Getting Exposure on Scripps Howard Wire
By Penny Pagano
Penny Pagano is a Washington, D.C.-based writer.
Last summer, Frank Aukofer, Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal, needed to shave expenses while covering the Democratic and Republican national conventions. A friend, Dan Thomasson of Scripps Howard Newspapers, offered him a desk in an area reserved by the newspaper chain.
After settling in, Aukofer says he was surprised to discover that the other non-Scripps Howard reporters sitting with him – including those from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Providence Journal, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune and Congressional Quarterly (CQ) – were contributing material to the chain's burgeoning news service.
After the conventions, Thomasson, vice president for news at Scripps Howard and editor of the news service, invited the Milwaukee paper to come aboard.
Aukofer agreed to pitch his editors in Wisconsin, who quickly signed up. "My main interest was getting our people national exposure," Aukofer says. "This is a no-lose deal for us. We get the wire for free and they get 10 to 20 of our best stories every day."
The prospects of exposure for unheralded talents at regional publications such as the Journal has drawn other outlets to the 10-year-old service as well, many in the past year. They include the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, San Francisco Examiner, St. Petersburg Times and Toronto's Globe and Mail. Although its mission is to provide supplementary, rather than comprehensive, coverage, the service has grown from 21 subscribers in 1983 to close to 400 (nearly all of which pay outright for the service rather than contributing material). Thomasson suggests one reason: Pinched by the recession, many news outlets are looking for ways to cut back on the use of relatively expensive syndicated copy.
Scripps Howard has never been recognized among the power players of the supplementals. For starters, it's the most recent to open its doors. The New York Times service, which dates back to World War I, has 450 to 500 domestic and foreign subscribers. The Los Angeles Times/Washington Post service, founded in the 1960s, has some 600. And the Knight-Ridder/ (Chicago) Tribune operation, launched in 1973, has 350.
Scripps Howard papers shared stories and editorials among themselves for decades after E.W. Scripps created a Washington bureau in 1916. Then, 10 years ago, after Scripps had sold United Press International, Thomasson was told he could expand. "We're not trying to build another UPI," he says. "We've had our fill of that."
The service moves about 80 stories a day – 50,000 to 100,000 words of national and foreign news, features, reviews, editorials and columns, and stories focusing on economics, sports, health, entertainment and lifestyles. While that's much less than competitors offer, subscribers don't seem to mind. "The one thing about Dan's approach is that he doesn't send more stories than people want or longer stories than people want," says CQ Executive Editor Robert Merry. "He is cutting back on the time that editors have to invest."
If it had one, the service's motto might be "pithy and short." Thomasson says stories are edited tight at the service's Washington headquarters. How tight? "About 750 words is a full column of type in most newspapers," explains Managing Editor Dale McFeatters. "We try to come in well under that." A 1989 study of news services by the University of Missouri School of Journalism concluded that Scripps Howard had the tightest leads and highest readability.
But a number of subscribers say exposure for their reporters is the service's primary attraction, especially because it often proves to be a great newsroom morale booster. Managing Editor Neville Green of the St. Petersburg Times says "the internal benefit" of adding the wire "has been very satisfying."
At Congressional Quarterly, which covers legislative affairs in Washington, Merry has much the same feeling. He says that when he set out three years ago to increase recognition for the weekly, he feared its copy would be lost in the flow of words at a larger service.
"It's worked out beautifully for us," says Merry, noting that CQ stories were reprinted last year in 282 newspapers that receive the Scripps Howard service. "Major newspapers look at our stuff in a way they might not have if we went with those other services."
And besides, he adds, "My reporters love it." ###