The Director Q and A: Steve Nixon

NAM’s Relevance Project is honored to spotlight executive directors leading newspaper trade associations throughout the United States and Canada.

The Q&A series starts with Steve Nixon, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association as well as the president of Newspaper Association Managers since 2020. Normally, the NAM term for its top officer is one year, but Steve agreed to stay on for 2021 because of the pandemic.

We caught up with President Nixon from his home office in Saskatoon, where he answered our questions with his customary precision and welcomed splashes of humor.

Thank you, Steve, for leading off.

Can you introduce us to your association?
The Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association was established in 1914. Our job is to offer a convenient and cost effective way to buy advertising, place classifieds or issue a press release to our member newspapers all across Saskatchewan and the North West Territories.

Our 56 member newspapers not only reflect life in the communities they serve, they are a central part of Saskatchewan’s and the North West Territories’ unique lifestyle. Every week our member papers connect with more than 500,000 readers across Saskatchewan.

Our mission is simple. SWNA can take you to every community in the province, conveniently and cost effectively.

Now you: What’s been your career path?
My early background was in agriculture in New Zealand. In 1984, I went to Australia and was introduced to my first computer, an Amstrad 664. By 1989, I was doing prepress for clients trying to get files from a PC to a commercial printer, without going through an expensive Mac-based ad house. I created a niche business on getting PC files to film.

In order to control deadlines for my customers, I purchased a commercial print shop, then took on partners and absorbed another print business, ending up with five presses.

In 1997, I noticed a shift in the market as colour personal printers and photocopiers started to gain popularity and threatened our small-press operations. In 1998, I sold my share of the company and moved to Canada.

I joined the SWNA in 2003.

How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?
I am the CEO of a trade association that performs advertising solutions and government advocacy work on behalf of our newspaper members.

What do you like best about your job?
Government advocacy.

We have a very strong reach into the Saskatchewan marketplace, especially rural, which places us in an incredibly strong position with our elected officials. Helping them use our medium better is very satisfying.

I hate having to announce newspaper closures.

Saskatchewan used to have 160 newspaper titles. With many small rural communities struggling to survive, many newspaper markets no longer exist.

With the move by advertisers to online, many small rural markets are being left out of the advertising mix.

What is your proudest career moment?
Successfully convincing the provincial government to reverse a proposed tax on recycling used newsprint.

What are some of the 2021 priorities for you and your association?
Our strategy has not changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We make sure community newspapers are recognized as one of the essential ways to communicate to the citizens of Saskatchewan.

What adjustments have you made during COVID-19?
I have staff who work permanently from home and others who limit their time in the office.

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
Nothing, I sleep like a baby.

Actually, coming up with new ways to engage with members keeps me up. I stress about initiatives that are created to display the strength of our medium only to have members who just don’t engage. Frustrating.

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?
Training and accreditation for members and their staffs. Also, a centralized system that all members could use to control all aspects of their businesses.

What is something most people don’t know about you?
There are two secrets to success … the first is never reveal everything. The second is …

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to golf.

Here’s Steve on a recent Zoom call. You’ll notice the background befitting a president.

Finally, how would your advice differ when offered to someone trying to break into the business compared with an industry veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?
I would say that news was, is, and always will be important. Don’t get hung up on the delivery mechanism as that is changing.

Local news is vital to the health of any community. Work on that strength.

As a postscript, we found this special message on Steve’s association website elaborating how newspapers are confronting the pandemic:

Throughout history, newspapers have been relied upon to provide in-depth, trusted and important information in times of crisis. The current COVID-19 pandemic is no different. In fact, the need for vital information to be communicated uniformly and without prejudice is perhaps greater now that it has ever been.

Community newspapers from coast to coast are on the front lines, keeping citizens of their communities updated on the latest developments directly affecting the lives of individuals living outside of the large media hubs. In thousands of communities across Canada, people young and old are relying on community newspapers to keep them informed.

The services offered by the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association and its sales arm, AdCanada Media, have never been more important than they are now. Specializing in connecting those with a message to community newspapers across Saskatchewan. If you or your organization requires assistance in pulling together a strategy for getting information into the hands of rural Saskatchewan, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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