Friday, February 27, 2009

Educating newspapers

In celebration of Newspapers in Education Week and Read Across America Day, I offer this priceless image sent to us from St. Mary School in Schwenksville.

Second grade students at St. Mary School, under the tutelage of teachers Denise Sozda and Kim LaGuardia, have recently started utilizing the pages of The Mercury to augment their education curriculum. The NIE Breakfast series is educational and perfect for young readers. Most recently, the children read “Class Pets: Survival School” by Frank Asch.
Thank you, Jane Perkins, for sending this to us and making my day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Signs of Progress

In this year of economic doom and gloom -- job losses, mortgage foreclosures, firms scaling back and closing shop -- and a national mood of depression, the Pottstown area is not the place you would expect to find growth and vitality.
But here, amid the bad news, are positive business stories about healthy sectors of the economy. The Pottstown area is still a place of progress, as The Mercury’s annual edition of that name proves.

The photos and stories in The Sunday Mercury annual Progress edition, to be published Sunday, show a retail boom coming to the region, a major renovation of the community’s hospital, the opening of one new convention center and exciting resurrection of another, and manufacturing -- of chocolate! -- that has withstood the tests of time.

The Upland Square shopping center in West Pottsgrove is changing the face of Route 100 and bringing to the region a major retail center featuring Target, Best Buy, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and a Chili’s restaurant, to name just a few.
The 640,000-square-foot project at Route 100 and State Street is projected to open this summer, creating at least 1,000 new jobs.But, Upland Square is not the only construction going on.

At Pottstown Memorial Medical Center -- the borough’s largest employer with 1,200 workers -- a major renovation and refurbishment is under way, expanding and adding new health-care services and specialities. Among the changes are a new endoscopy suite, wound center, and expansion of the psychiatric unit. The Center for Bone and Joint Health has been expanded to handle an increase in hip and other joint replacements, with a new specialty in ankle replacement.

The maternity unit has been renovated, and digital mammography added for easier archiving of mammogram records.

Although not newly built or renovated, an East Greenville facility is worth of celebration for 70 years of processing chocolate. The Blommer Chocolate Co. plant employs 225 people and is responsible for processing about 50 percent of the cocoa beans in the U.S.

The business is family-owned, and as Stephen Blommer, vice president of operations, says: “Chocolate’s way more fun than anything else.”

These are just a few of the stories of business health despite the ailing economy. The tri-county area shows signs of progress, and that in itself is a positive sign.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to save my newspaper

The "Time" magazine cover story, "How to Save Your Newspaper," by Walter Isaacson caught my eye because the headline was not "the demise of newspapers," nor did it ask the question, "are newspapers dying?" It didn't bemoan "the future of newspapers" or analyze "how newspapers got in the hole they're in today."
Isaacson, of course a former editor, writes that the irony in the struggles newspapers are facing is that more people are reading news -- yes, even young people -- than ever.
They're just not paying for it.
This has been my argument for some time. The shift in newspapers is not that we have become less relevant or less interesting or less important. But, because of the alternatives on the Web, what we offer is available at no cost. In fact, we are now in the trap of making more available online -- for free -- than in print for 75 cents.
(I will point out that newspapers are still the biggest bargain around. You can't get a good cup of coffee for 75 cents, and a cup of joe can't make you smile, inform you, forecast the weather, or tell you who died yesterday. That 75 cents lets you cut out the honor roll for your refrigerator, save the sports photo, and clip the recipes. Worth every penny.)
But back to more available ... I have a few fans out there who would like me to write more columns for the newspaper, but instead I write this blog. Other blogs, most more popular than mine, provide opinions and information beyond what we have room for in the print editions. Online is a larger vessel to hold what we have to say, and of course, that is its attraction, as people can search and find what interests them.
Isaacson writes that it is important for journalism to have paying readers, not rely solely on advertising for revenue. He is right: If we become a "free" environment, our responsibilities to serve readers are cheapened. What we should be looking at, Isaacson writes, is a way to let people pay for the information they get as they get it.
His lament: "... we have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast. "
Newspapers matter. The question is: How do we quantify the value?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Newspapers are on to something

Newspaper editors are on to something.
And, it's important.
It is that what happens in Harrisburg has more to do with your lives than what happens in Washington, D.C., or even in Pottstown or Spring-Ford, and more often than not, what happens in Harrisburg is not good for you.
The state capital is where the Legislature does business, and that business determines the taxes you pay -- including the onerous property tax bill that comes from your local school district -- the traffic you face, potholes you endure, and job opportunities you don't have.
Some newspaper editors have been on to the racket going on in Harrisburg for some time. (See my colleague Tony's blog for an eyeful ... )Others are just catching up. Editors at Pennsylvania's mid-size dailies have come to realize that being the watchdog of our local school boards and borough councils is not enough. The real stuff -- tax reform, attracting new business, fixing roads and bridges, restoring train service to our towns -- depends on state legislative action.
Editorial writers throughout the Commonwealth are taking note that there's more talk and more wasteful spending than there is action on the state front. The Mercury was among the first of newpapers to pick up on the brazen legislative vote now known as the pay-raise fiasco. Our campaign in the summer of 2005 to "send a message to Harrisburg" proved beyond a doubt that residents of our towns understand that actions an hour's drive up the turnpike make a big difference right here.
We have criticized, cajoled and chastized state lawmakers, but our drumbeat of editorial opinions has not made much of a dent. We have printed so many cartoons on state government drawn by free-lance artist Alan MacBain that the lawmaker featured has his own identity. We call him Rep. Harry Combover.
Pennsylvania has the most expensive state governing body in the nation -- spending an appalling $340 million a year while everyone else slashes expenses and tries to make ends meet.
The theme of legislative glut is catching on among newspapers throughout the state. We frequently print shared views, some from our sister papers in the Journal Register News Service and others from The Associated Press, that demonstrate other voices are joining in the protest against legislative spending.
The Scranton Times-Tribune recently published a three-part series on the topic, and the Harrisburg Patriot-News does an outstanding job of uncovering legislative foibles and waste.
Several years ago, the Opinion page in a newspaper like The Mercury was the domain of local issues only. But, in recent years, with the outcry for property tax reform amid skyrocketing school taxes, we have made it our job to lead the charge for a more efficient Legislature in Harrisburg -- a group that does the job of governing, reforming laws, and improving the quality of life in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania's Legislature is big, expensive and ineffective. Newspapers have figured out that what's wrong in state government affects what's right in communities. Change will only occur when voters figure it out, too.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hot dog!

And while we're on the topic of the value of newspapers in daily life ...

The Sunday Mercury Business section last week featured a story on the Philly Hotdog Cafe, a business which opened last summer in the Shoppes at Limerick on Ridge Pike. Sunday afternoon, the shop had its "best day" since opening eight months ago. Patrons reported people waiting in a line of about 30 people for a "hot diggity dog." And what was everyone saying to one another?

"I saw this place in The Mercury and thought I'd check it out ..."
Newspapers matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Newspapers matter: Part Two

This picture tells the story better than words about the continuing importance of newspapers. At Tuesday's PAC-10 boys basketball championship game, Owen J. Roberts fans came with cheer cards in hand to root on the Wildcats. The "cheer cards" were actually saved from editions of the special Thanksgiving Day section in The Mercury in November that promoted the 50th anniversary game of the OJR-Pottstown football rivalry.
Be a fan. Buy a newspaper.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Read a newspaper today

"More people will read a newspaper today than watched Sunday's big game."
That statement was the centerpiece of full-page ads that appeared in many newspapers, including The Mercury, last Monday, the day after the Super Bowl.
"With 100 million daily readers, newspapers are a tremendous scoring opportunity," read the ad placed by the Newspaper Project,.
People depend on newspapers, reads the NP slogan.
That was on Monday.
On Friday, the saying on my desk Freedom of the Press calendar read:
"The difference between blogging and reporting is like the difference between songwriting and karaoke ... The blogosphere is a symphony -- no, a cacophony -- of tunes. But, you need someone to write the original notes. That is what reporters should do." The quote was from Chuck Raasch of USA Today.
In the middle of the week, a letter to the editor from The Morning Call in Allentown came to my attention. The letter writer was a South Whitehall Township resident who wrote that when time came to renew his home delivery to the Call, he considered saving some money and getting the news online.
"But, then I read an article that made me reconsider. It was how the newspaper used freedom of information laws for two years to pursue the release of the autopsy of a slain Easton police officer," wrote Donald DeCray Sr. "Without an independent newspaper, who would have had the money to pursue this cause? Who would have been the watchdog for the public's right to know?
"Bloggers are no replacement for our local newspaper and reporters. Someone must pay the reporter who goes to council meetings, board meetings and investigates our public officials. We need newspapers to keep all levels of government honest. ... And that is why I decided to renew my subscription," the letter stated.
On Thursday, Mercury reporter Evan Brandt was at a Pottstown School Board meeting in which The Mercury was mentioned more than once -- our coverage, our opinions -- noting among other things that the sheer number of stories written on the Pottstown elementary schools question proves the saga has gone on for too long.
Then, on Sunday, a member of my church stopped me on the sidewalk to comment on a recent editorial or two that I have written.
There are days when this feels like a thankless job. But last week was more typical, demonstrating day after day that our work matters.
Every Monday, I know the words and pictures produced by the staff of this newspaper start the week for more than 20,000 households.
I am fairly certain that more people in this town read The Mercury today than watched the Grammy awards Sunday night.
I know there is much written and said about the demise of newspapers. But, I know with as much certainty that we are as relevant to our community as ever.
Newspapers are vital to your town and your community.
Depend on it.