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Dan Robrish: The Elizabethtown Advocate

Jul 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Front Page, People

Lately in Elizabethtown there have been frequent sightings of a stocky man walking purposively down the street, seemingly lost in thought, and wearing a coat and tie and a distinctive black fedora. If you have ventured out recently, you too may have made this sighting. That man is Dan Robrish. He is the publisher, editor, and primary writer of Elizabethtown’s only print newspaper, the Elizabethtown Advocate. The Elizabethtown Advocate started publication about two years ago and filled the void left by the departure of Elizabethtown Chronicle.

The Elizabethtown Journal recently caught up with Dan and asked him about his journey to Elizabethtown and about the Advocate.

EJ: Could you tell us something about your life before journalism?

DR: I was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bethesda, Md., then moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school. After about a year there, I decided that college wasn’t such a bad idea after all and enrolled at Los Angeles City College. I took a journalism course there, started working at the student newspaper and eventually decided that I wanted to seek work in the industry. I had read that it was easier to start in the Midwest, so I moved to Minneapolis, where my sister lived. Nobody wanted to hire me with that little experience and no degree. I worked for temp agencies for some time and eventually decided to take extension classes at the University of Minnesota. I worked at that university’s well-regarded daily student newspaper and eventually left that job when I was offered my first job at a commercial daily.

EJ: When did your journalism career begin? What positions have you held?

DR: I began working at the Ely Daily Times in rural Nevada at the beginning of 1996. This was in a town of fewer than 5,000 people that was so remote you had to drive 200 miles one way to get to the nearest larger town. And that nearest larger town was Elko, Nevada, not exactly a metropolis. The Times was a five-day-a-week afternoon paper where I was the only reporter. Within a few months, the editor was laid up in the hospital, so I had to do his job as well for two weeks with no prior notice.

After that, I moved to a larger daily in New Ulm, Minnesota, a town of about 14,000 people that was about 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis. From there, I went to The Mercury in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, then in 1998 I started work at The Associated Press in Philadelphia, where I stayed until the beginning of 2010.

EJ: Journalists are often called upon to cover interesting, unusual, dangerous, and often amusing stories. Do any of these types of assignments come to mind?

DR: Around 1995, I covered a speech by then-President Bill Clinton for the student paper at the University of Minnesota. In 2008, I covered Joe Biden on the campaign trail in Philadelphia and its suburbs. I won’t describe details of what I went through, since that information could be useful to someone planning to harm someone protected by the Secret Service. But suffice it to say that I found it amazing how much tighter Secret Service protection got in that period. Seeing that protection firsthand gave me a lot of confidence that our nation’s leaders and those who seek to replace them are well protected.

EJ: When did the idea of starting a newspaper in Elizabethtown first cross your mind? What was the impetus for this endeavor?

DR: I had long been interested in owning and operating my own newspaper and always thought I would buy an existing paper. I felt stuck in a rut in my job at the AP. When I read about a number of towns losing their local newspapers because of the bankruptcy of Journal Register Co., I thought someone should step in and fill the vacuum.

Elizabethtown seemed like it offered a better chance of success than some of the other towns losing papers, including Columbia, Mount Joy, Quarryville and Parkesburg. That’s because of its size and the fact that it has three major employers that are resistant to recessions: a college, a candy bar factory and a large retirement community. (Mass-produced candy tends to sell better in hard times and demand for higher education and elder care services tends to hold steady.)

EJ: When was the first issue of The Elizabethtown Advocate published?

DR: Feb. 4, 2010.

EJ: What have been the greatest challenges in publishing a small town community weekly?

DR: Time and money. I’m always short of both.

EJ: What have been the greatest rewards?

DR: I’m giving people information they need that they can’t get elsewhere – or at least can’t get without more effort than most people are willing to put in. For example, when I wrote about a drilling project along Aberdeen Road a few weeks ago, it wasn’t any big secret – anybody could have pulled over and asked the questions I did. But most people don’t have the time or inclination to do that. Same thing goes with the court papers I look up or the information I get by attending municipal and school board meetings.

EJ: How can an Elizabethtown resident obtain a copy of the paper?

DR: The Elizabethtown Advocate is sold for 50 cents per copy from orange and black vending boxes in front of the Advocate office (9 S. Market St., across from the public library) in front of the Elizabethtown post office and at the train station. These locations retail the paper:
• Darrenkamp’s Elizabethtown Market, 191 Ridgeview Road South
• One Stop Market (at the Sunoco station on High Street near the high school)
• Groff’s Meats, 33 N. Market St.
• Elizabethtown Public Library, 10 S. Market St.
• Folklore Coffee, 1 N. Market St. (northeast corner of Center Square, diagonally across from the model train store)
• J’s Sweet Treats, 1 S. Market St. (southeast corner of Center Square)

Also, subscriptions cost $20 per year. The Advocate will have a table at the Elizabethtown Fair to sell subscriptions.

EJ: What can we look forward to in the future for the Advocate?

DR: As circulation grows, I should get more advertising, which should allow me to add pages. I hope to get the paper to about 12 to 14 pages a week; it’s currently six pages.

EJ: How is the paper printed?

DR: I contract out the printing because I do not have my own printing press. The kind of press you need for newspapers would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if I had that kind of money, it doesn’t make sense to spend it on something that you’ll only use for a couple of hours once a week. Also, it’s so heavy that it would crash through the floor of my office and into the basement – the landlord wouldn’t be happy about that.

EJ: What is the production and distribution process like?

DR: I lay out the pages on my office computer, make PDF files, then send those PDF files electronically to my printing contractor late Wednesday night. Then I get some sleep while my contractor prints the papers, applies mailing labels to subscribers’ papers and puts them in sacks for the post office. I take the papers to the post office and to vending boxes and stores every Thursday afternoon. Then I update my website. I’m usually doing all this on something like four hours of sleep. Then I take a nap and I usually have a municipal government meeting to attend that evening.

EJ: Why do so few stories have bylines?

DR: Frequently, I write every story on the front page. It would look silly if every story said “By Dan Robrish” at the top.

EJ: Who else writes for the paper?

DR: I have several students writing for the paper to get experience (currently one high school and two college students). Also, I have a freelance sportswriter – I’m not a sports fan, so if I tried writing about sports myself, my heart wouldn’t be in it. I would like to get a second freelance sportswriter and possibly a freelancer to cover municipal government meetings. Anyone with writing skills and an interest in those subjects should write to editor@etownpa.com.

Also, some stories come from news releases submitted to the paper and some come from King Features Syndicate and the Associated Press.

EJ: Why is your office closed during normal business hours sometimes? (The Advocate Office is located at 9 South Market Street.)

DR: I have no employees. When I have to leave the office, I need to shut it down. That can be to cover news, eat lunch, go to the bank, or any other reason. People are welcome to stop by whenever, but please phone ahead before making a special trip downtown to see me so you’ll be sure I’m in. I’m usually in most of the business day on weekdays except Thursdays.

EJ: Why do you walk so much? Don’t you have a car?

DR: I didn’t have a car for my last five years in Philadelphia, but I bought a 2006 Chevy Cobalt just after renting an apartment in Elizabethtown. I prefer to walk, though, and frequently walk distances that most people in small towns would drive. It’s not unusual for me to go two or three days without driving.

EJ: Thank you.

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