The NewsVroom: Four wheels and the Daily Record’s drive to connect with its community

NewsvroomRandy Parker’s vehicle for community connection is just that – a van.

The NewsVroom  goes everywhere, allowing the Daily Record in Pennsylvania to connect with its community.

Sometimes, you make a connection with your readers one person at a time – and that’s just fine by Parker, the Daily Record’s Managing Editor.

The Daily Record serves York County, Pennsylvania, an expansive region that includes 72 municipalities (with a population of about 400,000 people) and the City of York, with a population of 35,000 people.

Knowing that his readership was so spread out, Parker knew a traditional community newsroom wasn’t going to work.

People around in the region aren’t likely to travel to the Daily News’ relatively remote location in an industrial area of York, Parker said.

The NewsVroom functions as much as marketing tool as it does a mobile reporting unit. Parker is clear with his staff that the van doesn’t belong to the newsroom alone – it belongs to everyone.

The NewsVroom is at a high school football game every Friday night of the season. GametimePA’s Editor Elizabeth Jones manages all sports events.

Parker’s marketing team sets up what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” with tables and tents, and invites people to come see his news organization’s iPad app and how it works.

Sometimes, he added, they will download the Daily Record’s app onto their mobile devices and show them how to work.

“It’s very overt,” Parker said. “We’re showing them the technology as well as the app.”

The NewsVroom launched during the opening weekend of high school football 2012 (that’s the last weekend in August if you don’t have it marked down on your calendars).

With more than 1,000 people in the stadium, Parker’s staff parked the van next to the concession stand, and started to talk to people as they waited in line for their snacks, with their smart phones in hand.

The strategy worked brilliantly, and soon everyone was talking about the app, and how they could stay up to date with news.

The reporters will shoot a pre-game video at the NewsVroom, and Parker said it’s often as much a thrill for readers to meet the reporters as see the vehicles at the game.

GametimePA

The NewsVroom spends a lot of time at high school sporting events, and promotes the Daily Record’s high school sports site, GametimePA.com.

After the NewsVroom starting going to events, page views on the site “went through the roof,” Parker said. Downloads on the GametimePA app also experienced an upsurge.

“We’ve never seen grown like this,” Parker said, and attributed it mostly to that face-to-face connection people were making with the NewsVroom.

“We were roping people in and showing them how to download the app.”

Costs

The NewsVroom was once a van that was part of the Daily Record’s delivery fleet. (“One of the better ones,” Parker added, “we can’t use a rust bucket, the wrap won’t stick to it.”)

A local company, Total Identity Soluutions, that wrapped the van gave the Daily News $1,000 for the NewsVroom. Beasely Ford donated $4,000 towards the project.

Going political

One of the biggest events for the Newsroom was the York County Fair, which draws nearly 100,000 people. Parker and his marketing staff got a great location on the fairgrounds, set up some hay bales and used the van as a mobile reporting unit.

The fair fell close to the election, and Parker’s NewsVroom was used as a location to broadcast interviews with congressional candidates.

“There were call-ins and chats; we were able to dive into the audience, who could watch questions from the reporter.”

“We were able to engage directly with hundreds of readers that week,” Parker said.

Parker has tasked Business Editor Cathy Hirko with managing the NewsVroom, and said she is in charge of hyperlocal news gathering, and takes this out to the far reaches of the community. The van is booked on a Google calendar so that everyone can see when it is book, or book it for an event. (Some newsroom staffers will take it to their kids’ sports games or Scouting events on weekends)

Stellar effort

It’s not just sports and politics for the NewsVroom. Last month it attended an event hosted by the Astronomical Society for a comet starwatch.

Educating the community

The NewsVroom also goes around to libraries in the region, and the outreach effort again functions as educational session, teaching readers how they contribute to news gathering and local coverage.

“We need to move beyond the ‘hey, we’re here’,” Parker said, adding the programs also include teaching people how to use social media, to reach an audience.

Sometimes that means going to the local Lions Club and running a two-hour seminar on “how to write a church news release” that will get the newsroom’s attention.

Buying a subscription doesn’t come up, Parker pointed out.

“The goal is to teach them how they can be a part of this. How we can share the news in our communities.”

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