Since 1947, Penn-Franklin News has been a down-home guide because of one family's perseverance


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From an early age, Georgia Boring and her sister, Charlene, learned "the one thing you absolutely did not do in our house was make plans for Thursday."

So much has changed since the days when the family scrambled to get a newspaper out on Thursdays, but just about every weekday remains pretty booked for the former Cooper girls. Today, Mrs. Boring, 70, and Charlene Word, 68, co-publishers, continue to breathe life into the small-town newspaper started by their father in the basement of his house in Level Green.

The Penn-Franklin News is now published twice a week -- Mondays and Wednesdays -- by managing editor Mrs. Boring and her husband, Wade, with Mrs. Word serving as advertising manager. The Borings' son, Charles -- known as "Chip" -- is assistant editor and does yeoman's work in the production and delivery of the publication.

Wade Boring is production manager, with son David Boring serving as circulation manager.

Two other versions -- the Penn Trafford News and the Delmont Salem News -- as well as a free advertising circular, Market Place, are published as well.

The publications remain the only independents in the area; all of their competitors were bought up, one by one, by bigger news groups such as Trib Total Media.

"They've offered a couple of times over the years. I don't know that they think we're all that important," Mrs. Boring said.

"But they have bought up all the other independent papers," her sister added.

With a total circulation of about 17,000, the operation is not exactly raking in the big bucks. But that was never Charles K. Cooper's intent. The first issue of the paper, on Feb. 6, 1947, included a front-page "Greetings from your editor" that read "Let me state that money-making is not the reason for starting this newspaper. While we intend that this paper should pay its own way, should render a fair compensation to the Editor and his correspondents, we do not expect anyone to get rich from it."

Mr. Cooper died in 1995, but the spirit of his newspaper lives on. In 1947, a one-year subscription cost $2. Single copies went for 10 cents. Today, it's $20 mailed to Westmoreland County, $50 outside. Readers can pick up single copies sold at dozens of small stores for 35 cents.

Mrs. Word said they don't really have an operating budget -- "We exist."

Mr. Cooper wanted the Penn-Franklin News to be a down-home guide to what's going on in the neighborhood. Sixty-five years later, it still is.

The latest news from school board and municipal meetings? Check. Library news, roadwork updates, school menus? Check. Photos of Homecoming courts and library fundraisers? Of course.

The paper doesn't just report on the community, it is a part of it. The Penn-Franklin News operates booths at local fairs and events, giving away items. In the summer, five local libraries reward students with free tickets to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, courtesy of the paper.

Back in the day, the Penn-Franklin News was a natural extension of the old telephone party line. Its focus was not on the economy or war, but who was in the hospital having an operation or where someone had gone on vacation.

Municipal news dominated the front page of issue No. 1: Jeannette was planning to build a hospital, Quentin Kintigh had just been named supervising principal of Penn Township schools.

The modern-day Penn-Franklin News, and its sister spinoffs, the Delmont Salem News and Penn Trafford News, cover an area including Murrysville, Export, Delmont, Manor, Penn Township, Penn Borough, Salem, Trafford and parts of Greensburg, Monroeville and Jeannette.

The Penn-Franklin News operation is, literally, a cottage industry. The editorial offices in Murrysville take up the bottom floor of the house Charles and Maxine Cooper bought in 1968.

There are offices flanking the front door, but visitors are few. Increasingly, editorial and advertising copy arrives via email, to one of the first-generation Apple eMac computers sitting on the desks.

"Nothing has inside of it what it says on the outside [of the computers]. My sons pull them apart, move things around," Mrs. Boring said.

The paper truly is a family affair. Wade Boring, Georgia's husband, is involved in all aspects. Besides Chip Boring, Mrs. Boring's other son, David, has had a hand in writing software for the company. Mrs. Word's daughters, Michelle Taylor and Julie Word, both worked in the office when they were in high school.

The grandchildren know how to properly fold the newspapers for delivery, as did Mrs. Boring and Mrs. Word when they were children. For years, Mrs. Boring's maternal grandfather, Charles Smith, lived with them and he pitched in as well.

The Coopers owned a big family Bible, the kind with lots of space to record genealogy and other important life events.

"In that Bible, along with when we were born and where people got married, is the day they bought the Linotype machine," said Mrs. Boring. "My mother would write in the times when they'd borrow money to buy something else [for the Penn-Franklin News].

"The early history of the paper is in there."

Old-fashioned Linotype printing is extremely labor-intensive. Individual letters are assembled on strips of metal for each sentence, with tiny pieces of wood or metal, called reglets serving as spacers around the lines of type.

"Our cat had her kittens in a box of reglets," Mrs. Boring said. "We moved them all to the laundry room, and she moved them back behind the press.

"It was a hand-operated press, and every time it moved forward, someone would say 'Oh, she had another one!' "

Today, computers do much of the work, and the printing is done in Indiana, Pa. But the heart of the Penn-Franklin News is still its grassroots journalism, driven by the notion that people deserve to know what's going on in their town.

On any given day, Mrs. Word is busy in one of the offices that front Old William Penn Highway. Her little dog, Willie, greets visitors with suspicion. Mrs. Boring, when she isn't in the office, often spends her evenings at municipal meetings.

Toward the back of the house, production offices are overflowing with papers, magazines and the tools of the trade. In the case of a 24/7 operation, this includes an impressive supply of Mountain Dew bottles.

The printing press in the garage is no longer in service, but the smell of newsprint ink and machinery still permeates the air.

Over the years, the newspaper has hired part-time writers who were not relatives, but they're considered family as well.

When Linda Lyman moved into the area from Chicago in 1981, she purchased a subscription because the paper listed the school lunch menus. Although she was a freelance writer, she met Mrs. Boring through other channels.

"It's a fantastic experience; my schedule is totally flexible," Mrs. Lyman said. After about 18 years of working for the Penn-Franklin News, she said, the staff is treated like family.

And in this family, it's not unusual to be out until 3 a.m. on election night, collecting the local write-in vote tallies.

"They are fiercely loyal," said Marshall Adams, former program director for KDKA radio who recently accepted a similar post with an all-news station in Atlanta. "I think that their paper is a gift to the community."

Years ago, he was Michael Kunkle, a sixth-grader who wanted to go into journalism.

"I was more than happy to work for free. A small operation like that, everybody does everything. I just learned so much.

"I've certainly worked in some great places, but I've never been prouder to see my byline than in the Penn-Franklin News."

lifestyle

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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