CNPA Beefs Up Advocacy For Local Journalism

Check out California for the future of advocacy to protect trusted journalism.

The California News Publishers Association is revamping its lobbying efforts to better uplift local journalism and newspapers. At the outset, the Association wants to counter the “proliferation of misinformation” on social media and to defeat harmful legislation when proposed at the statehouse. Fundamental to the new initiative is an urgency to secure greater awareness and effective appreciation of the importance of CNPA members to their communities.

CNPA logo

An initial campaign launched last month embraces digital technology that can send targeted messages to specific legislators, influencers, voters and readers.

The first ad in a planned series is the 30-second video above. The digital ad campaign touts “newspapers as an antidote for social media disinformation” and intends to stress the “shortcomings of social media and positions the news industry in California as the countervailing force against the effects of fake news.”

The overall message of “If not us, then who?” asks citizens to contact their legislators to “protect local, professional journalism.” And if there’s any hesitancy, the campaign adds: “The truth has never been so important.”

In a phone interview, CNPA President & CEO Charles F. “Chuck” Champion ticked off a long list of “prolific legislations” in California that are detrimental to newspapers — from removing public notices to restricting public access to curtailing freedom of information to hampering coverage of police misconduct to changing independent contractors rules.

“Newspapers don’t deliver pizzas,” said Champion, pausing to focus on the independent contractor debate raging in California. “Newspapers deliver democracy.”

Champion said his Association is beefing up its statehouse presence by hiring a full-time lobbyist firm, a public relations agency, a crisis manager and a technology company to advance the digital message campaigns.

Instead of just putting a video on a website or in a newsletter, the “The Truth Has Never Been So Important” messages will use geo-fencing to connect with legislators, those around them, voters, and influencers in “high-priority legislative districts throughout the state.”

Should the CNPA need to appeal to the governor, for example, “we’ve mapped out the people in touch with him. We know what boards he’s on, or has been on, his friends, his family, his staff, his church.” By placing the video inside those types of network, CNPA’s advocacy begins to be discussed and understood at the same time. Effectiveness improves, Champion said.

Programmatic ads also “will facilitate contacts through links to a forthcoming customer landing page at CNPA.com,” the Association said in its campaign announcement.

Digital campaigns will be supplemented by advertisements, social media use and commentaries published in newspapers. It’s all about being more strident in advocating for trusted journalism and pointing out what’s at risk when newspapers are weakened or go out of business.

CNPA isn’t assuming people know.

Chuck Champion

“Everybody needs to know the vacuum caused when professional journalists leave and the space is occupied with social media misinformation and propaganda,” Champion said. “Our journalists are critical to democracy. …It’s heartbreaking to watch” newspapers struggle.

Part of the new advocacy strategy involves using technology to better equip publishers with videos and scripts when contacting state legislators about the publications’ positions on proposed laws and to better document what those damaging changes would do to the newspapers’ indispensable service to their respective communities, Champion said.

The desired result is a strong “unified message for publishers to deliver,” said Champion, who added he is ecstatic over the support received from CNPA members and the Association’s board. “We go from a staff of seven to one of 40” when board members are so active, he added. “The industry is coming together like I’ve never seen before.”

In confronting social media misinformation, CNPA noted that “the industry’s credibility with readers has never been higher.” The association quotes the Pew Research Center’s report that “two out of three consumers now rely on their local newspaper for credible news, and 71 percent do so because they trust the accuracy of local journalism.”

CNPA adds: “Proof lies in the surge of newspaper and digital subscriptions since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Champion said CNPA intends to make the “The Truth Has Never Been So Important” videos available to other press associations.

“We’re thinking of the industry as a whole with our message,” he added.

–Tom Silvestri

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