(Courtesy of AP) (Courtesy of AP)

Leland Schwartz is trying to feed news to a tough crowd. He knows that they’re on top of the goings-on in Washington. That’s because they’re the ones who are influencing the goings-on in Washington.

They’re diners at the Old Ebbitt Grill, the 157-year-old restaurant just around the corner from the White House. And Schwartz wants to cap their outing with a news feed printed on receipt paper alongside the bill for their meal.

The idea is to put some news headlines, a bit of sports and some weather — all on a piece of paper generated by the restaurant’s receipt printer. A paper company, Domtar, is on board as the first advertiser. The project is launching exclusively at the Old Ebbitt Grill, just to see if it has prospects. “We were just really after one acid test,” says Schwartz, of Print Signal Corp. “If it doesn’t work there, we’re going fishing someplace.”

Have a look at a sample of an Old Ebbitt receipt-circular:

THE LATEST NEWS
Thursday, January 10, 2013
PAGE ONE (AP) – Attorney general, HHS, Veterans Affairs secretaries to stay for 2nd term; Labor Sec. resigns.
PAGE TWO (AP) – Lew for Treasury; loopy signature may end up on dollar bills .. Cantor Fitzgerald, hit hard on 9/11, gives $10M in Sandy aid.
NATIONAL (AP) – Biden to meet with NRA to discuss gun safety .. Judges seem wary of release of bin Laden photos.
INTERNATIONAL (AP) – China’s trade growth soars in sign of economic rebound .. Pakistan says US missile strike kills 5 suspected militants .. UK detective guilty of trying to sell information in hacking scandal.
BUSINESS (AP) – US job openings barely grew in November .. New federal rules to curb risky mortgages.
SPORTS (AP) – Hall of Famers happy to see Bonds, Clemens denied .. NFL player Junior Seau had brain disease CTE.
MARKETS (AP) – Dow up 40 pts at 9:56. S&P up six. Nasdaq, 14.
Sunny, H 53. Mstly cldy tonight, L 37. Chnc showers tmrw, H 50.
DOMTAR PAPER COMPANY
Paper is Good. Pass it On.
www.paperbecause.com

One thing that Schwartz didn’t realize when he first got into this thing: Old Ebbitt Grill opens on weekdays at 7:30 a.m. and closes down at 1:00 a.m. That’s a lot of time for news to grow stale. So Print Signal’s feed from the AP refreshes every two minutes, and a team of engineers is working on an automated approach to filling out the “news receipts.”

Not that Schwartz places much faith in such labor-saving. “We don’t believe the computer can do it,” says Schwartz, who served for 30 years at States News Service. For now, it’s Schwartz and some colleagues “on shifts picking these things.” Says Frank Mankiewicz, a retired Hill+Knowlton Strategies vice chairman with a hand in the venture: “Leland edits the copy, he sits there all day and edits it as it comes in.”

Close adherence to fine-dining etiquette will help Schwartz’s company. If people stay off their devices during their meal, that is, the check may have a fresh feel to it. “In the course of 45 minutes or an hour, a lot of what will be in the update they will not have heard because they will have been in a virtual news blackout despite the fact that virtually everyone at the table has an iPhone or BlackBerry,” says Schwartz.

The news receipt venture marks the simplification of a certain pitch by news outlets to potential advertisers. Big-name Washington outlets all tell companies and advocacy groups that they reach that coveted crowd of “influentials” in and around the Beltway. There are enormous studies devoted to measuring those publications’ penetration of this exclusive cohort.

With Leland’s venture, the conversation is easy — do you want to reach the sort of diner that spends an hour or two at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Or at Tosca? Or at the Palm?
On the tech side, Schwartz & Co. worked with the software of MICROS Systems of Columbia, Md., whose product powers check-out systems in more than 330,000 restaurants in 50 countries. Meaning that there are few obstacles to expansion.

If things go well at the Old Ebbitt, the plan is to move into the 50 state capitals and into the top 50 foreign capitals—or, as Schwartz puts it, a movement that would turn restaurant receipt machines into a “worldwide printing press.”

Yet that’s just the hope. “If this never got outside the Beltway, there are enough of the right restaurants and hotels that would be great candidates for this to create a large enough circulation,” says Schwartz.

Hmmm, so Schwartz is trying to reach Washington elites with up-to-the-minute news updates. Politico has to be kicking itself.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.