Lancaster Paper Goes Wall-to-Wall for Amish Shootings Coverage

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By: Joe Strupp

Monday was supposed to be the first day of a week’s vacation for Editor Ernie Schreiber of the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era newspaper. Instead, the veteran newspaperman found himself overseeing coverage of the area’s biggest news story since Three Mile Island.

“The entire newsroom, except for sports and lifestyle, is on this,” said Schreiber, who edits the afternoon paper and had at least 13 reporters and three photographers working the tragic shooting of 11 Amish school children Monday. “My entertainment writer is doing a media story, business writers are covering it, and our religion writer.”

Schreiber, who has been at the paper for 32 years, was planning to work on a rocking chair project, among other home-based activities, this week. He said he was lunching with his wife at about noon Monday when the first word of the shootings circulated. He said someone at the next table received an instant message on a palm pilot and asked him about it.

“I started reading what we were doing on my pocket PC and followed the story,” Schreiber added in a phone call from the newsroom, where he was scrambling to get today’s paper out. “I spent the rest of the day working it by phone and e-mail.”

Back in the newsroom, editors began posting stories on the paper’s Web site, which is jointly used by the New Era and the morning Intelligencer Journal. Both papers, with a combined 91,000 daily circulation, are owned by the Lancaster Newspapers Inc.

Both papers also recently installed their first-ever online journalists, according to Harold Miller, president and CEO of Lancaster Newspapers. He said each paper added one Web-only writer to handle the posting of stories online just six months ago.

“We publish on the Web before we publish in print,” said Miller, who has been at the paper since 1981. “Their job is to get things on the web and that is what they were doing.”

The shootings occurred at about 10 a.m., Miller said, with the first stories posting before noon. By 3 p.m., he said at least four original news stories had been posted, along with two major video reports from Associated Press.

New Era’s Monday print edition, meanwhile, had its deadline delayed by about an hour, to 12:30 p.m. from 11:30 a.m., Miller said. The first copies hit the street at about 1 p.m., he said, adding that the single-copy press run was increased some 3,000 copies.

The shootings took up two columns on Page One, with a column inside, Miller said. “We could not get more information at that time,” he said. “That is why the Web became such an important vehicle.”

Today, New Era is pushing its deadline back even later, to 1 p.m., so as to include information from a planned noon police news conference. The Tuesday paper will include four additional pages on top if its regular 48-page report for added coverage, as well as 8,000 more single copies.

The morning Intelligencer Journal, meanwhile, stuck to its usual 1:30 a.m. deadline today, but had four more pages for shooting coverage as well, along with a bumped-up press run that added 8,000 copies to today’s single-copy supply. Miller is already planning to add at least two additional pages for the Wednesday editions of each paper.

“The big reaction to this has been the terrible nature of this story,” said Millet, adding that he had at least three editors on vacation Monday when the story broke, each of whom is on the job today. “People have gone about their jobs very professionally.”

He said no discussion was given to providing an extra edition since the papers publish every 12 hours and have the Web as a vehicle. But he said it has required all staffers to be on the job.

Schreiber, who was at the paper when the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power accident occurred about 20 miles away, ranked this as the biggest story since. “It is below Three Mile Island,” he said. “But it is a big story.”

Miller said the paper has always had a good relationship with the Amish community, estimating that they comprise about 5% of readership for the papers. “They use our classified section quite a bit, and they usually subscribe to the morning paper,” he said. “The only difference is in terms of obituaries, which they usually run on Monday. That’s because they don’t buy products on Sundays.”

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