March 29, 2017

Earlier this year, a new publication started covering state politics in Pennsylvania in an old way — print.

The Caucus, a print-only publication from LNP Media Group, doesn’t put stories online or break news on Twitter. The four-person staff is composed of two former journalists at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, an attorney and the content editor for LNP.

Every week, The Caucus gets delivered to Gov. Tom Wolf and the 253 members of the State Senate and House of Representatives. On launch day, Jan. 3, lobbyists and staffers got free three-month trials.

The ultimate goal is to build The Caucus into a must-read publication for influencers in the state of Pennsylvania, said Tom Murse, LNP’s content editor at The Caucus’ editor.

“We’re trying to do journalism that no one else is doing and that is essential for policymakers, those seeking to get before policymakers, and citizens who concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent,” Murse said. “Our publisher and our owners believe that if we do this, we will achieve profitability.”

For now, the number of subscribers is pretty low, Murse said. But the company expects those numbers to grow as the trials come to an end. And they have high hopes for bringing in more readers in an era of dwindling resources and coverage for statehouses nationwide.

The Caucus, which is seeking subscription and advertising revenue, has mostly found success landing ads with advocacy groups so far, he said.

Bureau chief Brad Bumsted, a veteran Pennsylvania journalist, spoke with Poynter about going back to print, what The Caucus hopes to cover and why he’s glad to be away from digital journalism. Our conversation was edited for length.

Tell us a little bit about The Caucus.

In an age of Twitter and Facebook, some editors at LNP Media Group in Lancaster have long had a plan to do a print-only publication with a hyper-focus on state government and investigative reporting. In that sense, it is totally against the grain with what we see going on at capitals around the country where state press corps are shrinking. So this is different in a lot of respects.

This is going against the grain in that, as you said, coverage of state government is shrinking, but also this is print-only. What’s the strategy behind print-only?

I think part of the idea is not to give the content away. So much of what we see online winds up being aggregated. I think it’s also to be different and to really have a focus on investigative reporting, which is harder to do, in a way I think, digitally.

What about digital journalism do you think makes investigative reporting harder?

It’s just spending so much time with the medium that it becomes more of a desire for graphics and fact boxes. We have some of those, but you can get absorbed in that culture, and then it is something that must go out quickly. We’re weekly. I’ve never worked for a weekly in 40-some years in journalism. When you’re doing digital journalism, it’s by the minute.

We’re not. We have time to put stories together.

Normally when I talk to people about their publications, one of the things I ask are about metrics: What are your pageviews like, your subscribers? I know you’ve been in the business awhile. So what metrics are you using to judge how successful The Caucus is?

One of the metrics, from Bob Krasne, (chairman and publisher of LNP Media Group) is what impact we can have on making things more transparent in Pennsylvania. That is really the goal of the paper.

Anything we can do to write about and show weaknesses in the state’s sunshine law, the Right to Know law… Those aren’t the only things we write about and we don’t write about them every week. But when there’s an opportunity, we do.

Paula (Knudsen, an attorney and staffer) comes into play there, also, because as an attorney she worked for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and tracked a lot of this. So she knows who lobbied against the sunshine laws, who the legislators are, what the pressure points are, what’s been talked about in hearings. That’s the number one metric.

The number two metric, of course, is how many people we sell it to, and who they’re selling it to is who they want to sell it to, and that is lobbyists and law firms within the belt of the capital.

You’ve gone from a newspaper that became a digital site back to something that’s strictly a print product. Has anything changed for how you view local journalism?

Yes. And I fell victim to this, too. So often, in the digital, 24-hour news cycle that I was part of, everyone’s out to break stories. And what breaking stories meant was, who posted it first online? And if you beat somebody by five minutes, you scooped them. But who has the best story at the end of the day? Who tells the readers about this issue? Who gives all sides of this that they hadn’t even thought of? That, to me, is far more important than being first on a story. And I was first on a lot of them. I was totally into that culture.

One story that we did recently I had started working on four months ago and had to go through two cycles of right to know law requests. It’s harder to do that for a daily newspaper.

Despite choosing to be print-only, it looks like you’re not totally ignoring the digital world. You have a site that’s kind of a front window and a Twitter account. How are you having conversations with your audience? Politicians and lobbyists are just like journalists in that they’re pretty active on Twitter.

I’m not doing any of that. There’s a PR person for LNP Media Group who’s doing most of the tweeting. It’s basically for promotion, and I would argue that the website is the same thing. It’s for promotions and subscriptions. There’s no news content on there, other than samples of stories. We’re not really doing digital journalism that way.

What else do you want us to know about this?

If I were able to create my own job description, this would be it. I’ve always been inclined to do in-depth stories. I really like, as much as possible, getting to the truth about something, as elusive as that can be. To peel layers away, I think, should be the goal of all journalists. That’s what we’re able to do with The Caucus.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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