Tag Archives: The Patriot-News

Good News: How a story printed in TheBurg produced the ripple effect of 50 gifts

What happens after our stories are published in TheBurg?

As writers, we don’t always know. I, for one, hope that readers are inspired, moved or changed in some way. And if readers take action as a result, that’s even better.

I like to imagine ripple effects in the wake of every story—in readers’ heads, hearts or actions. But nothing prepared me for the tsunami-like ripple effect from a recent story.

Quoting Larry Binda, editor of TheBurg: “We’ve heard about things happening as a result of stories in TheBurg, but never anything like this.” And that’s why he asked me to turn this ripple effect into the story you’re about to read.


New Friends, News Friends

So let’s start at the beginning by introducing my friend, Bill Blando. We met several years ago, appropriately enough, while I was covering a story for TheBurg, and we became friends instantly. You know how you meet someone and feel like you’ve known them your whole life?

Our friendship is forged on journalism, truth and the love of a good story. You see, Bill is a retired newspaperman who worked for the Patriot-News for 27 years—and before that, for various mid-Atlantic newspapers, including several near his native New York City. On the night we met, we must have spent at least an hour talking about the news biz. I remember returning home from my assignment and telling my husband all about my new friend Bill—and very little about the actual story I was writing.

I must have passed muster because in a month, when that story published, Bill emailed, “You wrote one hell of a story,” and my heart about burst. To have this man’s approval, as kind of my own personal dean of all things journalism, meant the world.

Ever since, we’ve gathered over cups of coffee about once a month. And more than once, the baristas have asked—with a certain amount of jealousy, “Is that dear man your grandfather?” After all, Bill is 86 years young.

We mostly swap stories—our takes on the latest news. But some of the best stories are his life stories, and those, I treasure. His perspectives give me perspective—on issues such as civil rights, which we recently noted, morphed into Black Lives Matter.

“I thought 1968 was every bit as volatile as 2016, but I think the violence we’re experiencing now will surpass it,” Bill told me recently, as he reflected on his three-year news stint in another capital city—Albany, N.Y.

He’s my link to a bygone era of journalism that overlapped with my career. Similarly, I might be his connection to the current and future news industry.

But as Bill might say, “Let’s get to the story at hand.”


50 Gifts

Last fall, I wrote one of the most challenging stories ever—because it was personal, first-person. “Inspired Miles: Reflections on running 50 races for 50 causes while I was 50,” was published in the November issue of TheBurg.

One of the first readers I heard from was Bill—via a package that arrived in the mail. He had, of course, known about my races and causes. But after reading my story, he wrote, “This old curmudgeon found himself choked up—that hasn’t happened in a long time.”

As I read on and saw what he enclosed, it was my turn to get choked up. This kind man had enclosed five checks, each for $50, and he proposed a project. He wanted me to make the checks out to the five charities most important to me, from my list of 50, and forward them on.

But that wasn’t all. Five at a time, he wanted to donate an additional $50 to all 50 of the charities for which I had run. I called him right away, incredulous, and asked if he was serious.

“Karen, I’m 86 years old—I don’t do anything these days unless I’m serious,” he replied.

To date, we’ve sent 20 of the 50 checks. I enclose a letter, explaining the ripple effect that produced Bill’s gift. And, sometimes, we hear back from recipients, like Susan Cann of Harrisburg’s Downtown Daily Bread, who emailed her appreciation for our “heartwarming” story and gift.

“I was thrilled that you gave the background of this gift and how it came it about—it brought a smile to my face,” said Cann, when I called her. “Our mission is possible—we’re able to have our programs to serve the homeless and hungry residents—because of donations.”

Downtown Daily Bread’s soup kitchen currently serves breakfast for 30 people and lunch for 70 every day, while their day shelter—amid COVID-19’s social distancing—serves 40 people, and the night shelter houses 25.

I think about the tiny role our bonus gift played in these life-changing programs. I don’t think we should ever underestimate the value of touching one person’s life.


The Power of One

And speaking of “one person,” this story wouldn’t be good journalism without explaining the real motive behind Bill’s charitable giving—his wife Betty.

“She’s my inspiration to help others,” Bill said simply.

Betty, who devoted much of her life to volunteer work, died of cancer in 2011. The Blandos were married for 47 years, and, in many ways, Betty is still by Bill’s side.

“I could have very easily become depressed or bitter—I started to go that way,” Bill said. “But I knew Betty would not have wanted that, so I decided to support good causes, especially cancer-related charities, in her memory.”

Good people give our lives purpose. Good stories create good memories. And good stories are the backbone of good journalism.

“Each and every story we write will almost assuredly be based on some extraordinary person,” Bill recently told me, dispensing his grandfatherly journalism wisdom. In this case, Bill, you are that extraordinary person.

And now, readers, as another newsman once said, you know the rest of the story.

You can read Karen Hendricks’ original story, “Inspired Miles: Reflections on running 50 miles for 50 causes while I was 50,” which prompted Bill Blando’s donations, in the November issue of TheBurg.

Support quality local journalism. Become a Friend of TheBurg!

Continue Reading

It’s Not All That Bad: A response to the column, “Printing Pressure”

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

In the October 2016 edition of TheBurg, Editor Larry Binda bemoaned the decline of the newspaper business and the projected end to some publications.

He decried the woes of the local daily (turned three days a week), The Patriot-News, and its something-to-be-desired online product, PennLive, version of the news.

I couldn’t agree with him more, but please don’t tar the entire newspaper industry with one brush.

Reason? Here at The Sun, which covers Hershey, Hummelstown, Palmyra and the surrounding townships, things are just fine. How fine? In 2007, when wife Rosemary and I sold The Sun, then covering Hershey, Hummelstown and Lower Dauphin County, we had just experienced the best year of the 37 years we owned the paper. This was in spite of the fact that The Patriot-News was more than 10 times larger than us and still had full-time reporters covering our coverage area.

Today, The Patriot-News’ circulation is less than half of what it was in 2007, and The Sun’s circulation has increased by 44 percent, with advertising revenue at record levels.

Why? Because we never forgot our mission. I had a standard phrase when we owned, and I edited The Sun—nobody gave a damn what I thought about Red China. They wanted to know what I thought about the Derry Township supervisors (the governing body that runs Hershey).

We recognized that no one bought The Sun to get their national, international or even state news. They wanted to know what was happening right around here and about their neighbors. You know—the mom and pop stuff—local government, school news, church news, local high school and Little League sports, police news, who bought and sold their house, etc. Also, lots of really good pictures and, oh yes, four-color availability throughout the paper. In other words, all the news they couldn’t get anywhere else.

We sit right in the middle between The Patriot-News and the Lebanon Daily News, and both papers left us with lots of local news they didn’t cover.

The dailies just didn’t get it. They continue to fill their front pages with national and international news, which most readers got last night on the television 11 o’clock news and pushed state, county and local news back further and further in their product with less and less detailed coverage.

Take The Patriot-News, for example. They are sitting right here in the seat of state government and should be the authority on what is happening on the Hill in all branches of state government. Yet that title belongs to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. That, plus the fact they seemingly haven’t yet realized half the population of Harrisburg city is black, but you’d never know it except in the police and crime reporting. African-American social news? What’s that?

To the east of The Sun, our circulation now exceeds that of the Lebanon Daily News, which is suffering some of the same maladies as The Patriot-News.

Yes, The Sun is fortunate. We only have three school districts and the Milton Hershey School to cover, while The Patriot-News probably has 10 times that many. We also have the Penn State M.S. Hershey Medical Center (now the area’s largest employer) and the Hershey Company, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts and Hershey Trust (now No. 2 employer), while The Patriot-News and Lebanon Daily News try to cover those and many more businesses, hospitals, etc. But we work with them—most have a PR person—and give them good, if not always to their liking, coverage.

Yet, for example, The Patriot-News continues to cut staff, even some of their best. Guess what? Some are now writing for The Sun. Not full-time, mind you, but part-time or as stringers. We also continue the program I started many years ago of utilizing budding young high school journalists, who get their first taste of the business with us and get some good clippings in the process for those college entrance interviews.

So, Editor Larry, it’s not all that bad. You point to the demise of your competition, Fly and Mode, as major competitors. And why? Because you’ve obviously done some market research and are producing a better product, especially under new Publisher J. Alex Hartzler. Your competitors, and ours, are just pumping out the same old product.

William S. Jackson is the former owner/editor of the Sun.

Editor’s Note: Editor Larry agrees with much of the author’s argument that some newspapers have made a critical mistake, both to their missions and their businesses, by dialing back local coverage. Like The Sun, TheBurg’s circulation and revenue figures will hit record highs this year. 

Continue Reading

Printing Pressure: Let us now praise the collapsing newspaper.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

In northern Vermont, there’s an elderly gent who wants to retire.

To do so, he needs to sell his small-town weekly newspaper, but hasn’t been able to find someone willing to pay a decent price. So, he did something unconventional—he’s selling it through an essay contest.

If you write to Ross Connelly and tell him why you want to run the Hardwick Gazette—and, importantly, submit an entry fee of $175—you could be the next owner of the 127-year-old stalwart of Vermont’s Northern Kingdom, with the building and other assets thrown in.

That may sound like quite the deal, but Connelly has struggled to attract the 700 entries he needs to make the numbers work so he can call it quits. Therefore, he recently extended the deadline by a month to give people more time to apply.

And that’s about what you need to know about the health of the newspaper industry these days.

By now, the dire state of newspapers is common knowledge, with some industry commentators even employing the old cliché that the last reporter out should turn off the lights. In a video clip that lit up depleted newsrooms throughout the country, comedian John Oliver recently decried (and parodied) this desperate situation, brilliantly describing its seriousness and why the demise of newspapers is so devastating for our country and our communities.

Here in central Pennsylvania, we need look no further than our own front stoops. Nearly eight years ago, TheBurg launched into a daunting sea of competition for local readership. Mode and Fly had cornered the market on entertainment/nightlife coverage, while the Patriot-News was a 150-year-old, seven-day-a-week local newspaper monopoly—and pillar of the community.

Today, Mode is gone, Fly recently exited the Harrisburg/York market, and the Patriot-News has dissipated into something called PennLive, a click-baiting, page-view obsessed beast that churns out a hundred online stories a day and is rapidly losing its local character. Even the homegrown Central Penn Business Journal was recently sold to GateHouse Media, a sprawling national chain based in upstate New York.

As someone who has spent his academic and professional lives in print media, I find these changes fascinating. However, as someone who lives and spends nearly all day in Harrisburg every day, I find them quite distressing.

A few years ago, TheBurg published a little piece about the history of Harrisburg newspapers. For a long time, Harrisburg was a multiple-paper town, with titles like the Patriot, the Evening News and the Telegraph competing fiercely for readers and advertisers. As a result, hardly a thing moved without someone reporting on it. Arts, sports, theater, film, government, politics, police, schools, society news; the coming and going of VIPs; what the legislature was up to; clothes that had come in for the season; businesses that were opening and closing; who had been promoted; speeches that were made; meetings, events, charities, obits; columns on nearly every subject.

Yes, some of the stories would seem rather silly by today’s standards. Would I have ever cared enough to read a story titled, “Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild Entertain Many Friends” (Harrisburg Telegraph, Feb. 14, 1914)? It seems unlikely.

Nonetheless, these papers served a profoundly important role—they helped build and sustain community. A hundred years ago, if you hopped a streetcar down to Market Square, approached a news kiosk and bought one or several papers, you could be reasonably certain that you’d be up to date on who was doing what, from the most vital happenings to the most trivial. Reading a paper was like sinking into warm bath called your community.

The dispersed, distracted, sterile nature of the Internet simply does not lend itself to the same experience. For an example, I’ll use TheBurg itself. Each month, we post nearly the entire content of our print magazine to our website. However, people—of all ages and backgrounds—tell me they go out of their way each month, leaving the warm comfort of their glowing screens to seek out the print issue. They prefer the paper version, they say, because they like the cover, the art, the design, even the ads—the way it all fits and flows together in an integrated whole. It tells the story of their community, they say to me, from front to back, in a way the Internet simply can’t replicate.

But enough of my own magazine. Recently, I brought my car to the dealer for a service checkup and, naturally, had plenty of time to kill in the waiting area. A paper copy of the Patriot-News was on a table, so I picked it up, leafed through it, read a few stories, looked over some pictures and studied a colorful, informative graphic. It was designed well, read well and told a little story of the previous day. I thought to myself, “That’s a nice local product.” Which is exactly the opposite feeling I get every other day when I suffer through PennLive, the digital mess that Advance Publications (the New York-based parent company) has forced on us.

I wish Mr. Connelly the best, with the hope that he can raffle off his newspaper and shuffle off to well-deserved retirement. But I also hope his successor realizes something that is getting lost amidst the five-alarm panic in the industry, which, so far, has led to little more than terrible ideas like “digital first.” Sure, you need to support yourself, but you also have a mission and responsibility to your community. That’s the business you’re in. That’s the business I’m in. That’s the path we’ve chosen.

 Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

Continue Reading

Mayor’s Tax Abatement Presentation for “Informational Purposes,” Say Administration and School Board

A collapsing building on a blighted block of N. 6th St., formerly the site of the Riviera Hotel.

A collapsing building on a blighted block of N. 6th St., formerly the site of the Riviera Bar and Hotel.

A presentation by the mayor’s office on tax abatement this month was not, in fact, a proposal, but rather was given to the city’s school board for “informational purposes,” school board and administration officials said Friday.

The presentation, which was first reported by the Patriot-News, bears the title “Full Tax Abatement To Grow the City’s Housing, Residents and School District Revenues,” and contains 11 pages of slides and figures about the potential financial impact of a tax abatement program on the city.

It was given to school board members at their former Front Street office on June 3.

Jackie Parker, the city’s director of community and economic development, said Friday that she prepared the presentation in collaboration with Brian Hudson, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who expressed support for tax abatement programs during his campaign last year, also attended the June 3 meeting.

Tax abatement programs, also known as LERTAs, for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, were authorized by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1977. They aim to spur development in struggling areas by providing tax breaks on certain forms of development, under terms to be specified by the local governments that adopt them.

Lancaster, for instance, has a tax-abatement program that it has consistently renewed since 1978, providing for exemptions on either new housing in under-developed areas or improvements on existing deteriorated properties.

The Lancaster program follows a “phase-in” model, whereby the new development is fully exempt in the first year, and then pays an increasing share of taxes each year until arriving at the full assessment in year 11.

Lancaster’s program also includes incentives for “green” construction, under which environmentally-friendly construction can receive full abatement for as many as five years.

Harrisburg previously had a phase-in abatement program, but it expired in 2010 and was not renewed.

The June 3 presentation includes numerous unsourced charts and graphs, which assume new development under full tax abatement—meaning 100-percent real-estate tax exemption for new developments or improvements—at a rate of 200 houses per year. If those numbers were realized, according to the presentation, the school district could see nearly $8 million in income and real-estate tax revenues over the next 11 years.

But, Hudson said Friday, these figures were purely hypothetical, and had been provided to give a sense of the potential financial impact of an abatement program.

“This was in no way, shape or form a proposal,” Hudson said. “It was just an example of what could happen.”

Asked about one of the graphs in his presentation, which identified Harrisburg’s former phase-in program as “ineffective policy,” Hudson said he wasn’t certain where the slide had come from. But, he said, he supported full abatement as a better method of jump-starting the city’s growth.

“Full abatement sends a message,” he said. “Yes, we want you to live here, we want you to build here.”

On Friday, Hudson, Parker and school board officials all emphasized that the abatement presentation was meant to be a means for starting discussion. “You look around the city, and you see how many properties are vacant, and how many could be new homes,” Parker said. The purpose of the school board meeting was to discuss one of many “tools in the tool box” for spurring economic growth, she said.

Jennifer Smallwood, the school board president, said the meeting had been called to answer members’ questions about whether a LERTA program “could be a good tool” for Harrisburg. Following the presentation, the school board scheduled a public meeting for Aug. 11, to discuss possible tax-abatement programs.

Smallwood is also a program manager at PHFA, where she has worked since 1990, according to her LinkedIn profile. The agency was created by the state legislature in 1972 and provides affordable housing options for low-income families, seniors and people with special needs across the commonwealth.

Hudson, who has worked at PHFA for the past 39 years, became its executive director in 2003.

James Thompson, a school board member, said Friday that he met with Parker individually before the June 3 meeting.

“The mayor hasn’t been shy about his support of a tax abatement program,” he said.

Thompson previously researched and recommended tax abatement for Harrisburg as a member of a business advisory committee under former Mayor Linda Thompson. In 2010, when the city’s existing abatement program was expiring, he advised Mayor Thompson to renew it.

But, he said, both the mayor and City Council seemed to view abatement with suspicion. “They felt that, if people were loyal to this city, they would develop here without it,” he said.

Mayor Thompson’s position may have evolved somewhat in the years that followed. In the summer of 2012, according to a report in the Patriot-News, she publicly supported abatement, submitting a proposal for a five-year program to council. Council President Wanda Williams, however, opposed the plan, and it never went forward.

On Friday, following the initial story on PennLive, J. Alex Hartzler, a local developer and the publisher of TheBurg, took to Twitter to critique the report on the presentation as “inaccurate and irresponsible.”

Abatement “is not a ‘tax break,'” he wrote to Matt Zencey, the paper’s deputy opinions editor. “LERTA holds assessment value constant and no increased taxes for rehab and new. I know you know this.” 

Several commenters on PennLive Friday suggested that Hartzler’s campaign contributions had influenced the mayor’s support of an abatement program. Harrisburg Capital City PAC, a political action committee headed by Hartzler, paid for television ads and mailers for the campaign of the school board’s Jim Thompson, and also made contributions totaling $60,000 to Papenfuse’s mayoral campaign.

Hartzler’s company, WCI Partners, is a “real estate development company focused on urban revitalization,” according to its website. A photo of an Uptown block of Green Street, where WCI has invested heavily in recent years, appears on the front page of the abatement presentation.

Hudson said Friday that he picked the photo himself, because it represented an area where PHFA had made significant investments.

“It’s a perfect shot of what could happen with investment,” he said.

This story has been updated with information about Smallwood’s and Hudson’s employment at PHFA.

Continue Reading