After a Six-Decade Marriage, DMN and WFAA Call it Quits

The decades-long alliance between the city's best local news station and its only daily newspaper is over.

NBC 5 reported yesterday that it has teamed up with The Dallas Morning News and that the two outlets "will join together on important content like weather, politics and breaking news" in print, broadcast, and online.

This is good news for NBC 5, whose 10 p.m. newscast came in dead last behind its three main competitors during February sweeps. It appears to be bad news for WFAA, the Morning News' longtime partner.

The paper and WFAA go way back. They were corporate siblings for nearly six decades, finally splitting in 2008, when the Morning News and a handful of other papers were spun off from Belo Corp. Gannett Co., which owns USA Today and several dozen dailies around the country, is on the cusp of completing its purchase of Belo and WFAA.

But even if the formal marriage ended, the romance didn't die. Morning News publisher Jim Moroney cut his teeth at WFAA, after all.

See also: Belo, WFAA's Corporate Parent, Just Sold for $1.5 Billion

They still share the same parking lot. WFAA's weather team still gives the forecast on the back of the Metro section. The paper has continued to publish stories bylined by WFAA reporters, including those apparent scoops about Yellow Cab being vastly underinsured, a story broken by WFAA's David Schechter.

Uncle Barky delves into some of the behind-the-scenes drama:

At its height, The News' synergistic arrangement with WFAA8 was far more than window dressing. Managers from both entities met daily to discuss cross-promotional strategies designed to stiffen Belo's news punch while crushing rivals such as NBC5.

The newspaper's eventual ban on critiques of local television news, initiated in early 2000, was a direct result of The News and WFAA8 being very much "in bed" with one another. It also happened to coincide with longtime WFAA8 anchor Tracy Rowlett's February 2000 debut on CBS11 as that station's principal anchor. Efforts to rescind the ban repeatedly were blocked at the Belo corporate level. And The News hasn't had a full-time television critic since September 2006, when this writer took a buyout and then immediately fired up

He ultimately declares that, now that the Morning News has hopped into bed with one of WFAA's rivals, "the short distance between them might as well be a moat."

The cross-pollination between NBC 5 and the Morning News is set to begin on January 1. Then we'll finally be able to tell whether WFAA and the Morning News' uncanny convergence on big-time stories (they went live with surveillance video showing a cop gunning down Bobby Bennett within an hour of one another) is the result of coordination or Tanya Eiserer and Rebecca Lopez sharing the same sources.

Update on December 20: Morning News publisher and A.H. Belo Corp chairman Jim Moroney says the decision to part ways with WFAA was a tough one.

"If I was making an emotional decision, I would have always picked Channel 8," he tells Unfair Park. "But I'm running a publicly traded company with shareholders," and the partnership with NBC 5 was best for the bottom line.

On paper, Moroney says the new partnership doesn't look much different from the old one.

"The real question came down to who seemed really enthusiastic," Moroney said.

For years, WFAA and the News had a "check the box" relationship in which each party would fulfill certain basic obligations but no more. NBC 5 seemed keen to have a more intense collaboration, keener than WFAA, which Moroney says declined to match their rival's offer, and keener than KTVT Channel 11, the News' other potential suitor.

Case in point: there were high-fives in the NBC 5 newsroom when the deal was announced, per Eric Celeste's analysis of the deal over at D.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson