8/7/2019 ben franklin contest entry
Nomination of The Mercury newsroom for The BenjaminFranklin Award
The transition from a legacy newspaper to a digital-first multimedia company has been
played out at The Mercury with energy, gusto, and most of all, an unwavering emphasis
on quality journalism. The best example of this was our yearlong efforts to change teendriving laws in Pennsylvania as a result of several crash deaths that devastated local
school communities. We took a traditional print three-part indepth series approach to the
issue and expanded it with video, online links to other sources, and a Facebook group
engaging teens and parents with a pledge for safe driving practices. We also expanded theseries in print, republishing as a Newspapers in Education special section paid for by
sponsors of safe-driving initiatives. Those sponsors, including the county district
attorneys office and AAA, then used our section in their own educational outreachefforts, presenting the message to more than 10,000 students in about 100 high schools.
Our crusading journalism is not limited to special topics. Day in and day out, ourreporting on issues as diverse as rental rules in the borough of Pottstown, the effects of
drug dealing and crime on revitalization, exploding manhole covers caused by the salty
assault on winter weather, the conversion of a landmark state institution for the mentally
retarded into a haunted house capitalizing on fear of the mentally challenged, loopholesin commercial driver licensing regulations that caused a bus driver to be involved in a
second fatal crash, and the foibles of local government are presented to our audience
every day. In 2010, our storytelling expanded and changed greatly. Our staff has involvedreaders by asking questions on Facebook and utilizing those comments to change the
direction of stories. The reaction to proposed rental rules, for example, resulted in a
changed emphasis in the reporting and ultimately changed the results.
Traditionally, The Mercury has been known for outstanding coverage of breaking news
and local sports, and this year has not changed that focus just expanded it onto digitalplatforms. Those local high school players now star in Athlete of the Week videos; a car
crash or fire is reported as it unfolds, updating as much as 6 to 10 times on the website
and rolling out on Twitter and Facebook with minute-by-minute reporting. Our video
clips of fires have been among the most viewed in the company during this past year. Thevideo of a shirtless father talking to us on a street corner at 3 a.m. about his fears as he
shot at an intruder earlier that evening in his home is still being talked about in our town.
We informed at local election time, livestreaming 30-minute interviews with 21
candidates for office and promoting the videos up till Election Day. Our page views wereat a high the day before Election Day, as viewers came back to check out candidates.
We inspired through feature stories, including Sports Editor Don Seeleys profile of a
local Vietnam veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor winner who died last summer.
Seeley received emails from around the world after that column ran, as it was linked andshared among veterans and others.
8/7/2019 ben franklin contest entry
We chastised and encouraged, helping Pottstown successfully pull off a community Open
Doors event on Sept. 11 and shaming the local school board into allowing a girl to
participate in her high school commencement after they banned her for missing arehearsal. (She was absent because she was working that day at a camp for mentally
In every one of these examples, 2011 brought new avenues into our reporting from the
scene, with video, digital first and print last. Print may be what we do last, but we take no
less pride in the results.
Our front page was chosen six times last year as one of the Top 10 for that day by
Our editorials have been copied among state legislators supporting teen driving, quoted in
the First Suburbs coalition effort to gain traction for the problems of older towns, and
pointed to by state groups for our understanding and analysis of education funding and
the need for property tax reform in Pennsylvania.
In Entertainment, we developed a social network identity for our weekender, Time Out,and doubled page views and increased Twitter and Facebook following by 400 percent.
In Sports, we engaged readers to tweet scores from games for Friday night football and
were among the most involved areas in @phillyscores.
Our Start Here promotion was a mini-billboard on a business card of all things digital.
Our coordination with advertising and promotions resulted in a successful Adam Lambert
ticket giveaway that brought hundreds of thousands of online entrants from around the
world, as well as a Bartender of the Year contest, enhanced Dining Guide with videosand expanded Readers Choice with videos.
Our Community Media Lab is a branded group of bloggers, Town Square, which bringstogether voices ranging from a borough official who writes poetry to a bike shop owner
to a trout fisherman. One of the bloggers who started under our tutelage has become an
influential voice in our town. Positively Pottstown has been instrumental in community
initiatives from events fund-raising to borough planning to parks development.
We are a small newsroom only four reporters on news side and we exist in a graying,
former industrial town on a fast-track corridor to Philadelphia. Our goals, and oursuccesses, have married those two factors. We use a rail in print every day to direct
readers to the features of our website and social network sites, mixing it up for holiday
features and for snow days. We capitalize on #traffic to engage our readers on the road,and we push information out to them in every way available to us.
A reader sent us a message last week that he saw our daily hot jobs tweet, followed the
link, applied for the job and got it, ending a stretch of unemployment.