Mr. President: Hire Newspapers To Achieve Your 70%

It’s the newspaper industry’s turn to say, “C’mon, man!”

President Joe Biden, who uses the retort to express frustration, now has Relevant details about newspaper effectiveness in reaching citizens who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. He also can end the mystery as to why a collective $380 million in new federal funding isn’t flowing in meaningful amounts to newspaper trade associations’ ad services and the publishers they represent.

As of today, there has been no formal response to a May 13th letter sent to Biden by the News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association. Read the full letter here.

“We shared the letter with the Administration and have heard back from the political people” at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Paul Boyle, senior vice president for public policy at the News Media Alliance. “I am trying to lock-down a date and time in which we can talk with them.”

Among the topics will be this statement: “We believe the Administration, to date, has overlooked the reach that our member newspapers can provide, despite our offers to demonstrate our capabilities.”

Time is of the essence.

Newspapers are ready to roll on distributing trusted information to help improve vaccine education. With newspapers publishing sponsored content and paid messages from the government, for example, the Biden Administration would be in a better position of achieving its goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. citizens inoculated by July 4th.

“Our champions on (Capitol Hill) were told a month ago that HHS has been using newspapers for 11 percent of its campaign,” Boyle said. “We don’t have any insight on the total dollar amount spent with newspapers and whether this has (or will) increase in the coming months. Hopefully, on a call we will get some clarity on size and reach of the campaign.”

The letter signed by NMA President & CEO David Chavern and NNA Executive Director Lynne Lance identified two sources of new federal funds for coronavirus strategies: $130 million for vaccine education and $250 million to assist state governments with outreach efforts to encourage citizens to get the shot.

The letter to Biden stated that “newspapers, through their print and digital products, can deliver the audiences that you want to reach, particularly in states with lagging vaccination rates.”

“For example, in Mississippi, newspapers and their websites can reach 75 percent of households daily and in Alabama, more than 50 percent of all households,” the letter continued. “Further, the inclusion of a print advertising campaign in these states — and others like them — will reach citizens in rural and diverse communities where internet connectivity in homes is lacking or broadband penetration in the community is low.”

Successful advertisers use extended campaigns to ensure the audience understands its messages and is motivated to act. It’s not clear from state associations if ads received by some newspapers are one-and-done or repeated messages that run several days.

“We heard from newspapers that they have received ads over the last month — both print and digital placements,” Boyle said in an email. “We hope that with this letter, HHS and the Administration decides to step up their use of local newspapers particularly in states where inoculations are lagging.”

Maybe newspapers advocates should start wearing this T-shirt, which is available for sale online.

That’s a cue to trade associations to confirm where that problem exists in their respective states and then provide additional details. Now is the time to step up the advocacy.

In his email responding to Relevance Project questions, Boyle quoted national figures that less than 4 in 10 Americans have been inoculated. That’s a “far cry from 70 percent which is the goal by July 4,” Boyle said. (The Wall Street Journal reported May 18 that the “U.S. has vaccinated 48 percent of its population, at least partially as of Sunday…”)

“The government needs as many messages and messengers as possible to get to that 70 percent rate,” Boyle added.

The latest confusion over masks isn’t helping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines of “no masks for the vaccinated,” Boyle said, “will actually hurt as most Americans will only hear, ‘No mask.'”

And then there’s the problems with social media, tainted information and toxic discourse.

The newspaper advocacy groups’ letter pinpointed the solution: “From our perspective, the best way to counter misinformation about vaccines that has proliferated on social media platforms is to provide positive messaging about vaccines through a trusted source that has been operating in local communities, in some cases for more than two centuries: the local newspaper.”

In a news release, Lance added: “Newspapers have state advertising networks in place that can quickly and easily carry out a nationally coordinated, locally focused campaign.”

–Tom Silvestri

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