Community Forums For States And Provinces

Imagine a world without newspaper trade associations and their loyal members advocating at state or provincial capitols. 

You know, transparency in government, ample notice and alerts before legislative or administrative decisions are made, First Amendment freedoms, and access to public information. 

Go ahead and shutter at what obstacles would be sprung and what idiotic edicts would be issued. 

Fortunately, staying ahead of trouble is a hallmark of a proactive association.

That’s why the Community Forum strategy is so important. Readers of this blog know it’s a frequent Relevant Point.

Becoming THE Community Form allows associations and their newspaper members to improve effectiveness when they engage legislators, in what selected formats they use, and how they master collaboration.

Cheers to the associations that already organize events that put legislators and local media in the same room to discuss issues, identify problems, and begin crafting solutions that uplift democracy via Relevant local media. 

Threats are real in this era of toxic politics. Newspapers can’t afford to be on defense.

Still, nothing is more frustrating than those tireless drills of being surprised by proposed legislation or a development that requires publishers to call or email legislators at the last minute and then appear at hearings where the time is always short and oppositions often vengeful.

Some state and provincial association do in fact orchestrate events where a program is held before the start of a legislative session. Standard fare include panel discussions on expected issues.
That’s great. Keep it going.

But please do this: Upgrade by using the Community Forum strategy in two ways. 

One, the association should set up “Introductions To the Press” for all new members of a legislature.  Do it in the spirit of congratulating their achievement and stressing how working with the press is part of the job. Give them a foundation to understand us.  (Disclosure: I had an outstanding discussion with an association executive director at the recent NAM conference about this very approach. It inspired.)

Don’t assume newly elected officials know how local news operations work. And don’t assume there are channels that flow back and forth to ensure communications are open and productive. 

Second, use the Community Forum to foster opportunities where every leader at a legislature — be it a role leading a body, committee, subcommittee, study group or program initiative — is introduced to all newspaper members of an association.

Build working relationships.  Create connections.

I’m not talking about those painful receptions where people go to eat and drink to make small talk. Rather, organize a series of programs — forums! — where legislators get to know the press, where there’s an energetic format to discuss issues ahead of a legislative session, and there’s a better awareness of what can be done to better inform taxpayers and voters. 

By meeting directly with the various leaders you are putting on the record a coherent overview on what’s important, allowing disclosure on various positions, and extending an open invitation to followup discussions. 

Also:
By using the Community Format format, you are safeguarding civil, civic discourse ahead of deliberations that improve awareness, deepen understanding and secure a commitment to good government and trusted journalism. 

Citizens win.

Use the Community Forum approach to make a bold statement.

Consider:
The (State or Province) Forum: Where Legislators And Local News Media Advance Democracy.

Be THE Community Forum.

–Tom Silvestri

Note: The Relevance Project includes U.S. and Canadian perspectives because its sponsor, Newspaper Association Managers, represents trade groups throughout North America.

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