As the Bucks County Herald entered its 21st year this month I was honored, thrilled actually, to be presented with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award at the 97th annual meeting in Harrisburg.
“The Benjamin Franklin Award,” according to the association, “recognizes individuals who have performed an outstanding service to his/her newspaper, to the news media industry in general, to his/her local community, or to the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association that reflected positively on the news media industry in Pennsylvania.”
I spoke about the Herald to the group of mostly publishers gathered at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel.
“This week, at a time when news organizations are failing across the country the Bucks County Herald is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s been a remarkable story of survival.
“Our first issue has a dateline October 10, 2002. The Herald opened its first office in Lahaska in a storefront on U.S. Route 202. Lahaska is a village between New Hope, on the Delaware River, and Doylestown, the Bucks County seat. On our fifth anniversary we moved into a converted Victorian house down the road about a quarter mile, across from Peddler’s Village, a regional shopping attraction you all might know.
“On August 1, 2022, the Herald moved to Doylestown, a move we did not think possible 20 years ago. And the Herald has become a “must-read” publication.
“I have been editor and writer for community weeklies for most of my life. For a long time I thought a weekly in the underserved upper part of the county could be welcomed so in 2002 I thought the time was right, My husband, Joe, later a PNA board member and winner of the Ben Franklin Award, volunteered to be the publisher. (With his experience in technology, sales and marketing he was vital to the startup operation.)
“I visited the president of PNA, who was then publisher of the Free Press in Quakertown and he suggested that we make the Herald a free paper in order to grow circulation quickly. It was expected to be a modest operation.
“We rented a space, purchased computers, hired key people and pulled the first issue together. The first press run was 2,500 copies and our reach grew – partly because we paid delivery people by the stop. They kept increasing the dropoff locations.
“Twenty years ago printing technology was far behind what exists today. We had lots of problems in the beginning smoothing out the printing process. But in a few years we were printing 10,000 copies and eventually 25,000 copies a week. We were supported mostly by advertising. We weathered 2008 and other surprises.
“Advertising dropped. Family funds had dried up. We were on the brink of closing. We cut off freelancers, cut the number of pages, found every way we could to keep going.
“We asked readers for donations to a journalism fund and the response was extraordinary. We developed a nonprofit, which became official in early 2021. So now that fund supports what is closest to our hearts, local news.
“The Bucks County Herald is primarily a purveyer of information, all about county and municipal reporting on issues that people need to know. We do not do investigative reporting but we do follow developing news of government, schools, sports, construction, taxes and events. And crimes too. Much of the recent news has been of school boards.
“So it is with great pride that I accept the Ben Franklin Award. I think Ben might have enjoyed reading the Herald.”
At the same meeting son Joe was presented with a silver tray commemorating his service as chair of the PNA Board of Directors. And at a luncheon the day before, Herald writers, graphic artists and photographers received Keystone Awards in recognition of their work. Among them were Freda Savana, Don Leypoldt, Regina Young, Gary Weckselblatt, Michael Naylor and Michael Apice. Awards were also given for special sections – Senior Living and Flemington Life, directed by Ann Meredith.