'10 That Do It Right' -- No. 7: Lancaster 'New Era'

By: Dave Astor The Lancaster (Pa.) New Era was doing something right long before the past year. It won state awards, and was the rare afternoon daily with almost as much circulation as its morning counterpart.

But the New Era, founded in 1877, received national attention when its coverage of last October's tragic shootings of five Amish schoolgirls won honors including the Pulliam prize and the Religion Communicators Council's Wilbur Award.

New Era crime/court reporter Janet Kelley received the Pulliam, but tells E&P the Amish coverage was a "team effort" of editors and her fellow reporters: "We work together so well. We trust each other."

That trust stems partly from New Era staffers having worked with each other for so long. "The average time here is 19 years," says Ernie Schreiber, who joined the paper in 1974 and was named editor in 2000. Kelley, one of 23 New Era staff writers, came aboard in 1979. (In May, E&P profiled two of its staffers, a legally blind editor and a deaf photographer.)

The 41,503-circulation paper also has the distinction of encouraging more project reporting than many other dailies its size. "We always have one or two long-term stories under way," says Schreiber.

The follow-up to the Amish school shootings is one case in point. After first covering the tragedy on a breaking-news basis in October, New Era staffers spent many weeks preparing a three-part series that profiled the victims and killer, chronicled the awful day of the murders (the story that won the Pulliam for Kelley), and looked into the forgiving nature of the Amish. Schreiber says about 17,000 reprints of the December "Lost Angels" series have been ordered by Amish people in the Lancaster area and throughout North America.

The Lancaster area has something to do with the New Era's staff stability, because it is a beautiful place to live -- and offers reporters the chance to cover urban, suburban, and rural environments. But why is the New Era's circulation so close to that of Lancaster's 46,823-circulation a.m. daily, the Intelligencer Journal? "We know we can't just rehash what's in morning papers, so we come up with fresh angles and new ways of looking at things," says Managing Editor Pete Mekeel.

The New Era, Intelligencer Journal, and Lancaster Sunday News share the same ownership and various business functions, but maintain separate editorial staffs. Mekeel says the New Era's competitors "do a good job" and "keep us on our toes."

Another recent development at the New Era: It was one of the first papers to cancel Ann Coulter's Universal Press Syndicate column this March after the controversial conservative commentator used an anti-gay slur against John Edwards. The paper, which received 69 e-mails for and 57 e-mails against dropping Coulter, replaced her with conservative columns by Peggy Noonan and a local writer. "We found two other voices who are a whole lot more civil," Schreiber says.


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