Behind the Scenes at the Pennsic Independent
by Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton
In five years as editor of Pennsic newspapers, I have often been asked what goes on behind the scenes. Trust me. You don’t want to know. We at the Independent guard our secrets better than most Peerage circles. Oh the tales I could tell…
Our day normally begins a little before 9 am. On the days we are publishing, the papers arrive from the printers and the circulation desk allots them out to our urchins — the kids who deliver the papers. The tradition of having urchins goes back many, many years, before there were many organized children’s activities at Pennsic. We couldn’t do it without them and consider them a vital part of our staff. The kids not only earn ten cents per paper they sell, plus any tips they receive, they also receive a variety of bonuses for selling a certain number of papers each day. Lady Aurora, our circulation manager (or urchin wrangler) works with both the kids and their parents to make sure the rules are understood by all. We try to make sure that each urchin has a “route” that they sell in, so that as many areas of Pennsic as possible are served. Many get quite creative with poems and songs to sell their papers. We also have many kids who have grown up at Pennsic selling the paper. We give them a great deal of responsibility, and they respond wonderfully.
Meanwhile, the front desk opens for advertising and submissions. We have a 1 pm deadline for all advertising, since the ads are the most labour-intensive aspect of the newspaper. We create many of the display ads on-site, and have a full graphics shop in our trailer. Classified ads are entered into a database, meaning that we need enter a multi-day ad only once. All work is done on Macintosh computers, using a program called InDesign for layout. Lady Shannon, our advertising manager, and Lady Moire, our production manager, work throughout the early part of the day to prepare thumbnails of the paper so we will know how much space we have for articles, and to make the decisions (along with THL Heirusalem, our publisher, and the editorial staff) as to how long the paper will be. We always try to make sure that advertising and non-commercial content are approximately equal, with the exception of our special Midnight Madness advertising section.
We have three regular staff “beat” reporters — Baroness Tsivia, who specializes in non-martial activities, Master Liam, who is our fencing/archery/thrown weapons/etc. reporter, and Lord Donalbane, who is our battlefield reporter (and a sports reporter in his modern life). They work from leads provided by our customers, as well as from the printed schedules and their own intuition for finding interesting stories. In addition, we have our three featured writers — Og, Duke Sir Guillaume, and “Lord Red the Green” (who is actually one of our regular staffers...shhh... Other members on staff (such as me) also contribute articles from time to time, and we also have a number of freelancers who regularly provide content. Photos are provided by staff members and freelance submissions, and artwork is either done by our staff artist, Lady Muirne, or by freelance contributions. Anyone is welcome to contribute articles, artwork, or photos, although there is no guarantee we’ll have space to use them.
We also have arrangements with members of the Pennsic staff to obtain the A&S class changes and camp news, which are both published as a service to our readers. This is in contrast to the advertising (both display and classified), which is purchased by merchants and other individuals. While we work to make sure no ad is offensive in content, we cannot guarantee the accuracy (or veracity!) of any advertisement.
By early evening, the last stories are in and the editorial staff (Lord Calvert and I) are in the process of selecting and editing the stories, picking out artwork and photos, and slotting stories into our thumbnails. As we finalize content, Lady Moire slots it into the layout. Proof copies are printed out and circulated amongst the editorial staff and our publisher.
Heirusalem’s duties, incidentally, are to manage the paper from a business standpoint (tracking all funds coming in and going out) — including the preparatory work before Pennsic in selling ads and working with the Coopers on setup, and to be the go-to person for any overall issues with the newspaper. She also manages the entire staff. Think of her as the “autocrat” of the Pennsic Independent.
When the paper is finally ready to send to the printers, Heirusalem calls Chauncey at Workman Press. The Pennsic Independent and many of its predecessors have had a long-standing arrangement with these folks, and while we have briefly tried other printers, we always have come back to Workman — they know our needs, will drive out to pick up the master copies, and even those times when the paper has been put to bed in the wee hours of the morning, the paper has always been delivered within an hour or so of 9 am. Chauncey drives to the gate and picks up the paper, which we have left with the guard. Overnight, the newspaper is printed, and at 9 am the next morning, the whole process begins again.
Those of you who are here at Pennsic may not even be aware of our online presence. This year, Master Justin, one of the people behind the SCAtoday.net news site, has put the software used for that site to good use to produce the online Pennsic Independent edition this year. Lord Calvert works to select several of the day’s top stories and photos for inclusion on the website, which is available free of charge and allows those cannot attend to keep up with Pennsic happenings. We have also offered PDF subscriptions for the first time this year, allowing subscribers to get the entire newspaper. Response has been excellent — we have several subscribers overseas in the Middle East, in fact.
Of course, like any newspaper, we make mistakes — sometimes big ones (I wonder whether a certain erstwhile King of the Middle ever found his P?), but we try to keep them to a minimum, and apologize profusely when they happen. We also strive to keep a sense of neutrality and objectivity — which is why you will not see stories about political issues, “my Crown/Kingdom/household is better (or worse) than those other guys” or other personal disputes in the Independent. We will not be used as a weapon to help fight other peoples’ battles, especially given that we come from several different kingdoms and probably do not know the context or history of these types of issues. At the same time, we strive to find content that is interesting and timely, and are always open to suggestions or volunteers. Feel free to let us know how we can improve YOUR newspaper.
Photo by Mistress Kay of Tre Astrium: Pennsic War XXXIII Pennsic Independent staff wraps up another year of production.