Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Part of a Continuing Series

Why don’t newspapers think of themselves as THE Community Forum?

My advocacy for the transformational strategy confronts three main excuses:

If we can’t make money on a new initiative, it’s not happening.

We don’t have the time.

Why would I put myself in a room full of critics, the type of people who send me nasty comments in emails and voicemails?

Here are the brief counter-arguments:

On making money: The Community Forum strategy is as much an audience-growth initiative as it is a way to improve trust in your local news operation and to better connect with your community. Revenue will follow a growing audience. Trust attracts. Also, a series of discussions with readers could be the launching pad to an events business.

On time: Many staffs are stretched. But here’s the brutal fact: If you don’t make time to talk with your readers or prospective customers, you’re done. Plus, if those discussions are organized under a Community Forum banner, they’re proactive, replacing having to only react when the reader knocks, calls or emails. The time is there to be THE Community Forum.

On critics: First, if you think only of the negative experiences, you’re missing an opportunity to foster a civil, civic discourse in your communities. Second, moderating such an in-person dialogue is invigorating. I know — converting critics into fans is rewarding work. Plus, I’d rather get the criticism or comments in person because it’s a better way to respond, understand more effectively the complainer’s or advice-giver’s perspectives, and welcome a chance to address issues head-on.

A fourth excuse points to not having public speaking, or town-hall moderating, experience. That’s an easy one to solve. Don’t be afraid. Learn by doing. It will take some time to feel comfortable. But the need to get going thumps any hesitation.

Besides: Respect, listening and demonstrating civility will go a long way these days.

Be THE Community Forum.

–Tom Silvestri

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