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 emphasison 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 localschool communities. We took a traditional print three-part indepth series approach to theissue and expanded it with video, online links to other sources, and a Facebook groupengaging 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 bysponsors of safe-driving initiatives. Those sponsors, including the county districtattorney’s 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, our reporting 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 saltyassault on winter weather, the conversion of a landmark state institution for the mentallyretarded 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 asecond fatal crash, and the foibles of local government are presented to our audienceevery day. In 2010, our storytelling expanded and changed greatly. Our staff has involvedreaders by asking questions on Facebook and utilizing those comments to change thedirection of stories. The reaction to proposed rental rules, for example, resulted in achanged emphasis in the reporting and ultimately changed the results.Traditionally, The Mercury has been known for outstanding coverage of breaking newsand local sports, and this year has not changed that focus – just expanded it onto digital platforms. 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 websiteand rolling out on Twitter and Facebook with minute-by-minute reporting. Our videoclips 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 heshot 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 21candidates 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 Seeley’s profile of alocal 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.