When he isn’t running the Mississippi Press Association, Layne Bruce is the “clerk” of Newspaper Association Managers.
Call him the administrator of NAM to match the many tasks he completes and he quickly will correct you: “I’m just the clerk.”
Bruce prefers to operate in the background, but push him to the front of the stage and you’ll find an informative, competitive, curious, insightful, problem-solving, sharp-witted executive director.
Ask him for advice and you can take it to the bank. Hang around him for any extended period and you will discover he deeply cares about his members and appreciates his newspaper colleagues.
And you can’t beat his family’s roots in the business.
Bruce also has a stack of “get of jail cards” with The Relevance Project as one of the orchestrators of the initiative and the caretaker of http://www.relevanceproject.net.
Check that: “Clerk” of the website.
Bruce participated in this month’s Director Q&A from his pandemic bunker near the state capital of Mississippi. Enjoy his answers, especially the one about a surprise talent.
Can you introduce us to your association?
The Mississippi Press Association is the sixth oldest trade group of its kind in the United States, founded at the end of the Civil War. It’s an old joke, but we claim to be the sixth oldest because no one really ever contests such a middling distinction.
One can infer by the time of our Association’s founding that its original mission may not have been altruistic, but today the Association and its 100-plus print and digital members stand for serving our communities and state, and being a mirror for each.
Now you: What’s been your career path?
My entire career has been in newspaper media. My father was editor and publisher of our hometown newspaper, the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Miss., for a number of years. I joined the staff part-time while in high school and worked in the production department.
I have served as a reporter, production manager, editor, and publisher for a number of other newspapers in the intervening 33 years and joined MPA in 2006 as marketing director. I was elevated in 2007 after the retirement of my predecessor, Carolyn Wilson, who served in the job for 22 years. I owe my job to Carolyn, who hired me in marketing and sought me out as her eventual successor.
How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?
That’s always a good question. Tell someone you work for a trade association and you often get a blank stare back. And such a short answer nowhere near quantifies everything the job involves.
So I usually tell them I represent the newspaper industry and ask about their local paper. Particularly if the person is from Mississippi, there’s usually an instant connection after that. Though, no, I usually can’t help get your newspaper delivered faster.
What do you like best about your job?
Pre-pandemic, I loved traveling to communities across the state and visiting member newspapers. I have loved this industry since I was about 9-years-old and my father let me shoot high school football games for the paper while he was on the sidelines. (In retrospect, there were probably some child labor law entanglements there, but I can’t overstate how much I loved it). So, I really enjoy visiting different newspapers, seeing how they do things, and learning how they are coping and adapting in this constant age of change.
Since the pandemic started, I have worked primarily from home, but each member of our small staff has derived intense satisfaction from being a resource for our members during this very troubling experience. We fostered long-distancing networking for them through the year and worked hard to answer any question they had.
Legislative sessions. I’m a terrible lobbyist because I simply cannot say what I really think after several years editing an opinion page and writing editorials and columns. Thankfully, we employ two crackerjack lobbyists who get the job done well.
What is your proudest career moment?
Oddly, given my previous answer, a legislative battle that resulted in the state legislature declaring publicly owned hospitals had to adhere to the Open Meetings Act. This included a short but intense period of stand-off with the state hospital association, probably one of the best oiled lobbying machines in the state legislature. In the end, their argument that these taxpayer-funded hospitals should not be accountable to the public just fizzled amid pressure from newspapers and concerned citizens.
But, sentimentally, the chance to become editor and general manager of my hometown paper six years after the death of my father is probably the proudest I have ever been.
What are some of the 2021 priorities for you and your association?
We’ve done fairly well keeping members connected through virtual platforms, but we are truly seeing some of our combined muscle wasted by not being able to gather in person. I hope we can have at least one in-person event, even if it’s small, in calendar 21.
Otherwise, we continue to fight for the familiar issues of transparency, responsible government, and the preservation of public notices in our state legislature.
What adjustments have you made during COVID-19 and can you share any lessons?
We shifted to primarily work from home on March 17, 2020. The staff has not all gathered in person since that time. But we have found the technology that helps keep you connected has been a truly indispensable tool that will lead to permanent modifications of how we operate post-pandemic.
I previously scoffed at the notion one could be as productive in a work-from-home setting. To my delight, I think in many ways we have become even better at our jobs since giving it a go.
What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
I sleep very well at night.
Things that used to have me in knots don’t worry me like they used to. That’s the benefit of doing this job for so long and from seeing how much our industry has persevered.
But, truly, I worry about small towns drying up because of the brain drain of students leaving the state after college and the effects of e-commerce on local retail. All of this affects papers, and it physically pains me when a community loses one.
If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?
The pandemic has taught us that decline in service from the post office may accelerate our move to digital more than anything else. I would love to be involved in incubating new subscription and revenue models for small newspapers.
Some of us have done our jobs so long I think we feel inextricably tethered to a physical print product. It’s not time to let that go, but it’s long past time to seek and embrace next generation ideas.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I can wiggle my ears.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Music, good food, and James Bond movies.
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?
Oh, it’s the same: When you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask the question of someone who does.
Anything else to add?
NAM is truly a unique organization and one that inspires me. There is something very special about being able to send an email or make a call and having someone who knows exactly what you’re going through answer.
At the Mississippi Press Association, we believe in the power of community newspapers to deliver unmatched content and audience reach. Our 110 member newspapers are the leading source of news and advertising information in the communities we serve, from Corinth to Bay St. Louis and everywhere in between. Learn more about the power of our reach within Mississippi.
Value statement on the home page of the MPA’s website.