By: Mark Fitzgerald
In late May, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., took home honors for reporting, photography, and design at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s Keystone Press Awards. On top of many other awards in recent years, it was an impressive feat, all the more so when considering the competition.
Due to its 100,000-plus circ status ? 101,524 Mon.-Sat. and 152,153 Sundays, according to the March 31, 2004 FAS-FAX ? the Patriot-News won its awards while competing in a division that includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Says Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Foundation Director Connie McNamara: “”They’re clearly the underdogs in that category.””
Underdog or not, Advance Publications’ Patriot-News sticks to a simple strategy of solid writing and thorough reporting combined with a great look. “”We talk a lot about seeing the paper through the eyes of the reader,”” explains Executive Editor David Newhouse. “”We know that people are saturated with info these days. … But people really want to make sense of things. They want to get their minds around the world.””
Newhouse believes that readers can handle a paper “”that is both lively and intelligent. We think you can do both.”” The newspaper’s mission to inform the reader is stated clearly in the newsroom, where banners hang emblazoned with statements like, ‘Don’t tell me what it says, tell me what it means,’ and ‘Why is this important?”” And while looks aren’t everything, Newhouse hails the 2002 redesign executed by Garcia Media’s Pegie Stark Adam. What’s more, the International Newspaper Quality Club recently named the Patriot-News one of the 10 best-printed papers in the country.
Just as impressive is the way its various units work together. For nearly five years, all departments of the paper have gathered each weekday at 9 a.m. for quality meetings. Reps from circulation, production, editorial, IT, and ad services sit down along with General Manager James Stephanak to grade the paper internally, and put ideas on the table to improve the paper’s appearance, content and other aspects. Anyone who’s ever worked at a daily paper would probably liken this to a United Nations meeting with no translators ? and as President/Publisher John Kirkpatrick admits, things were rocky at first. “”The goal wasn’t to place blame, although it started that way in the beginning,”” he recalls. “”The goal was to get better.”” Now, he adds, “”People are no longer defensive. They find where the issues are.””
Kirkpatrick tells E&P he doesn’t consider himself “”a big believer in awards,”” but was ecstatic that its latest wins came for its police coverage (“”a bread-and-butter beat,”” he says), sports and features. “”That’s what made it incredibly special to us,”” he says. “”The bulk of our awards were the kinds of coverage our readers get every day.””
It’s also worth noting that in racial diversity of news staff, the Patriot-News ranks at No. 71 among 1,413 U.S. newspapers surveyed by the Knight Foundation’s May report. Not bad in a community that’s nearly 87% white. ? Shawn Moynihan
For 33 years, the Chicago Reader has made the task of attracting young, active singles look so easy that it’s only now ? with the city awash in wanna-be “”youth”” papers clawing for a piece of the action ? that it’s dawning on the mainstream industry just how singular the Reader’s achievement is.
Chains everywhere are launching their own version of “”alternative”” papers, but nowhere is youth-newspaper mania more intense than in Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times offer look-alike Red tabloids with a Procrustean journalism that spares no more than 150 words on practically any subject, from Jessica Simpson to Iraq. Among the genuinely alternative local alternatives to the Reader are the Generation X- and Y-skewing New City and UR as well as the spoof news weekly Onion. And soon, entertainment listings magazine Time Out will launch a Chicago edition.
What most of those papers have in common is that they’re thin. The Reader is thick. Thick with listings: music, film, theater, clubs, lectures and restaurants. Thick with classifieds: personals, help-wanted, “”adult services,”” and, especially, apartment rentals. The Reader wraps its tabloid front around a stack of three separate listings and advertising sections. A typical issue measures an inch along the spine, and the Reader distributes 130,000 of them in city neighborhoods favored by young adults, plus another 21,000 of a condensed suburban edition.
The Reader’s commercial success has confounded competitors since its very beginning, when it became the first of what were then still called “”underground”” papers to give copies away. It also quickly came to own the franchise on Chicago apartment rental classifieds. “”The dailies couldn’t conceive of how to reach the owner of a 2-flat or a 3-flat, of which there are a million in the city,”” says Jane Levine, the paper’s executive vice president. During the industry’s long classified drought, the counter-cyclical rental franchise proved a bonanza for the Reader.
Editorially, the Reader breaks many of the rules other alternatives and youth papers follow slavishly. Long-form journalism is a staple, but screechy commentary on national issues isn’t. Staff writers pursue interesting topics, and trust readers to follow. “”We never condescend to our readers or try to figure out what they would want, in a calculated way,”” Editor Alison True says.
Created in the era that warned against trusting anyone over 30, much about the Reader remains the same 33 years later. Its readership is a touch older, with a median age of 40, but 70% are singles and very few have children who might keep them from a night on the town.
With increased competition, though, comes change. Longtime publisher Levine has been succeeded by Michael Crystal, from Seattle Weekly. The hot Spanish team Jard? + Utensil is working on a redesign. “”The packaging is going to look different to readers,”” promises Crystal. But the dictionary-sized four sections that lands with a thud every Thursday … that, he quickly adds, is not going away. ? Mark Fitzgerald
Hilton Head, S.C.
There is a say- ing in Hilton Head, S.C., according to some editors of The Island Packet, that “”the day you don’t read the Packet is the day your name is in the Packet.”” Such a reputation, they contend, springs from the paper’s immense local focus and community connections.
“”We are intensely local,”” says Fitz McAden, executive editor of the 19,323-daily-circulation McClatchy Co. paper. “”We also include tons of feedback from the community.”” McAden cites the Packet’s practice of having at least three local stories on Page One, and having all 31 editorial staffers assigned to local beats. In recent years, the paper has added zoned weekly sections in three markets, along with a Saturday religion section, a Monday “”People”” section, a daily business report, and The Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition.
Sara Borton, publisher for the past decade, has been praised for increasing the Packet’s revenue stream. McClatchy Chairman and CEO Gary Pruitt credits her for the Packet’s 10 straight years of annual ad revenue and circulation increases.
Since 1994, he says, the paper has boosted ad revenue an average of 2.1% annually, while circulation has grown on average by 10.2%. News hole is also 50% greater than it was 10 years ago, while still increasing 1% annually.
“”It is a growth market,”” Pruitt admits, referring to the area, which saw a 40% population hike between 1990 and 2000. “”But they are also doing a great job with penetration, which is about 80%, compared to the national average of less than 50%.””
While the population is growing, it’s also changing, editors say. The traditional retirees and resort home owners for which the island is known are being joined by families, working-class residents and some singles. “”The challenge has been to address the fast-growing permanent population,”” Pruitt pointed out. “”They are not as old or as affluent as the traditional population.””
To serve the newer clientele, the paper added the recent sections as well as the four-year-old “”Kids Packet,”” a quarterly tabloid newspaper for schoolchildren that is distributed in the classroom as a news aide and promotional device. “”It is one of the ways we are branching out,”” says Borton. “”We still try to be a little bit ahead of the curve.””
Editors also promote the paper’s watchdog role, reflected in stories such as the revelation that a local marina dredging project was dumping the muck into a nearby sound instead of further out in the ocean, and an investigation into municipal court backlogs. “”We want to illuminate and put a spotlight on issues our readers need,”” McAden said.
The daily also serves readers with basic information such as running the area’s entire, detailed school bus routes each fall and printing the school papers for three area high schools at no charge. “”It is not overall expensive, and it keeps the newspaper alive and well in the schools,”” says Borton. “”It makes a big difference.”” ? Joe Strupp
H. Brandt Ayers moved from “”pouring pigs for the Linotype machine”” to the Star’s newsroom and eventually to Washington as correspondent for the Star and other Southern papers in the early 1960s. After he returned to Anniston as editor and then publisher, his management team held on through his market’s economic dislocations and coverage of sensitive topics ranging from civil rights to local military installations.
Now Ayers looks to the future after guaranteeing that, as chains acquire even more dailies, the Star will remain independent, its ownership to pass from the publisher’s family to a non-profit foundation.
Over time, the Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism’s foundation will receive all stock in the Star’s Consolidated Publishing Co. from Ayers and his sister, Elise Ayers Sanguinetti. The institute, presided over by Chris Waddle, Consolidated’s vice president for news, promotes coverage of connections between local and international news. It also created a community journalism graduate program. With Knight Foundation funding, it will pay University of Alabama students for work at the Star ? America’s “”only teaching newspaper,”” as Ayers calls it. “”That’s a lot better than spending $41,000 to go to Columbia.””
Current and former newsroom staffers cite high morale and motivation. Tampa (Fla.) Tribune Editor Frank Denton passed up a prestigious International Press Institute post to work in Anniston, where he says he “”did the best reporting of my career.””
The Star has seeded the industry with first-rate journalists, but Executive Editor Troy Turner says it tolerates the turnover “”because we get some of the brightest.”” Turner says he won’t let longtime local columnist George Smith retire.
Since last August, the Star also has harbored that endangered species, the editorial cartoonist ? in this case, a 24-year-old Swiss, Leila Rempa. “”That just doesn’t happen at a paper that size,”” remarks the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press’ Bruce Plante, immediate past president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
In a clean, attractive design, Star content brings in APME awards, notably for international and breaking news.
Whereas Denton says “”it’s always been a liberal paper,”” others see a moderate editorial page in a conservative community. The “”Red Star”” to certain readers, it may lean liberal, but in local matters such as business, it can tip the other way, he says.
“”We are real big here on making global news local news,”” says Turner, explaining his reporter and photographer in Iraq ? a very local story owing to work on armored vehicles at the Anniston Army Depot and the 5,000 jobs tied to it. Local also meets national at the Emergency Preparedness Center and a chemical weapons incinerator that has become a full-time beat.
Adjacent to woodland on a former Army base, the Star’s new headquarters consist of several pavilions and a pressroom where two crews and a new, automated, two-folder press print the Star, plus its sister daily and numerous other publications. With less waste than before, and at the cost of no one’s job, predicted economies of consolidating all production, says Operations Vice President Ed Fowler, were “”right on the money.”” ? Jim Rosenberg
La Raza Publisher and CEO Robert J. Armband likes to gently mock the perception of newspaper watchers that the many innovations the Spanish-language weekly has implemented in Chicago are driven by the competition Tribune Co. has thrown at it, first from its discontinued free weekly Exito and now with its ambitious paid daily Hoy.
Armband shows off prototypes of what is known internally as “”La Raza Mas,”” a dramatically redesigned tab that will deliver the same big package to single-copy buyers and to the 175,000 households in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods that get the Sunday paper for free. He describes the “”Amigo Program”” initiative that has some 1,200 stores sponsoring the free distribution of some 30,000 copies. He talks about the new focus Editor in Chief Elbio Rodr?guez Barilari is putting on content for Mexicans, even importing a popular comic strip, “”Condorito,”” from Mexico. And each time, he adds, comically rolling over a phrase he’s seen too many times in the trades: “”Now you can say we are doing this ‘in response to the burgeoning competition’ from Hoy.””
All these initiatives, Armband insists, are the sort of thing La Raza had been moving into already, or were unable to afford until the Chicago-based venture capital group Hispania Capital Partners bought control of the paper last September.
Perhaps, he concedes, maybe not the value-added promotion devised to keep big advertisers like Walgreens and Sears in the paper ? that actually was in response to the budding competition from Hoy, which managed to lure away the Pep Boys auto parts inserts from La Raza.
But it is also true that Hoy ? featured in E&P’s 2002 “”10 That Do It Right”” list ? has been forced to respond to the burgeoning competition from La Raza, which in the last year has expanded its zones and increased distribution by about 25%. Of its three national markets, only in Chicago does Hoy deliver a free weekend version to households in Hispanic neighborhoods.
The natural industry interest in the competition can obscure La Raza’s own achievements in professionalizing the Latino press.
Its success helped attract mainstream chains such as Tribune and Belo Corp. to Spanish-language publishing. At a time when many Hispanic papers were still disorganized mom-and-pop operations, La Raza was pioneering audited and efficient free distribution to Hispanic households, aggressively courting big retailers, and insisting other Latino papers do the same.
Armband in particular preached the value of audited distribution. When he was a director of the National Association of Hispanic Publications, he even insisted that unaudited newspapers be denied voting membership. Armband remains a confessed obsessive about the management value of audits. When Certified Audit of Circulations (CAC) determined La Raza had a delivery accuracy rate of 97.4% ? about as good as it gets ? Armband had staff call those who said they didn’t get the paper. “”It turns out they were getting it, but they thought if they said so, they’d get charged,”” he says.