Tag Archives: Wichita Eagle

An opportunity for smaller news organizations to show digital leadership

When I had an internship at The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, my life was turned upside down: Jeopardy was on at 6:00 p.m., and Wheel of Fortune was on at 6:30 p.m. Back home in Pennsylvania it was the other way around: Wheel of Fortune was on first, then Jeopardy.

They were the same two episodes countrywide, just presented in a different order. This presented a rare opportunity for my friend back home: I could tell her the answers before they aired in her time zone, and she’d look much smarter to her roommates.

I know you want to call it cheating, but I’m going to go ahead and call it resourcefulness.


I picture a similar scene when I look at what’s happening to journalism in cities bigger than mine.

I see people – they were formerly called an audience – who are so fractured that their thousands of niches will almost certainly never again be assembled into one. I see mobile news as the lifeline in commuter cultures. I see tech-savvy crowds feeling empowered by tools like Ning, WordPress and their own start-up sites.

Then I look back at Harrisburg, my own city. We have comparatively lower broadband penetration and a smaller population, so print still unites us all. Few people use public transportation, a big reason why mobile news isn’t in high demand. We have a spattering of bloggers and phpBB message boards, but you can’t find many active communities built around them.

The temptation is to look at those facts and decide our market has different demands than the bigger cities. But I think they’re just showing Jeopardy a half-hour earlier in the bigger cities – and it’s about to come on here.

We’d be foolish if we didn’t listen to the answers ahead of time.


Outside of the bigger cities, we’ve been handed an opportunity they never had.

We’re seeing exactly what’s coming our way. We’re getting a step-by-step guide to what will happen should we choose a path of inaction. First, your audience will fragment. Second, they will expand their demands for news delivery. Third, they will take it upon themselves to meet those demands. This is already happening, but not to the extent we’ve seen elsewhere.

It need not be that way. And though the purely grassroots model has its virtues, I’m a believer that the community is best off if an organization of talented professionals is at the center of the local news ecosystem, and I say that not just as the employee of one of those organizations. The expanding and necessary role of bloggers and independent organizations can continue, but they’d prefer to work in tandem with a resource-heavy news organization that excels at its investigative role. Few readers or non-readers actually wish for our destruction; everyone applauds when we do our job right, and everyone in the community is better served when that happens.

I don’t think it’s too late for a nimble news organization in a small- to mid-sized city to place itself at the center of that ecosystem. Don’t let the audience fragment itself away from you – become the platform where their niche exists. As rail, buses and carpooling find more riders – and there’s a lot of evidence that says it will – have a scannable, feature-rich mobile site already running.

When readers realize their news demand is changing, they shouldn’t have reason to create the solution themselves. We can have it ready for them.


Digital leadership is about getting ahead of future demand, and it’s not something news organizations have been known for. That can change now.

My favorite compliment as a journalist came when Josh Karns, a local blogger, traced to me the initial tipping point in local Twitter use. He argued it was my use of it, and my blogging that followed, that gained the attention of others in the area and prompted a wave of sign-ups.

So if a single journalist with a sparsely-read blog can launch a small-scale movement, what could a large news organization with tens of thousands of readers accomplish? I think it could change the news consumption habits of an entire region. I think it could shape those habits in a way that encourages productive participation, involves every reader in the news process and ensures that those readers still value the professional product.

But that’s only if they get out ahead, using the lessons of the bigger cities. If they lag, the same story will play out over and over again.

7 journalism-related things you may not know about me

I intend to always keep this blog on-topic. I created a side blog in case I felt the need to write about non-journalism stuff, though I haven’t been good about writing in it.

But I’ve been tagged by Sara Bozich to participate in this trendy meme, and I planned to ignore it. Then I thought: Why not keep it on-topic, but still let you all learn a little more about your beloved author?

So here are seven journalism-related things you may not know about me:

1) My passion for journalism was ignited when a news article I wrote for my high school newspaper was censored. It was about condom distribution in schools, and our principal decided that it and another story about birth control options were inappropriate for the audience. Some brought the paper home, and it would be read by smaller children, he argued.

In the process of a lengthy and painful back-and-forth with the school administration, I did a lot of research and thinking about the value of journalism. I wrote a research paper about the chilling effect of the Hazelwood court case on high school journalists (that was the first Web site I ever made, so forgive the crappiness). I learned why journalism matters.

2) At the same time, my high school newspaper was really freaking good. During my senior year we were named the Most Outstanding Newspaper for 2002 by the American Scholastic Press Association. Our state association graded us at 985/1000 (and 5 of those points were deducted because of a printing problem that wasn’t our fault, and I remember disputing the other two deductions, too). One judge wrote that “There is nothing I can think of to improve this paper.”

3) At Penn State, I was widely known as “Dan the Fan.” I wrote a weekly column for Blue, a youth tabloid produced by the Centre Daily Times that was geared toward college students, from the passionate perspective of a blue-blooded football and basketball fan. It was occasionally good, occasionally juvenile. I’m really not too proud of it. The many, many times I had a blank Word document staring at me an hour before deadline made me realize I’m not cut out to be a columnist. I couldn’t keep up with my own demand to be proud of everything I put my name on every single week.

4) I’m very, very critical of my own writing. Whenever I read a story the next morning I usually find a few things that I wish I would have done differently, and this causes me to rarely read my story the next morning. This also makes it very difficult to choose my best clips, because I dwell on that which I could have done better rather than that which I had done well.

5) To counter that negativity: Since I started at The Patriot-News in May 2006, I’ve had the most A1 stories of any reporter on staff outside of the D.C. and Capitol bureaus. Seeing my byline on the front page, unless it’s a story I really like, hasn’t carried any feeling for me in a long time.

6) The most fun I’ve ever had on assignment came during my internship for The Wichita Eagle when I had the honor of chasing tornadoes with staff photographer Travis Heying. We dangerously sped through unmarked country roads and slammed on the brakes when we ended up on a road that was full of cows. The grave disappointment was that I didn’t actually get to see a tornado land — it was forecast to be one of the bigger storms in years, and ended up being very tame — but chasing the clouds that looked like they’d develop into tornadoes was an adrenaline junkie’s dream.

7) I have the second-messiest desk at The Patriot-News, behind only John Luciew, who is running away with the title. I usually have a large stack of newspapers, way too many notebooks, as many as a dozen bottled waters or other soda bottles, a little Dilbert guy, and several Philadelphia and Penn State bobbleheads, including a hilariously misspelled “Donavan McNabb.” The best thing on the wall is easily the New York Post cover featuring a crying little Mets fan from the peak of their wonderful 2007 collapse.

Visual evidence:

Cleaner than usual

Cleaner than usual

CLIPS: ‘Grandma, you’re still alive’ (10/06/09)

Of The Patriot-News

On Tuesday, Kathryn Leitzell, 61, opened the envelope from the U.S. Social Security Administration and read the disappointing news:

She is dead.

Yet she feels very much alive. She rides her exercise bike every day, she put up Easter decorations for her grandchildren in the Swatara Twp. home she’s lived in for 39 years, and it would be difficult to read the letter if she were dead.

So she was pretty sure there was some kind of mistake. But two days later, she still wasn’t able to confirm with the Social Security office how the mistake happened — or how to fix it.

And the earliest she was able to set up a phone interview is April 16. So for now, she is likely to remain dead in the eyes of the U.S. government.

May she rest on her couch in peace.

Luckily, her grandchildren were not convinced by the government’s legal documentation.

“Grandma, you’re still alive. You’re still here,” 10-year-old Madison reassured her.

Leitzell and her family have maintained a sense of humor about the mixup, but she fears more serious repercussions.

Her husband, Michael Leitzell, died of bladder cancer March 15. Retired from her job as a teacher’s aide for special education at Swatara Middle School, she has multiple sclerosis and lives in her home by herself, supported by their two pensions and Social Security checks.

But dead people don’t get Social Security checks.

Though her home is paid off, she still needs income, and she doesn’t know whether the mistake will lead to withheld payments.

“This is just one more headache on top of all these other things,” she said.

Social Security officials declined to comment on Leitzell’s case, citing privacy requirements. But Aidan Diviny, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration’s Philadelphia office, said human error from many sources can lead to such incidents.

“It’s something that happens periodically, and when it does happen, we react very quickly to try and correct the situation for the person,” Diviny said.

The error is sometimes caused by an employee making a typo while inputting a Social Security number.

Diviny said officials have been fighting another common cause: A Medicare form filled out at hospitals that puts two versions of DOD — date of discharge and date of death — close to each other.

When there’s a false report of death, the mistake can be devastating, he said. Banks are notified of the supposed death, and they in turn can notify other companies or halt direct deposits such as pension benefits.

Prescription refills could be denied to someone on Medicare once records say the patient is dead, he said.

If people such as Leitzell encounter problems while waiting for officials to fix the mistake, the office can provide letters explaining the situation and taking the blame, Diviny said.

Leitzell likely won’t have to wait until her scheduled April 16 phone interview. Soon after reporters called Social Security offices Thursday, Leitzell was besieged with helpful phone calls, she said. One of them came from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr.’s office.

Her only focus is on keeping the home where she raised her family. It’s a great place to be a grandmother, with a refrigerator front full of crayon drawings dedicated to her.

There’s no free space on her walls, which are packed with crosses, artwork and photos of her family. She leaves the back door open so the ambient sound of a waterfall in the yard soothes the living room, too.

She gets around with a walker and a cane, but she plans to stay in the home as long as possible.

Her son, Adam Leitzell, 39, has been helping her make calls to legally resurrect her. A Swatara Twp. police officer, Leitzell said he was shocked that a mistake like this could happen.

“Initially, it’s funny to some extent,” he said. “But at the same time, when it’s you going through it and it’s a source of income, it’s not so funny if that gets cut off.”