask Food Network Kitchens" lets readers have their culinary inquiries addressed by gourmet chefs or Food personalities. And Fine Living's Radical Sabbaticals
was launched in column form a few months after the channel premiered last March.
Copeland consults with network executives to determine which programs will translate into good column fodder. The critical factor: Filling gaps in an enlightening manner, said News Service content-development director Wanita Niehaus.
"On Radical, you find people doing extraordinary, life-changing things," said Niehaus. "Everyone has dreams to live unique lives, and it seemed like a good subject to explore regularly, with interesting people at the center of each edition."
The trick, Copeland acknowledged, is to present the cross-promotion without coming across as blatantly promotional. It's a process he and his colleagues work through against Scripps' 125 years in the journalism field.
"This is a brand on the line based on integrity, reliability and trust," Copeland said. "There are two options to promote the cable networks. One is to take our newspaper ads. But for us, the best way to show people how good the networks are is the other — just give them the content, just expose people to the good work done on-air that they might not see otherwise.
"That's better than any advertisement you could take out."
Scripps-owned newspapers contribute their own reports with a cable connection. A Ventura County
sports reporter included a look at the famed Tournament of Roses parade on New Year's Day — and HGTV's annual commercial-free live coverage of that event — in a long feature on college football's Rose Bowl game late last fall.
reporter will probably file a parade piece in the next week or so, as HGTV prepares for another live ad-free event from Pasadena, Copeland said. This time, Eastman Kodak Co. will sponsor both the live afternoon and primetime replays of HGTV's coverage.
A new "Celebrity Chefs" column, with Food Network participation, leads the News Service's list of cable resolutions for 2003. Close behind: A relationship with Shop at Home Network, the home-merchandising service in which Scripps bought controlling interest earlier this fall; and reporters from the News Service appearing on the cable channels.