Ben Franklin Day at The Saratogian: A ‘Declaration of Independence’ from newsroom software
But it wasn't put together in the usual way.
Most of the news and photographs on the pages, and the layout of those pages themselves, were prepared for publication without using the usual newsroom software for writing, editing, toning, cropping and paginating.
Instead, all this work was done using free software available to anyone on the Internet. And yes, it was hard work. The proprietary software is designed to be efficient, reliable and relative fast for the task of producing a daily newspaper. The free substitutes, not so much.
So why did we do it? Crazy? Maybe. Tired? Definitely. Proud? You bet.
The free software experiment is part of the Ben Franklin Project of the Journal Register Company, which owns The Saratogian, 17 other dailies and a slew of weeklies and has been expanding its online presence with a content-driven, digital-first mentality that reflects where the world of communication is today and where it’s headed.
Part of the Ben Franklin Project is to push us newsies into active engagement with the public as a matter of course in planning, developing and reporting news. The buzzword is crowdsourcing. While it’s not a new concept, the Internet and social media in particular eliminate any excuses about reaching people and making citizens part of the process of shaping their news. That’s the ongoing part of the Ben Franklin Project, which recognizes that our No. 1 product is news content, whether you’re in print or online.
The Ben Franklin Project’s one-shot deal is the preparation of all daily newspapers in the Journal Register Company using free software for publication on the Fourth of July, a symbolic declaration of independence from proprietary software. Last month, a weekly and a daily in the company did it successfully, so the bar was raised for today. It’s a bit of a publicity stunt within the journalism industry, and it’s working. The industry has taken note of remarkable strides in attitudes and practices of the Journal Register Company spearheaded by John Paton, the CEO who has taken the company out of bankruptcy and is leading it into a digital-first world.
The Ben Franklin Project also demonstrates that the technology to publish is out there for anyone to use.
But between us, producing today’s paper wasn’t easy for the newsroom. News Editor Paul Tackett has been working days and nights, on top of his usual job, to set up most of today’s pages in a layout program called Scribus. In the community, Tackett may be an anonymous editor, but you know him through his compelling page designs.
For today’s paper, Tackett has duplicated the familiar components of The Saratogian from scratch, with the goal being that you won’t know the difference between the look of today’s paper and tomorrow’s. Likewise, photographers Erica Miller and Ed Burke have used free software instead of Photoshop for their pictures, and the reporters have filed their stories in Googled Docs instead of Microsoft Word. Online Editor Steve Shoemaker is posting video and stories to a free website, in addition to the regular site at saratogian.com.
It’s been a team effort involving other departments of The Saratogian as well as the newsroom.
We in the news industry take great pride in publishing, no matter what the circumstances – and news companies have faced natural disasters much more challenging than anything John Paton or Ben Franklin could throw our way.
Just wanted to share with you the story behind today’s newspaper, to publicly commend The Saratogian team, and, as always, to invite your comments.
Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on her blog, Fresh Ink, at www.saratogian.com.