News

‘On The Map’

By Aura Hill

Dave BuffingtonPhoto: Nathan merkel. Dave Buffington
Photo: Nathan merkel.
A Lasting Legacy

When Dave and Deb Buffington decided to purchase The Sun from Bill and Rosemary Jackson in 2007, Dave promised his Deb that he would give the paper a 10-year run.

With the last issue, Nov. 23, 2017, his 10 years are up and true to his word, he is no longer sitting behind the editor-in chief’s desk in the front office. That spot is now occupied by Drew Weidman, former assistant editor.

Fortunately for staff and readers, Dave hasn’t left the building or given up journalism. He can be found in the rear office wearing a new title of Business Manager, which he says will not be a stretch.

“I have been doing the business manager’s job for the past 10 years – managing accounts, doing payroll, paying bills for half my job,” he said. “I will still screen requests for coverage, which is about 500 each week. As other newspapers have cut back on their local coverage, other areas are coming to us, begging us to cover them.”

Why?

He says he was not the most likely person to consider buying a newspaper, although he has been a writer nearly his whole life, he never has worked for a newspaper or studied journalism.

“I have been in the writing business since I was 18, and first wrote an article for a now defunct computer magazine. I wrote for Rider magazine for awhile and eventually published a newsletter, Pennsylvania Political Report, for 13 years. It was in the pre-Internet era and sometimes referred to as the Buffington Report; it was the National Enquirer of the political world,” he said with a smirk.

That stint was followed by work in public relations.

So why did he buy The Sun?

“The easy answer is that I needed a job. The economy wasn’t looking great and I had lost my largest PR client when the company was taken over by a hostile takeover.”

There was a pause.

“The real reason was that I wanted to do something that would make my wife and kids proud,” he said.

‘Change to Survive’

“We knew the paper had to change in order to survive. We made a list of things we planned to do during the first year, things like adding more graphics, more local representation, an emphasis on photography and color.”

He said they had been told that the area did not take kindly to change, but was pleasantly surprised how open readers were to the new Sun, so much so that most of the changes were made in the first month.

Then came the recession.

“The recession would have shut down the old version of The Sun,” he said. “Our national ads, which supported us, dried up. By spring of 2008, they were all gone and never came back.

“We were blessed with local advertisers and our subscribers who stayed with us.”

He attributes the growth in subscriptions, 40-plus percent since they purchased The Sun, with a simple concept.

“You give the people local news with original material that they can’t get anywhere else and they will pay for it,” he said. “If people buy the paper, advertisers will advertise in it.

“It helps that I have a staff who absolutely do the job and that each does the work of three people. We have five full-time employees, and about a dozen freelancers. Drew has been our only full-time reporter.”

A Lot of Good … and Bad

What’s been the best part of his past decade as editor?

“It’s the people. I love my staff and I say that without reservation. The community has been enormously supportive, even when they don’t agree with what we are doing and saying.

“The bad part is also the people. Once I had a woman start to take off her clothes in my office to keep her kid out of the police report. I had a mom curled up in a fetal position on the floor wailing because her son had committed suicide in a public fashion.

“I have learned emotionally we deal with a lot of good people, also a lot of bad ones. We deal with crime, corruption, wrecks, death, and scary horrifying suicides. I don’t know how police and firemen deal with it every day.”

He said that after a lot of years of that, a person can become cynical or overwhelmed – another reason to step back after 10 years.

One of the best moments for The Sun he recalls was breaking the news of the attempted Med Center and Pinnacle merger.

“Not only were we ahead of every news outlet, we were ahead of the Medical Center. They were calling us to find out what was going on,” he said.

“The most memorable story, the one that put The Sun on the map and let people know we were a new Sun, was Rosie’s east end explosion in 2008,” he said. “It happened on a Wednesday, the day we went to press. We had the printer hold the press and we did full coverage. It really woke people up that we were a real newspaper.

“The Sun’s been around for 140 years, long before I was here and hopefully will continue long after I am gone.”

Weidman, who started his reporting career under Jackson at the “old” Sun, and honed a many of his skills and interests under Dave, is excited about moving into the editor’s spot.

“My only concern is keeping this train going full steam ahead. We can’t sit on our laurels,” he said. “ I am optimistic about maintaining the quality and continuing the growth.”


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