I’m wrapping up five days of visual journalism training here at the offices of the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., today. I thought I’d give you a peek at the paper, the city and at some of what we’ve been doing here.

Back in March, the Patriot-News moved out of its longtime home on Market Street in downtown and into a rather plain-looking building in a business park across the river in suburban Mechanicsburg.

The newspaper shares the building with an obscure tech company that you’ve probably never heard of.

The place was just a few hundred yards away from my hotel. Which meant that for a scheduled 10 a.m. start, I could set my alarm clock for about 9:50 a.m.

Not really. But in theory, I just about could.

The first floor is all common space and a nice employee cafeteria. IBM eats up the second floor. The newspaper takes up the third floor.

Walk through those doors, turn right and down the corridor to reach the newsroom. Which I found to be bright, airy and cheerful, despite the high partitions that threaten to turn the place into a bit of a cubicle farm.

A ring of huge picture windows circle the building, looking out on the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania. The view is tremendous.

Across the parking lot is an even larger building — the Patriot News‘ print facility.

The offices of editor David Newhouse and managing editor Cate Barron are located in the center of the building…

…meaning that various reporters and editors own proximity to the great views and the sunshine.

This made me stop and wonder, however.

No, there is not a nudist colony nearby. That’s about the only reason I could think of why you’d have a pair of binoculars by the newsroom windows.

Come fall — when all those trees turn orange and yellow and red and those mountains in the distance begin collecting snowcaps — this view is going to be stunning.

I already showed you this picture from Thursday night of my friend Meg Lavey‘s work station. You can see the picture window in the background. Everyone here has a nice work station like this, with plenty of cabinets and shelves.

Every newsroom I’ve ever visited has had problems with meeting spaces. You just can’t have enough of them. The Patriot-News, on the other hand, has seen to it that plenty of areas for impromptu meetings and confabs are sprinkled around the joint. I sat in on a weekly long-range planning meeting here.

I had a shorter brainstorming meeting with the features folks here.

Here, you can see a number of reporters’ pods in the background.

Just when you forget how new the Patriot-News is to this building, you turn a corner and come face-to-face with the evidence of the recent move:

Because the place is still so new, there isn’t an abundance of clutter — five-foot stacks of old newspapers, for instance. However, staffers have tried hard to make themselves at home here. The sports editor — who came to Harrisburg from the Philadelphia Daily News, I’m told — has posted a huge collection of tabloid front and back pages.

I hadn’t seen this New York Post front with the Bill Clinton portrait, nor had I seen the “Break a Leg” headline from the Daily News. Great stuff.

And speaking of old newspaper pages, the Patriot-News‘ excellent design director — Chris Boehke — managed to get his hands on the San Francisco Panorama, an experimental one-shot newspaper published last winter by McSweeney‘s quarterly. I wrote all about it back in December.

Chris offered to let me read his copy. But it’s so huge and so engrossing that I just knew I’d get sucked into spending hours and hours with it. And I didn’t have that kind of time. I’ve really got to get my hands on a copy of my own.

Another nice chuckle: Check out the small sign on the doorway of David Newhouse’s office:

OK, so that’s the newsroom. The advertising and circulation departments look very similar, also on the third floor. In order to get to the computer lab — where I spent most of the last week — you have to leave the newsroom area and walk past this nice lobby area, punctuated by the First Amendment etched on the wall:

The building’s central corridor was much nicer than it looks here. For some reason, it looks dark and dingy here. But it was much brighter and livelier in real life.

The paper is still decorating after its move, so there are notable front pages framed and scattered around. Some are on the walls already.

I don’t remember the Bush page but that Obama page was one of my favorites. I blogged about it at the time.

Here was the most recent framed page, from back in February. I don’t know how I missed this one.

Here’s an oldie but a goody, from 31 years ago:

And a number of framed pages are leaning up against the wall, ready to be hung. I remember this Pope page. It, too, was nicely done.

For 9/11, the Patriot-News is hanging both the page and the black-plate negative.

The training room where we’ve been working — room 3E28 — seats about eight comfortably, but it’s not really set up for a projector and slideshow. When we move in a table, projector and my laptop, it’s a bit of a squeeze.

Yeah, right. As if.

On the left is Shelly Stallsmith. In the middle is Jon Glass. They’re both experienced copy editors and page designers here at the Patriot-News. Both already knew how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. My task was to get them up to speed so they could begin producing locator maps, alternative story forms and other types of infographics.

We spent most of Day One — Wednesday — with an introductory lecture and then working on various practice map projects. By Friday, we had shown enough mastery over maps and simple graphics that we launched into major stand-alone graphic design.

Here, Shelly works on a class assignment using two-year-old numbers from the NFL, left over from a project from my time with the Sporting News.

Here was her project, nearly complete:

Jon choose to veer away from the project as assigned and instead answer the question: Is Penn State really the producer of NFL linebackers it claims to be?

Saturday, we refined our centerpiece ASF projects into material that is nearly publishable. We spent the rest of the day building new map templates and a few smaller map graphics.

Today, we cooked up a couple of non-sports ASF ideas. The hope is that we’ll be able to give the features department a few publishable pieces that can be used to plug holes when the classified section comes up a little short.

In addition to all this class time, I sat in on a few planning meetings, offered some counsel on upcoming projects and I gave three lectures to various groups in the newsroom on maps and how to use them, alternative story forms and my basic “graphics for word people” talk.

Photo editor Mark Pynes was kind enough to shoot a few frames for me speaking to the reporters, back on Thursday.

Here, I asked everyone to look at the camera, stroke their chins in a thoughtful manner and look as if they were getting smarter by the minute.

The really smart ones, I might point out, are the ones who didn’t look at the camera and stroke their chins.

And here I am showing a really beautifully-conceived page from the New York Times Magazine. A page that a mid-sized paper like the Patriot-News can’t hope to match, right?

Wrong. The page, in fact, is an unpublished student project from 2009 by Kelley Shaffer of Ohio University. And everyone is always fooled by this page until I hit them with that punchline.

The lesson, of course: If a college kid — yes, an immensely talented one, but still just a college kid — can do work of this quality, then surely our newsroom can, too.

Judging by the reaction I’ve gotten from various folks, the newsroom came away at least a little inspired and hopeful. We’ll have to see what kind of results my presentations generate.

Here I am after my Friday maps overview with the copy desk, catching up with my old friend Bill Peschel.

Bill has been a copy editor and book reviewer for the Patriot-News for nearly ten years. I worked with him at the Herald of Rock Hill, S.C., a few lifetimes ago. Find Bill’s excellent book review blog and web site here.

The last few times I came to Harrisburg, I wasn’t able to hook up with Bill, and I felt awfully guilty about that. Usually, however, I’m here working for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and I’m usually here only a day or two. I think Bill has now seen how busy I try to keep myself during these consulting expeditions.

Bill’s diligence caught a huge number of my errors back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was great to see him again and thank him for not ending my career by missing any of those bloopers.

Most nights I stayed at the paper pretty late — especially Thursday, when I worked a full day shift in the training room, gave two lectures and then sat in with Meghan on the A1 desk until well after midnight.

Saturday evening was the one day I took off on time so I could try to shoot pictures of beautiful downtown Harrisburg.

Dedicated 104 years ago by President Teddy Roosevelt, the capitol towers 272 feet over the city. It’s one of the more spectacular state capitol buildings you’ll ever see. Read more here about the state capitol.

That street you see in front of the capitol State Street — is lined by a number of wonderful old buildings including two landmark churches.

The main drag here — Second Street — is lined with trees, restaurants and sidewalk eateries, which keeps downtown from having the smell of death that permeates many U.S. cities.

They call this stretch restaurant row. Parking is tough. But man, is the place lively. What fun.

Because I wanted something quick — in order to preserve my daylight picture-shooting time — I passed by these fine eateries and, instead, dined at Wendy’s. I’m such a dumbass.

I did try to duck into here for a quick drink, though.

The various side streets are lined with gorgeous old townhomes and offices. Man, I’d like to spent a few hours just walking up and down every street here. Instead, it was all I could do just to shoot a few for flavor:

Down along Front Street were two incredibly gorgeous historic old buildings. This is the mansion of William Maclay, son-in-law of the founder of Harrisburg.

The original part of this building — at right — was built in 1792. The Pennsylvania Bar Association now owns and occupies the building.

One block to the north is the J. Donald Cameron mansion, built during the Civil War in 1863:

J. Donald Cameron was secretary of war to president Ulysses S. Grant and later a U.S. senator. Legend has it that Grant once stayed here during a visit and sat out on the side porch — just behind those trees on the left — to smoke cigars.

Across Front Street is the Susquehanna River. What a gorgeous place this is. Last time I was in Harrisburg, I got up early to shoot the fog lifting off the Susquehanna.

Out in the middle of the river — in that photo above — is city island, home of the local minor-league baseball stadium.

There was a game in progress last night. I’ll bet stadium beer tastes even better in a gorgeous place like this.

Over on this side of the river, however — with Front Street running down the right side of this picture — is a nicely wooded set of walking and bicycling paths.

Folks sit on park benches beneath the trees here and read their newspapers.

Oh, wait. That’s not a newspaper reader. That’s a statue! In fact, it’s called Waiting. It’s one of a series of similar works by sculptor J. Seward Johnson II.

Clearly, though, Johnson’s bronze was custom-made for this area. The waiting man is perusing local newspapers the Patriot and the Evening News.

It was about then that I ran out of light, so I gave up on picturetaking.

There’s so much more to see here, though. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Harrisburg.

This article has 1 comments

  1. John Robinson

    Thanks for your review of the Patriot facilities and of our town. Harrisburg has a lot to offer, as you have pointed out. I hope you come back soon and visit the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, where I am a volunteer.

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