Now’s Not The Time For Newspapers To Be Shy

You can’t overuse the Relevant wish, “Have a good week.”

Not now.

We’ll need it as Election “week” (or, gulp, weeks) allegedly starts tomorrow.

The aspiration extends to all newsroom at community newspapers trying to figure out elections results with the unprecedented volume of voting that occurred before Nov. 3.

Just who will make sure we know whether all of the ballots have been counted? Thank goodness for journalists.

“Unprecedented times” was the headline atop a column by Ramona Ferguson, the president of the Texas Press Association. Ferguson is the publisher and editor of The Banner Press in Columbus, TX.

Her piece in the Texas Press Messenger asserted the responsibility of newspapers increases around election time. It starts with “making sure our readers have the information about the upcoming election needed to make informed choices.”

To Ferguson, the newspaper industry has just as much at stake with this election as the nation and states do. She then listed a series of Relevant Points that every publisher and editor should press with gusto. They are worth repeating for wider inspection by press associations:

*Don’t ignore problems at the post office:
Keep asking the federal candidates and officials “what they will do to ensure the post office is still around to continue getting our papers to our readers in a timely fashion.”

*Stay focused on public notices attacks:
Ask state legislative candidates for help on stopping “the erosion of public notices” that has gone on in Texas and other states for years. I would add help them to see the benefits of being a champion of transparency. The next election might even be easier.

*Educate candidates and officials on issues importance to our industry:
Don’t assume they know. Heck, studies show a high percentage of readers don’t know either.
I would prepare a summary of key points to discuss — even make a fancy handout that can be posted online — just as you would expect a candidate to do in carrying out a spirited campaign. Make it a point to check in regularly with your elected officials, even if there’s no crisis or call to action to discuss. Build strong relationships.

*Be vigilant about new taxes on newspapers, as states look for dollars in a down economy:
“There will be a budget shortfall next session. That usually means lawmakers considering the option of including more products and services on the sales tax list. We’ve got to make sure they know that we don’t want to see a sales tax on newspapers sales in this state, and that we are paying attention.”
Also watch for proposed taxes on advertising sales and “services.”

*Push back on efforts to weaken public information laws:
What will federal and state lawmakers “do to protect our right to free access to information from our government bodies?” My tag-on suggestion: Report to readers the proponents and opponents, and stay on those who think the public doesn’t need to know.

*Let readers know that by protecting newspapers, you’re protecting them and trying “to make sure we are around for another generation to provide news and information to those readers”:
We protect the public by providing valid information. That’s a powerful statement. “Don’t be shy about letting your readers know you asked candidates about what they will do to protect the post office, to protect newspapers from sales tax, or to protect FOIA laws.”

Association executive directors and board presidents provide an indispensable service to their newspapers — and the public — when they use their qualified voices to advocate for community journalism, the vital role it plays, and our overall industry that needs all the friends it can count on.

Commentaries like Ferguson’s monthly column should continue to educate with specifics on what’s at stake. This is indeed a time to be smart about asking for support but never assuming there’s a better way to earn respect and trust.

I made the Relevant Point in my National Newspaper Week commentary that citizens should vote for newspapers this Election Day and continue to engage their local publishers, editors and reporters on issues of importance.

Ferguson agrees.

“Let’s work together,” her commentary concludes, “to ensure that our lawmakers and readers know this election is important to your local community newspapers.”

In these times, every day is an election for newspapers. Have a good one.

–TAS

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