Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ben Franklin and us

Journal Register Company, which owns The Mercury, made headlines last week in every media trade journal with the successful completion of The Ben Franklin Project.
The project was the printing of two newspapers – a daily outside Cleveland, Ohio, and a weekly in nearby Perkasie, Pa. – using only free online tools for gathering information and producing pages. The experiment emphasized the involvement of the community in determining and pushing forward story content.
The Ben Franklin Project began as a challenge from company CEO John Paton to these two papers and to every employee of Journal Register to rethink the way we produce newspapers and Web sites.
By meeting the challenge before the 30-day deadline, staffs of the Perkasie News-Herald and the Lake County News-Herald created a new brand of journalism. Their successes and their mistakes will be shared with other papers in the company, including The Mercury, and we are pretty certain it won’t be long before “Ben Franklin” will be showing up in Pottstown.
The project is part of a larger sea-change that has already begun at The Mercury -- a change that is necessary for our survival and critical to our success. In the past, Journal Register and The Mercury remained a few steps behind other media companies in investing in technology and embracing the online universe. But, under the company’s new leadership, the catch-up is happening at lightning speed (Ben Franklin pun intended).
In February, we announced that every reporter was now equipped with a FlipCam videorecorder. Instantly, writers became multimedia journalists, and the metamorphosis was under way. That one step jumpstarted our newsrooms to presenting the news with immediacy, putting words and action online straight from the source.
We no longer wait to the end of the day to report what’s happening and then gather reaction. Our goal is to start with you, our readers, instead of end with you. The Ben Franklin Project pushes that goal into reality. Journalists discover ways to have readers inform their reporting instead of the other way around. And, what we are learning – what we must learn – is how to utilize technology to make that happen.
The staffs in the Ben Franklin Project used tools to harness community engagement. What does that mean? Well, it means that technology can enable us to involve readers in asking the questions when we interview public officials or put them in the room when we report on meetings or press conferences. It means that as news is happening, readers are pointing us in the directions to make our coverage more relevant to their lives.
A simple example is a news tip left on our Web site several days ago asking us to find out more about the value and criteria for classroom aides in schools. Aides’ positions are being cut in one district after another in this school budget cycle, and parents and taxpayers would like to better understand the ramifications. With the tools being tested in experiments like Ben Franklin, good questions like that one can reach us as part of reporting, not as part of reaction.
Paton said in a recent interview with Poynter Online that involving users in providing content “is not a replacement for journalists; it’s a new pipeline for information that journalists have to use.”
The key is “have to.”
In a business environment changing as rapidly as ours, we have to adapt and experiment and learn new methods and better ways of involving our readers in the process.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a column about the demise of a newspaper, and I said that telling your stories is our privilege, and that will not change. Ironically, the path that will keep us alive is seen as the one that not only tells your stories but involves you in shaping them.
Another irony is that Ben Franklin as a journalist of colonial times contributed to a publication, “American Mercury,” and turned it inside out to make it better.
History may be repeating itself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bloggers night out: An invitation

To current and future TownSquare participants:

We will be hosting our second Community Media Lab on Wednesday evening May 19 in the offices of The Mercury to discuss and introduce blogging techniques. Anyone with an idea for a blog is welcome. All current bloggers appearing on TownSquare are encouraged to attend.

The lab will begin at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday -- use the door marked Community Media Lab on the Hanover Street side of the building (The Mercury is located on the corner of King and Hanover streets in Pottstown).

Come prepared with ideas and questions. We will be discussing future opportunities for bloggers to make some money on their blogs, as well as some of the ideas we have at The Mercury to better promote your blogs (and hope you promote us as well!)

Mercury city editor Tony Phyrillas whose four political blogs have attracted more than 400,000 unique visitors since he began blogging will offer a brief presentation on blogging tips to grow audience.

We'll have coffee and light snacks.

Please plan to attend.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Mother's Day message about my son

Rather fitting with Mother's Day on Sunday that I write today about the last day of work at The Mercury for our promotions director. Fitting, because he is my son.
Chris March is leaving Pottstown, moving up to a job as online promotions/advertising at The New Haven Register, the largest newspaper in the Journal Register Company, parent company of The Mercury. He has earned the promotion after two and a half years working as a liaison here between the advertising and circulation departments and the commmunity.
His involvement on behalf of The Mercury with the Schuylkill Riverfest, Fourth of July committee, Montgomery County Community College, Healthy Lifestyles Expo and Relay for Life has enhanced the newspaper's role in the community.
His creativity in promoting our products both in print and online has given us a fresh approach among newspapers our size, and his professionalism has earned him respect of his colleagues and the community at large.
That said, it can't be easy being the editor's son.
Chris learned a long time ago that the newspaper business has both rewards and drawbacks.
When he was 2, his grandmother would bring him in here in the evenings to visit his parents when they worked and share a Coke with his Dad.
When he was 5, he would fidget in an office chair during late-afternoon Page One meetings while his parents planned the next day's paper. There was the one-hour overlap between my day shift and my husband's night shift.
Also when he was 5, he joined photo supervisor John Strickler riding in a golf cart on a "bear hunt," chasing down a wandering black bear on the grounds of Brookside Country Club for front-page pictures.
When he was 7, he made the front page after finding a lost boy who had wandered onto our property and fallen asleep in the woods near the bus stop where Chris and his friend Donnie embarked.
When he was 15, he wrote a column for the editorial page after a high school teacher wrongly ridiculed the spelling of a word in a Mercury headline.
When he was 17, he wrote a piece for the Daniel Boone high school newspaper about the emotional aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The reaction from his classmates to his writing sealed his future: He was a journalist.
When he was 19 and studying journalism at Penn State, he wrote music reviews as a free-lancer for TimeOut.
And, when he was 23 and looking for a job to use his degree in journalism and internship in marketing, publisher Tom Abbott gave him an opportunity to fill a vacancy and shape a new position here in advertising promotions.
Now, he's moving on.
It is a privilege as a parent to witness your child exhibit at work the qualities you hope you have helped instill. I have enjoyed that privilege the past two and a half years.
Chris is professional, easygoing, creative, helpful and conscientious. I'll share credit for some of his qualities, as one of two parents who demonstrate a solid work ethic and who taught respect for others. Some of it, I'll chalk up to good genes.
Mostly, the respect I hold for my son professionally is all his own doing.
Today is Chris' last day at The Mercury.
It's Mother's Day for me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Teen driving laws: Demand action TODAY

Today is the last day the Pennsylvania Senate will be in session until May 24.
Today is the last day until after the primary election for state senators to vote on a law that can save the lives of teenagers.
Today is the last day before another three weeks go by for Pottsgrove mothers Karen Cantamaglia and Marlene Case to convince legislators that not another teen should die in a car crash.
Today is the last day before the campaign break to tell every state senator in Pennsylvania to join the cause of saving teenagers’ lives.
House Bill 67 is at the top of the calendar list of bills awaiting state Senate action for today. Sadly, it’s at the top not because it is the most important to legislators but because it’s on its third go-round without yet becoming law.
The bill, known as Lacey’s Law, proposes teen driving in honor of Lacey Gallagher, who was killed in a crash on the way to a post-prom party in 2007. Lacey was riding in a carload of teens when the vehicle crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Like Lacey Gallagher, Michael Cantamaglia and Andrew Case were riding in vehicles of six or more teens, as were Breanne Brothers and Andrea Antonio-Harris of Pottstown, whose crash deaths occurred just 20 days after Case and Cantamaglia.
Karen Cantamaglia and Marlene Case went to Harrisburg Monday to plead for passage of House Bill 67. They asked the state Senate to pass the bill now, before another teen dies.
Amendments have been proposed for House Bill 67 that go beyond what safe-driving advocates believe is necessary. Legislators in more rural areas of Pennsylvania want amendments put into the bill that ease passenger restrictions.
This legislation is too important to be delayed any further, and teens’ lives are too important to see the restrictions watered down. Pennsylvania is among the most lax states in the nation for teen driving laws, and teens are paying the price.
House Bill 67 should come to the Senate floor for a vote without amendment to weaken the provisions. It should come to a vote today.
Email every state senator today:
“As a constituent of Pennsylvania, I demand that House Bill 67 become law and that it limit to one the number of non-family passengers in a car driven by a teen.
“This law is critical to the well-being of our young drivers and their passengers. It is critical to parents, teachers, police, and every citizen of Pennsylvania.”
Send this message this morning to every state senator and tell them saving lives is more important than carpooling convenience. Tell them this cause is too important to delay.
The tragic circumstances that took the lives of Lacey Gallagher, Michael Cantamaglia, Andrew Case, Breanne Brothers and Andrea Antonio-Harris should be forbidden by law.
We demand action now.
Copy this message and email to every state senator.

For more information, read our series, "Tragedy in Numbers."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thank goodness it's not Friday

"Thank goodness it's not Friday" is my new motto.
Fridays in the newspaper business were busy; Fridays in the new news ecology business are over the top. In the newspaper business, reporters spend Friday putting the finishing touches on stories due for the weekend editions. But, when weeks are busy which is all the time, that means starting to write their weekend stories on Friday. Those stories need to be edited.
In addition, editorials have to be written or selected from The Associated Press or Journal Register News Service.
Page editors have extra pages to do -- Sunday advance, three Opinion pages, Art Matters, church for Saturday -- with a reduced staff. In a seven-day operation on a five-day schedule, some people are off on Fridays, others on Mondays.
These factors add up to busy Fridays --- add in a road rage incident, arson at a local armory, follow to the police search and suicide of road-rage suspect, car into the Rocket Car Wash, press conference for motel murders -- and you see what the past few Fridays have been like at my desk.
For all these news events, we have been posting news online as quickly as we can, including Facebook and Twitter alerts.
Now, I have a question: What do you think of how we're doing, and can we do it better?
Call this Monday morning feedback after crazy Fridays.
How do you use our Twitter alerts and our Facebook postings? What times of day do you check How do you find out about breaking news?
Please comment and tell me how you use The Mercury's online tools.
Especially on Fridays.