The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Times and its cable-news alliance

Upheaval keeps coming at the Washington Times. Like most dailies, it sheds staff from time to time. There has been instability in ownership and newsroom leadership: Former top editor John Solomon, who engineered a web makeover of the Times back in 2008, left the paper and then came back in the capacity of consultant. In a development announced today, he’s now running the whole operation, from news to editorial to business strategy.

In those capacities, Solomon is overseeing the Times’s relationship to a big, eye-catching, red-white-and-blue truck sitting in its visitors parking lot (see photo above). It says “One America News Network” and it represents a national cable news channel that has promulgated an alliance with the Times. The patriotic vehicle is the property of Herring Broadcasting Co., which has made a name for itself as the home of WealthTV, whose shows have included “Cheese Chasers,” “Let’s Shop” and “Wealth News International.” One America News Network launched on July 4, a fitting moment in light of the truck’s paint job.

Here’s what the Washington Times is doing for One America News Network: News. According to Herring President Charles Herring, the new network can use any Washington Times content that it chooses — though it’s not obligated to use a bit of it. One America also sources news from Reuters and the Associated Press, notes Herring.

Here’s what One America News Network does for the Times: Promotion. Reporters from the newspaper will appear on the network to talk up their stories, the issues of the day and so on. “They have a desire to have their paper read outside” of the Beltway, Herring says. Attempts to confirm that desire with the Washington Times have fallen flat; they have  turned down the inquiries of the Erik Wemple Blog.

There’s no equity relationship between the network and the newspaper, though One America is leasing space in the Washington Times building for television studios, reports Herring. Space is something that newspapers can deliver on these days. A total of 60 to 65 Herring Broadcasting staffers, Herring says, are spending “most of their days” on One America.

Internet video samples of One America’s offerings can be found here. As Herring describes it, 75 percent of the programming is straight-up national and international news. Other cable-news providers — i.e., MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — seed too much of their programming with opinion, says Herring, an impression that he says is supported by serious research. The rest of One America’s schedule will be talk-television fare — indeed, commentary — that’ll fall into the center-right category. The network, says Herring, should appeal to “open-minded liberals, independents and people under the conservative umbrella.” And it won’t feature shouting matches as an avenue to ratings success. “You’re not going to see people yelling on our shows,” says Herring.

Are people going to see the shows at all? That’s the question for every fledgling cable network, as Al Gore’s experience with CurrentTV demonstrates. One America is in the midst of a “soft launch,” says Herring. Make that cottony-soft: Herring won’t identify the cable networks that currently carry One America. Is it available in the D.C. market? Yes, it is, says Herring, though he won’t say how. Carriage secrecy notwithstanding, Herring vows that the network will have between 12 million and 15 million subscribers by the end of 2013. Though Gore managed to beam CurrentTV into tens of millions of U.S. households, reported the New York Times’s Brian Stelter back in January, the outfit managed miserable viewership numbers night in and night out. Proof of the glories of the cable business, Gore sold the thing for around $500 million.

Now for the real story. The red-white-and-blue truck is a legacy of WealthTV. According to Herring, it formerly served as something of a mobile production platform for the channel. Now that equipment is in the leased Washington Times studios. So the truck can be deployed to carry equipment and technology to remote news sites in the area.

Don’t expect to see it parked outside of a D.C. Council candidates forum, however. One America is focused on national and international news stories, not local stories. Its partnership with the Washington Times may just tug the newspaper even further from its once-copious coverage of the District of Columbia and surrounding areas. What timing: Just last month, the Washington Examiner stopped local coverage of the Washington area in favor of national news and center-right commentary. Sounds almost like a trend.