SD Series Showcases Newspapers’ Relevance

Dave Bordewyk wants to have the same conversation with all of the publishers who support the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

They will describe Relevance in 2021.

The association’s executive director most likely will ask the five questions that he posed to an inaugural group of five SDNA members who provided vivid front-line insights.

The answers nailed the realities of operating community newspapers and showcased the passion powering an indispensable service to the public.

Here are Bordewky’s questions:

Why does a community need a newspaper?

What makes a good newspaper?

Why should people pay for your newspaper when they can find plenty or news and information for free?

What is the most difficult challenge you face as a newspaper publisher/editor?

What about the future? What will it take for community newspapers like your to survive and be successful?

The South Dakota association’s website features at the top of its home page the publishers and their answers to one of the questions. The accompanying photos, which capture the operators in their respective community, are eye-catching in displaying personalities.

The project, Bordewyk said, predates the pandemic, which interrupted adding publishers to the series labeled, “Newspapers come together for a conversation with…”

In addition to being displayed online, the initiative distributed a series of five 3-column-by-10-inch promotions that SDNA members were encouraged to publish. “We had good participation,” Bordewyk said. “We heard from the communities, too.”

The executive director plans to continue the series this year with the stretch goal of reaching all 80 publishers and owners.

“Newspapers are so essential to their communities they serve,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can do a better job of conveying to the public that these publishers care deeply about their communities where they live and work as well.”

In the 2021 version, Bordewyk is thinking of adding video interviews that can demonstrate digital Relevance. The “Your Newspaper, Your Community…Essential Partners” segments also can be used at conferences or serve as “commercials” during workshops.

In putting the questions to publishers, he asked them to “give us your honest answers and not chamber of commerce-type responses.”

No problem.

Consider this answer to why people should pay for newspapers.

“It’s not just about the information,” replied Kelli Bultena, the publisher of two weekly newspapers located in Tea and Lennox. “It’s about how it gets to you. A good newspaper needs to be able to support a staff of good people. Paying for your local newspaper provides a means for the newspaper to pay its staff, care for its offices, and give back to the community.”

Or these two answers to what is the most difficult challenge:

“As society and technology continue to evolve, so does the way people get their news and information,” said Beu Ravellette, general manager of Ravellette Publications that publishes six weekly newspapers. “We must stay up to date with how the next generation receives and reads our product. We must always be looking for new and innovative ways to reach our audience and provide them with the news they want and information they need.”

Added Letitia Lister, publisher and part-owner of the Black Hills Pioneer: “Assuring people that we are not dying and that we are thriving in most communities. We have more subscribers than ever before. We just have to make sure public truly understands that we are a valuable piece of the fabric of the communities we serve. And if you don’t like newspapers, just ignore them and they will go away. Forever.”

The misguided “dying” label or comments alleging newspapers are fading away are a constant battle — and frustration — for Bordewyk when dealing with state legislators. He intends to use the publisher voices and their statements to knock down those perceptions at the next legislative session.

“The more we can do” to spotlight newspapers and their contributions, the better an association can advocate for their members and the newspaper industry, he added.

South Dakota’s concept can be a worthwhile exercise throughout all of NAM. Heck, it would make a great Community Forum series orchestrated by associations featuring publishers and editors.

Hmmmmmmmm.

—Tom Silvestri

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