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The Harrisburg experiment

Published January 25. 2014 09:01AM

Last year, the Patriot-News, a daily newspaper in Harrisburg, switched to a limited print schedule.

The paper is now printed only three days a week. Other days, readers access the paper digitally.

As a result, the city of Harrisburg is believed to be the only state capital in the U.S. without a daily printed newspaper.

There are several reasons for the change, among them the fact that many readers nowadays turn to the Internet for news.

And the decision wasn't made hastily. The scale-back in the print edition started last year after much planning.

But something surprising happened after the change.

In just two days, the nearby Carlisle Sentinel, circ. 13,902, reported a gain of close to 200 new subscribers.

They're folks who want to hold a print edition in their hands. The Sentinel, understandably, took advantage of an opportunity.

Editor George Spohr said his paper expanded coverage to cater to displaced readers by adding arts coverage and print pages.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out long term.

I attended an Associated Press seminar and we discussed print versus digital configurations. There seemed to be consensus that newspapers should meld their print version with an online product to some degree.

But opinions varied. While everyone agreed digital is here to stay, virtually everyone also agreed that traditional newspapers are still the primary, trusted source for compelling, concise journalism.

Some said the Internet brings with it a touch of skepticism, especially for surfers who get their news from blogs. Others cited the important role of a small-town daily.

"The local news you need to know, the stuff that really matters to your family, won't be found on Google," said one journalist.

For instance,you can read about the war on terrorism in any online news forum or blog.

But what impacts your daily life is local, and that's where small-town dailies have a niche.

A small-town daily is the very identity of a community and a reflection of its values, struggles and achievements.

It's also the community's original and most widely accepted public forum.

Another distinction is that a local paper is invited into the home in a very special way through a subscription.

Readers have a personal relationship with it.

A local paper is like a member of the family. Staff members are familiar to you; they're people you pass on the street every day. The faces from news, editorial, advertising, production and circulation are your friends and neighbors - a much different reality compared to news from an anonymous blog, for example.

Your local daily has everything you need to know written by people who care about you.

Newsprint is the original broadband. And perhaps the best part is that you can hold it in your hand.

No wonder newspapers survive even in today's digital world.

Newspapers are something that makes sense, a convenient, good idea.

And readers have developed a culture based on newspapers.

Boomers, for instance, are accustomed to clipping a news article, recipe or photo and putting it on the fridge with a small magnet. It's what we do. And some of us are addicted to a favorite comic strip.

Many of us are in the habit of plopping into our favorite, comfy chair to relax with a cup of java and enjoy the paper.

Sure, pundits say digital is the wave of the future. Maybe they're right. There's something immediate about the Internet. In fact, THE TIMES NEWS has begun to expediently post breaking news at Make sure you check it out.

But even if you don't, you can still read all about it in print.

There's something intimate, trusting, traditional and special about a printed paper.

For those of us who grew up in Mayberry, nothing else can take its place.

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