How a small newspaper used iPads to bend the rules of reporting

York Daily Record NewsVroom

Randy Parker, image by Tim SohnWith the rapid migration of news and media onto the mobile platform, newspaper editors are finding all sorts of ways to keep up with the changeover and stay ahead of the trends. That’s why Randy Parker, managing editor of the York Daily Record put a tablet or smartphone into the hands of its top reporters. Further, as Parker explained at the America East 2013 newspaper conference in Hershey, Pa. they take those tablets on the road and into the community to experiment with news ways to boost reader engagement.

Parker explained that several years ago his newspaper hired Lauren Boyer for a new position to cover business news focusing on consumer issues, but he didn’t want her to stay in the office and instead tasked her with finding new ways to tell stories for the paper. York Daily Record gave Boyer the first iPad it bought, and she used it to shoot videos and tweet. Today she still finds new apps and tools to download and use on a weekly basis.

“It was one of the best investments I could have ever made because it absolutely energized her, and it accelerated her creative thinking,” Parker said. “I noticed every time I look over at her desk, she’s not there.”

Boyer’s tactics integrated social media use and traditional reporting – allowing her to venture into the community, meet new people and still stay connected with the newsroom. Often Boyer would send out a tweet that she was going to be at a particular location and invite people to stop by and tell her what she should be covering. Parker explained that a local public relations representative from Harley Davidson who was hard to get a hold of found her that way one day and chatted with her for around 45 minutes.

The second person on staff at the York Daily Record to receive an iPad was the paper’s senior reporter who covered the courts. The judge let the reporter use the iPad in the courtroom because it doesn’t break any of the court’s rules.

“[The judge] said, ‘Well, there’s no cellphones and no laptops, but this isn’t a cellphone, and this isn’t a laptop, so, yeah, I guess you can use that in the courtroom,’” Parker said. “This was a new judge. I think he was looking to bend the rules to new technology.”

The court reporter uses Scribble Live, which lets him live-blog the proceedings and sends his updates to Twitter.

Parker said he has gradually rolled out iPads to 14 staff members. In addition, the paper has purchased six Nexus 7-inch tablets for photographers, and he predicts the paper will continue to purchase Nexus tablets instead of iPads because they’re less glitchy, fit into “boy pockets,” and they are “dirt cheap.”

The paper has tried Kindle Fires and Windows Surface tablets, but they never caught on.

York Daily Record also created a “News Vroom,” an old newspaper delivery van that goes to sporting and other local events from time to time. Workers erect tents around the van that house six laptops, six smartphones, six iPads, and a WiFi router that allows connection to up to 21 devices. The paper uses the mobile connection to showcase the newspaper’s apps at events that draw crowds: its e-edition for iPad, its iPad app designed to focus on breaking news, photo streams, and methods for sharing information like Little League game scores.

Next up for the York paper: developing a pre-fall high school football tablet e-zine and a commemorative Gettysburg anniversary edition for tablet.

Photo courtesy of Digital First Media.

How the end of Saturday mail delivery affects publishers, advertisers and readers

Postal Truck

Postal Truck

The elimination of Saturday mail delivery by the United States Postal Service, expected to begin in August (although there’s some dispute about whether the move is legal) doesn’t only mean waiting until Monday for letters to arrive. For newspapers that use the post office for home delivery—primarily weeklies but also dailies that have switched to several days a week and rural papers—the decision to end Saturday mail delivery will force them to shift how they cover the news, how they get that news to readers and how they deliver readers to advertisers. In short, Saturday mail delivery is a big deal to the newspaper world.

While big metro newspapers long ago replaced paperboys with professional delivery services, many rural and non-daily newspapers rely on the postal service to deliver every day but Sunday, says Max Heath, who consults on postal issues for publishers including the Publishing Group of America (American Profile, Relish and Spry magazines) and Landmark Community Newspapers (56 newspapers and seven college sports publications).

Even though the change only affects Saturday mail delivery, it will impact most U.S. newspapers in some way, Heath predicts. Trickling down to the deadlines of technical and content writers.

Medium- to large-circulation dailies will see the least impact because, according to Heath, most metro dailies (i.e. with a local coverage area) with a circulation of 25,000 or over use contract carriers for home delivery. These papers typically only mail a few hundred papers a day to avid subscribers far from home.

“In the 25,000-and-under segment, a shift toward [using the post office] becomes more predominant as circulation declines,” said Heath, noting that there are exceptions such as papers that have wide geographic coverage areas that don’t commit a lot of resources to home delivery and typically piggyback on local newspapers’ carrier services. How big a deal is the Postal Service to the newspaper industry? Heath estimates that 80 percent of non-daily newspapers are predominantly delivered by mail.

Weekly, semi-weekly and six-day-a-week papers are likely to see the largest impact. Of those, the large number of weekly and twice-weekly publications that come out on Saturday will need to either move back to Friday or forward to Monday (since there’s no mail delivery on Sunday, either). For six-day-a-week newspapers, the Saturday issue is often the biggest issue with the most advertising, according to Heath.


Advertisers will determine how newspapers respond

Advertisers face a tough decision: Will they get the same bang for the buck and a similar audience by moving their ads to Friday or Monday? Their choice, made community by community, will be one factor driving newspaper publishers to consider dropping a Saturday issue or switching to expensive contract carriers.

“Those dailies with Saturday issues must discern whether their advertisers will live with Friday. Some, like the Cadillac, Mich., daily [Cadillac News] with a Saturday issue and large shopper to non-subscribers, will likely go to home delivery by contract carriers,” said Heath. “The effects will vary from paper to paper, depending on Saturday advertising and whether it can keep the advertisers on another day or will also be forced to consider contract delivery. Some non-dailies with Saturday may have a bigger percentage of advertising on Saturday than, say, a six-day daily with Saturday issue,” said Heath.

Chris Huckle, publisher of the Cadillac News, said in a piece posted on his newspaper’s website that the post office has forgotten about newspapers.

“We know that people not only want their news delivered on the weekends but also their letters, cards, bills, payments and other communication,” wrote Huckle, who declared that his newspaper will continue to publish on Saturdays and find another way to deliver.

“We’re the major mailer by far in our market area. And we do care about our Saturday delivery. If you (upset publishers), they’re going to find other ways to deliver their products,” Huckle told USA Today, explaining that approximately 75 percent of Cadillac News’ postage budget goes toward delivery of the Saturday edition and a supplement on Monday.

Tonda Rush, CEO of the National Newspaper Association, the industry group of community newspapers, said his organization opposes eliminating Saturday delivery.

“A USPS whose focus is on urban delivery of packages and advertising — which is where it seems to be headed — is a USPS that is not fully serving the nation,” said Tonda.


Digital, late delivery part of the solution

One possible upshot of the end of Saturday mail delivery will be papers investing more in a digital strategy. For newspapers that publish on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, many of their subscribers receive their papers the following day by mail. For them, the end of Saturday mail delivery could lead to subscription cancellations, especially since 10 federal holidays land on Mondays, said Heath, who explained that this issue is more likely to affect papers in rural areas because for them, contract delivery could be prohibitively expensive.

The in-county cost for a 5 ounce paper delivered by the post office is less than 10 cents per piece, said Heath. Contract delivery ranges from 12 to 15 cents in city areas and 25 to 30 cents in rural areas, or a 20 to 200 percent increase in cost. Why the extra cost? Using private carriers means newspapers have to create driving routes, hire a supervisor, verify delivery, recruit and contract carriers that typically don’t stick around too long, develop a legal contract, and decide whether to provide accident insurance for drivers. Hiring third-party companies to do the job will work for some papers but likely not for rural ones.


How an end to Saturday delivery might affect the news itself

The Wise County Messenger in Decatur, Texas, is a Wednesday/Saturday paper with a circulation of 6,000. It also publishes a supplement called All Around Wise that is both mailed separately (21,845 copies) to non-subscribers and part of the Wednesday edition. All of its printed material are delivered by mail.

Roy Eaton, publisher, is concerned that elimination of Saturday delivery will hurt high school sports coverage—he has eight schools in his coverage area. The Messenger will likely change its publication days to Tuesday/Friday, cramping its ability to deliver the high school sports stories for which parents scoop up papers each weekend.

Eaton says his staff will respond by creating an online page or product covering high school football that will be published on Friday night or early Saturday and will include printable versions of each story and photo for parents to clip out for their scrapbooks.

“It will be a gigantic pain in the butt, but we’re continuing to plan. If something in Washington doesn’t change, we will probably make the switch in late July, early August,” said Eaton.

Photo used via Creative Commons license courtesy of superba.



Introducing Newsdesk


Infographic: A history of the wire service


To help celebrate the launch of Ebyline’s News Desk custom wire service we wanted some way to visualize the timeline of journalism innovation. The more we researched the histories of the various big news agencies—AP, Reuters, AFP, UPI—the more apparent it was that the wires have done more to consistently pioneer new models, new technologies and new products than anyone else in the journalism biz.

They seized on the invention of the telegraph to replace steamships and homing pigeons (no kidding), were the first to use radio for news, developed the distribution of stock market quotes that we rely on today and have generally been much more open to improvisation and invention than their clients. Of course, there have been some famous gaffes, rivalries, bankruptcies and indignities.

We’re happy to include the good, the bad and the bizarre in our graphic history of the wires.

Building the Great Newspaper Paywall

newspaper paywall

The beleaguered newspaper industry has finally settled on a digital revenue strategy—the metered paywall—and now everyone’s pitching in to get it built. Paywalls have their critics, their boostersmore critics and then the critics-who-also-want-to-be-boosters. Time will tell who was right but we were curious to know how this Great Paywall is getting built—which newspapers are participating and why?

So we took one list—a list of paywalls scrupulously compiled by—and another list—daily newspapers with circulation and ownership data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations—and spliced them together. The result: a pretty comprehensive (see caveats at bottom) look at what types of newspapers are adopting paywalls. Long story short, big newspapers are building paywalls in much greater proportion than smaller newspapers and that’s true not just for the very largest dailies but also for the many hundreds of newspapers further down the circulation ladder. Why are we comparing print circulation to online subscription models? Because print is where the revenue currently is and there’s a good argument to be made that the majority of these paywalls are really designed to hold on to those loyal subscribers after years of cannibalizing print revenue by giving the same content away for free online.

Paywall Adoption Skews By Newspaper Size

Looking at the number of publications is one thing but adding in circulation figures gives us a much better idea of how many actual readers are affected by the shift toward paywalls. While just 239 of the nation’s 1,532 dailies have (or have announced) paywalls, they represent around a third of all daily readers. That’s because of the 20 largest newspapers by circulation, nine are or will be behind paywalls, representing 51% of that readership.

But go down the circulation rankings and paywalls are far less prevalent, even including industry leader Gannett’s planned implementation for later this year. Under 100,000 circulation only 21% of readers are affected, under 50,000 the share is 19% and under 25,000 the figure is just 16%. You might be inclined to shrug off the small newspapers in that last group but they are the bulk of the industry: two out of three daily newspapers have circulations under 25,000 and while they account for only one out of four readers, they’re the primary news sources of countless small cities, towns and rural areas in the U.S.

Newspaper Paywalls by Circulation Size

The higher adoption rates by larger newspapers (see chart) could be seen as proof that paywalls are largely defensive moves intended to reverse the online cannibalization of loyal print readers. Having sunk resources into building robust online businesses, big papers now can’t afford to abandon their online ad revenue but can’t rely on it, either. Looked at from the opposite direction, small newspapers are more dominant in their advertising and audience markets and have put less into their web sites but also have fewer resources to devote to building paywalls—not an inexpensive enterprise, at least when The New York Times is concerned.

Expect More Chains To Build Paywalls

The data also make clear that nearly all the biggest newspaper chains are on board and nearly all are adopting a toe-in-the-water approach in case they need to backtrack or adjust course. Gannett, of course, announced that all of its newspapers, except for its flagship USA Today, would adopt some form of paid model by the end of 2012. Besides Gannett, the largest newspaper chains vary widely in their paywall adoption but none has gone all in (see chart below). With the impending decision by the Chicago Tribune to charge, Tribune Co. will have put 84% of its print circulation on a paywall model. At the other end of the spectrum MediaNews has only 12% behind a wall and Community Newspaper Holdings has just one newspaper out of 85 with a paywall.

Newspaper Paywalls by Ownership

Can the paywall data make any predictions? It looks like the trickle is turning into a torrent as chains like Gannett decide the experimental phase is over. McClatchy said recently it’s confident enough to expand paywalls from the Modesto Bee to more titles and Nieman’s Ken Doctor thinks that 20% of U.S. daily newspapers will have paywalls by the end of 2012 (not far from the current 16%). As for the product that powers all this—that would be the journalism—Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave evidence earlier this year that paywalls may be a harbinger of retrenched, reinvigorated newsrooms. If that’s the case, this is a list of where to look first for an end to the long retreat from hiring, covering and publishing.

Download the data we used for this post here: Ebyline-Newspapers and Paywalls


Counting paywalls, newspapers and circulation isn’t an exact science, as Nieman’s Adrienne LaFrance pointed out recently.’s paywalls list seems pretty comprehensive but is clearly missing a few publications and is structured in a way that probably resulted in our making errors when crunching the data. We updated that list with the most recent paywalls announcements but probably missed a few nonetheless. Our data do not include the many large ownership shifts of recent weeks in the industry (Buffett, Halifax, etc.), either. Audit Bureau data on circulation and ownership are also sometimes fuzzy, duplicative or mis-categorized but we’ve done our best there, too.

(Correction: we amended the caveats to note that’s paywalls list wasn’t error-filled as much as it was difficult to turn into a workable spreadsheet, which likely resulted in translation errors—PB)

Five Tips to Help Freelance Writers Stress Story Value in Pitches


Resumes and pitch letters have a lot in common. For freelance writers, a well-written pitch letter with a solid story idea yields a writing assignment. And a tight and terse resume that successfully sells a job candidate results in a job interview. The critical common ingredient in both successful pitch letters and resumes is value – the power-packed word that means importance, usefulness, relevance and significance.

Resumes and pitch letters that fail to communicate value within seconds are trashed.

Successful freelance writers who consistently score writing jobs have learned how to persuasively stress the value of the content they’re trying to sell in their pitch letters. Embellished with carefully chosen sentences, practically every phrase drives home the value of the story the writer proposes.

Here are five tips that can help you focus on and stress value in every pitch letter you write:

1. Understand market. Heading the list is knowledge of the market’s demographics.  Before you can think about writing a pitch letter, find  the answers to these questions: Who are the readers (age, sex,  education), and what kind of information do they want? Rather than skim a couple of articles,  read several so that you have a strong feeling for content.  Get a sense of the publication’s editorial mission and philosophy.   If it’s an online magazine or newsletter, the “About” page ought to explain it.  Many mission statements also provide information about  the publication’s readers.

2. Topic relevance. Will the subject immediately draw readers?  Once the market niche is understood,  search for stories that are specific – I stress specific — to this market.  If you find yourself justifying a story’s relevance, abort and find another story. There should be no doubt about a topic’s relevance.  Check to see if topic was covered before.  If it’s a popular topic, there’s a good chance that it was already written about.  But that doesn’t mean your story isn’t viable. The topic could have been covered two years ago; or it may be so broad or complex, there are several angles, all of which are important.  Along with making a strong case for your story, you’ll also score points with your editor. He or she will appreciate the fact that you did your homework.  And if the topic was covered, you’ve positioned the story so that it’s fresh and new.

3. Timeliness. The more timely and relevant the subject matter the better. What with readers’ bombarded with information from countless vehicles,  information must be fresh and offer new insights.   The timeliness of a story can’t be stressed enough, especially if there are several competing publications in the market.  The Internet explosion has created content wars, and virtually every editor is hungry for timely stories.  When I edited newspapers and online news sites, my best writers understood the impact of timely stories.  My freelancers knew that breaking news stories were the best and fastest ways to win immediate points.
4. Benefit. In some way, readers ought to benefit from the information the writer is imparting.  Regardless of the market, story pitches must spotlight the story’s importance for readers.  In how-to, DIY, and self-help publications, online or print, the benefit for readers is particularly important.

5. Advice. Great information is valuable by itself. But the topper is leaving readers with a takeaway – helpful, easy-to-implement advice or tips they can use or adapt.  The advice section, which usually falls at the end of a story, is vitally important because it not only summarizes and ties the story together, but it also tells readers  how to apply  the information and where to learn more.

BONUS: A powerful working head  

Finally, the selling topper – the icing on the proverbial cake – is a strong, provocative head that immediately piques an editor’s interest. More likely than not, the editor will change it (Most editors, including myself, are obsessive about coming up with power-packed heads that instantly snare readers).  Most importantly,  the working head must capture the story’s essence. Coming up with great heads isn’t easy. But they’re worth the effort, because it tells editors that you’ve worked hard to deliver a strong, substantial, and well-conceived story pitch.