Looking forward to the future of journalism

How two newspapers teamed up to cover a nuclear plant

As South Texas deals with a seemingly never-ending drought, San Antonio Express-News Environmental Reporter Anton Caputo teamed up with Austin American-Statesman Reporter Asher Price for a story about the water supply that cools nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project in Matagorda County.

The utility companies of both cities own a stake in STP, which creates a situation where both newspapers are examining a proposed expansion of the nuclear facility. Instead of competing like newspapers in a bygone golden era, both papers are collaborating in an era of shrinking newsrooms and budget cuts.

How two newspapers teamed up to cover a nuclear plant   John TedescoIn this case, the final product was interesting. Sunday’s story by Anton and Asher was a good read. The reporters pulled together some useful information about how much crucial coolant the plant needs and whether the Colorado River can provide it. There’s an interesting map produced by the Statesman that shows the top water users along the Colorado River, giving readers a sense of the demand for water. And Express-News graphic artist Mike Fisher created a cool animation explaining why water is important for a nuclear plant.

Related: Learning about the arcane world of stock numbers and missile launchers

The Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, both owned by Hearst Corp., already share news resources, but the Express-News has rarely teamed up so extensively with a newspaper owned by a different company. The Statesman is owned by Cox Newspapers. The last time I can think of an example of such cooperation was in the late 1990s, when reporters with the Express-News and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune were often in contact during the coverage of Sheila Bellush, a mother of quadruplets who had lived in San Antonio, moved to Florida, and was killed in a murder-for-hire plot hatched by her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne.

We seldom, if ever, wrote stories or shared bylines with the folks in Sarasota. We mostly shared information and court documents, which made sense for a story that was playing out in two cities a thousand miles apart.

Maybe this will be a rising trend among Texas newspapers as newsrooms shrink, but hopefully they collaborate for valid reasons, not because it sounds good in an editorial meeting. The journalists need to be crystal clear about what, exactly, the collaborators bring to the table.