For Cheryl Smith, publisher of the Black-owned Texas Metro News, forging an untested partnership with the Dallas Morning News was always a question of trust.
Last year, the two newspapers announced an innovative content-sharing and training partnership aimed at elevating Black journalists and boosting diversity in a white-owned newsroom. The Dallas Morning News allows Texas Metro News to publish some of its stories and also offers training opportunities for its reporters. Texas Metro News, meanwhile, assists The Dallas Morning News in its coverage of the Black community.
“The work we do is critical. Just like community policing, we need more community reporting.”
— Cheryl Smith, Texas Metro News
“There were people who felt that the Dallas Morning News would try to take over Texas Metro News and some folks felt that I was selling out,” Smith said. “I am not selling out to The Dallas Morning News. To the contrary, there are a myriad of opportunities from this collaboration. I love collaborating and I love doing good journalism and our community is better informed through this collaboration.”
“The work we do is critical,” Smith went on. “Just like community policing, we need more community reporting.”
The collaboration was born out of a conversation between Smith and Dallas Morning News editors about how to better cover stories in the Black community.
But trust takes time. The undercurrent of racial tension between members of the Black community and white-owned Dallas media organizations have been long simmering. And the nation’s recent racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement forced many corporate executives to re-examine their commitment to diversity.
“Over decades, there was some distrust in the Black community about the Morning News and some Black people felt that we were not genuinely serving the Black community,” said Grant Moise, president and publisher of The Dallas Morning News.
In addition to content sharing, Smith has also engaged in discussions about circulation, printing, marketing, social media, newsletter and website development, community engagement and outreach with The Dallas Morning News. Smith also extends training opportunities to The Dallas Morning News on behalf of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The National Association of Black Journalists.
Today, Smith and Moise say their collaboration has been successful so far and that both media organizations are benefiting from the partnership.
“We want to help them to understand what is going on in our community and get them out of their comfort zone so they can do a better job of covering communities of color,” Smith said.
Moise says he is getting something extremely valuable from the partnership: sources.
Moise said he is being invited — and attending — more closed-door meetings with Black community activists, lawmakers and business leaders to get a better understanding of issues of concern for residents of Dallas’ Black community.
“Cheryl’s reputation of being the most trusted media company for the Black community in Dallas has existed for years,” Moise said.
“We want to help them to understand what is going on in our community and get them out of their comfort zone so they can do a better job of covering communities of color.”
— Cheryl Smith, Texas Metro News
“We’re getting access to more sources in the Black community and can see some people are trusting our journalists because of Cheryl’s introduction,” he added. “But I’m also beginning to see that some of these sources are now becoming all of our sources.”
Smith, who purchased the Texas Metro News in 2012, said she made a number of phone calls urging Black business leaders and activists to speak with reporters from the Dallas Morning News.
There was plenty of skepticism.
“I can vouch for Dallas Morning News reporters,” Smith said. “I introduced their staff to Black businesses, owners of Black restaurants. But street cred can only take you so far, they have to get out in the streets.”
Reporters in Dallas are covering stories about race, such as the controversy surrounding a Black school principal in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who was recently placed on paid administrative leave for his “extreme views on race,” and how the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Dallas’ Black community.
“Our community was really hit hard by Covid,” Smith said. “People are dying here from Covid. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a text about somebody who is sick or dying from Covid. In fact, there is a funeral today. So this is very personal for us.”
The two media companies have also hosted joint events such as a voter registration drive and Smith said she has discussed a “buy Black” crusade where Black residents in Dallas are encouraged to support black businesses.
“We have been in this fight for survival and we lost sight about how diversity, equity and inclusion is synonymous with a business plan,” Moise said. “I want people to know that we care about people of color and we value diversity. I want the Morning News to mirror this community with our employees and the community we serve. It’s the right thing to do.”
In August, The Dallas Morning News announced Katrice Hardy as its new executive editor, the first Black person to hold the job.
These efforts come alongside shifts in the city as well. In March, Dallas lawmakers unanimously passed a racial equity resolution that acknowledged decades of racial tension in the city. The resolution promotes racial equity in city policies and calls for eradicating racism by moving forward with a city racial equity plan.
Neil Foote, principal lecturer at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, said the collaboration between Texas Metro News and the Dallas Morning News should serve as a novel business model for other Black-owned and white-owned media organizations to follow.
“Cheryl Smith’s partnership with the Dallas Morning News is an innovative approach to a longstanding problem of making sure Black newspapers can survive and how mainstream newspapers can better cover its diverse communities,” Foote said. “This is good news for the future of journalism and this partnership serves its key role of providing voices to the voiceless.”
Smith said she is optimistic about her collaboration. Asked if she would recommend this type of partnership to other Black newspapers, Smith didn’t miss a beat.
“Only if the commitment is there, if the honesty is there, if the willingness is there,” she said. “It cannot just be window dressing.”