York's Newspapers

Dover was a small town in York County, a largely rural, working-class corner of southeast Pennsylvania. The county was unusual for having two local newspapers. Buckner News Alliance’s York Daily Record was the larger of the two, printed on mornings Monday through Saturday, with a weekday circulation near 47,000. MediaNews owned the York Dispatch , which was printed Monday through Friday afternoons, with a smaller weekday circulation slightly over 37,000. The Dispatch also published a Sunday paper, the York Sunday News . Since 1990, the two papers had been produced under a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA), which allowed two competing papers to share printing, advertising, and distribution resources. In 1996, Buckner News Alliance and MediaNews amended the JOA to give MediaNews the right to buy the larger York Daily Record .

In 2004, MediaNews prepared to exercise its option to buy the York Daily Record , but federal ownership laws required it to sell the York Dispatch first. In May, MediaNews found a solution: It would switch ownership with Buckner News Alliance, assuming control of the York Daily Record and keeping the York Sunday News while Buckner News Alliance acquired the York Dispatch . [1] On May 5, 2004, York Dispatch Special Projects Reporter Lauri Lebo arrived at work, and was instructed along with 18 other reporters to gather her things and go to work for the competition, about half a mile down the road. “ We looked around and we realized the newsroom had been gutted. It was awful, and people started crying,” Lebo recalls. [2]

Listen to Lebo discuss the ownership change at York's newspapers.

York Daily Record. The paper Lebo was to join had a centrist editorial stance in a solidly Republican county. Its predecessor, the Gazette and Daily , had been founded as a Democratic newspaper and had once refused advertising from Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign out of a conviction that Goldwater would make a poor president. But in 1984, the Gazette and Daily ’s successor paper, the York Daily Record , broke with its Democratic history when it endorsed Republican candidate Ronald Reagan for president. [3] Since then, the four-member editorial board—consisting of the overall editor, the editorial page editor, the publisher, and a rotating fourth member—had steered a middle political road.

As a consequence of the 2004 ownership switch, York Daily Record Managing Editor Jim McClure became editor, replacing Editor Dennis Hetzel, who explained to the paper’s staff that his priorities conflicted with those of the paper’s new owner. MediaNews Vice Chairman and CEO William Dean Singleton felt that the York Daily Record , the morning newspaper he had acquired, had more potential for growth than did the York Dispatch , the afternoon paper he had owned; he hoped to expand the Daily Record ’s coverage area south and west of York to push circulation close to 50,000. Editor Hetzel remarked to the York Daily Record about his resignation and the change in ownership: “I think it will be as seamless of a transition as it can be. I think it’s probably a bigger deal for the people in the two newsrooms than it should be for the readers.” [4]

Lebo’s move. Reporter Lebo had been a journalist for 15 years and, as special projects reporter for the Dispatch , she had taken part in a 2000 investigation that spurred a new criminal investigation of two Civil Rights-era murders. Race riots had exploded in York in 1969, when a black mob had killed a white police officer. [5] One reporter on Lebo’s team had discovered that York’s mayor, Charles Robertson, then a police officer, had handed out ammunition to white gangs and encouraged them to kill in retaliation as many black people as they could find. The report led to Robertson’s arrest.

Lebo was instructed to join the Daily Record as the chief education reporter, and she chafed at her new assignment as she adjusted to a new cast of editors. “I didn’t feel that education was a substantial beat,” she says. “One of my first assignments was to cover a high school graduation.” But one morning in June 2004, she picked up the Daily Record and a freelancer’s routine story about a school board meeting caught her eye.



[1] Michelle Starr and Sharon Smith, “Newspaper ownership changes hands in York; MediaNews Group bought the Daily Record and Phil Buckner bought the Dispatch,” York Daily Record , May 6, 2004.

[2] Author’s interview with Lauri Lebo, on February 2, 2009, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. All further quotes from Lebo, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[3] Jim McClure, “In recent years, York County presidential endorsements a mixed bag,” York Town Square [a York Daily Record blog], October 25, 2008.

[4] Michelle Starr and Sharon Smith, “Newspaper ownership changes hands in York; MediaNews Group bought the Daily Record and Phil Buckner bought the Dispatch.”

[5] Daniel J. Wakin, “York, Pa., Mayor is Arrested in 1969 Racial Killing,” May 18, 2001.