State newspaper associations hold their annual Legislative Conference in Washington next week and nearly every issue on the agenda would make an excellent Community Forum topic.
The Dec. 6-7 program is organized by NAM (Newspaper Association Managers) and the list of challenges — and opportunities — is long, important and interesting.
Let’s just say, newspaper lobbyists and advocates deserve a boost.
For starters, associations could orchestrate Community Forums as statewide events or partner with their members to put on regional discussions on the crucial topics. The overall goal would be twofold: raise awareness among the reading public on what newspapers face, often with urgency; and drive greater involvement by members who can add effective storytelling and commentary to garner greater support.
Based on the 2021 agenda, here are several Relevance Project suggestions on where to position the Community Forum formats to boost advocacy at the legislatures:
PUBLIC NOTICES: Work with your newspaper members to help them orchestrate Community Forums in their markets for citizens about the importance of Public Notices remaining in newspapers and the argument against those trying to deprive the public of vital information. Newspapers need broader community backing on this issue. Bonus: Collect email addresses to update attendees on future developments and to enlist them in contacting legislators.
MAIL DELIVERY: Newspapers, especially weeklies serving rural markets, are experiencing major problems with timely deliveries of publications. Some representatives of Congress have held town halls about the delays disrupting constituents’ mail. Packaging — no pun intended — newspaper concerns with reader complaints could be a forum doubleheader. Bonus: Invite legislators and local postal agents.
WIN THE NEW: Hold a “How To Work With Your Newspaper” Community Forum that invites new legislators to better understand the press’ role and starts a working relationship as part of their introduction to serving the public. (Credit: Idea by Florida Press Association Executive Director Jim Fogler, who shared it at the NAM conference in Madison, Wis.)
NATIONAL NEWSPAPER WEEK: Plan now a massive weeklong series of Community Forums in October about newspapers and their effectiveness. Among the themes: Newspapers & Open Government; Newspapers & Learning (Education); Newspapers & First-Responders; Newspapers & Civic Discourse; and, Newspapers & The First Amendment. Bonus: Tap other special weeks or days that have appropriate themes, such as news literacy.
A DAY AT THE CAPITOL: Some associations already do this, so it might be good to hear best practices on what works well in highlighting the issues at the next session and what to expect to sharpen news coverage. Workshops featuring newsmakers examining issues and journalists elaborating on opportunities and challenges are all worthwhile. This day offers chances for rewarding partnerships.
LEADERSHIP CHAMPS: Hold a Community Forum to recognize the legislators who are the best advocates for newspapers, open government and freedom of information. Tell their stories on why their actions are important to an enlightened democracy. Bonus: Could be a paid event that contributes revenues.
REPORT OUT: Coordinate with members and hold regional sessions that detail the issues impacting local news operations (and possibly advertising, circulation and production). Do two parts: Part I: Ensure employees of newspapers are aware of issues, trends, challenges, and opportunities flowing from the state legislature and local government. Part II: Coordinate with volunteering members to hold similar sessions for the public in hopes of securing support that can be tapped from time to time.
STAGE IT: Hold a discussion about your Legislature in the legislative chambers, with editors sitting in the seats of their representatives. Stage it as a local news field trip to better inform readers on how government works. Raise the bar on government literacy. Pairs nicely with an outreach that increases media literacy among elected government officials. Bonus: Arrange for a special tour of the Capitol.
This list is by no means definitive. It’s meant to help lobbying earn wider support in and out of the respective legislatures.
What would you add to the discussion list?
Remember: Be THE Community Forum.
–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project