2022: Turn Threats Into Opportunities (Again)

At newspaper conferences, attendees usually want to explore revenue or storytelling ideas. But in 2022, the wise will pay closer attention to legal and legislative issues.

Heck, newspaper trade associations could devote their entire annual conventions to threats alone, given the stakes and severity.

It’s a good thing newspapers do some of their best work during crises. And it’s an equally good thing associations are tracking these issues with gusto.

Understanding the true depth of a problem is the first step to solutions. And we all know a resourceful leader, manager or adviser can turn problems into opportunities as well.

I left the recent NAM (Newspaper Association Managers) Legislative Conference with a full pad of notes and compared them to recent news items published in association newsletters. Then back at Relevance Project Headquarters, I turned observations into a Relevant Point. Take the following short list of urgent issues to develop informative programs so your local newspapers are well aware and staying well ahead of trouble:

*Proposed legislation to help newspapers. Proposals are at the federal (Local Journalism Sustainability Act) and some state levels. They prompt calls for help on the advocacy front. Added bonus: Best practices on building strong relationships with legislators. (In some states, this is a tough assignment.)

*Changes in environmental laws that impact newspaper production. An example would be the bans on plastic bags used by newspaper deliverers. Watch for new recycling laws and what they mean.

*The local impact of efforts to force social media giants like Facebook and Google to pay publishers for content. Can we do more than stand by? Do the right thing.

*Copyright do’s and don’ts. Mind-boggling. Pay particular attention to the use of photographs. Don’t assume you can run a submitted photo, for starters. Image a lawyer patrolling for compensation before you publish. Infringements can cost you. Sloppy work can haunt you.

*The continued assault on Public Notices in newspapers. We’ll leave it there since this is an association priority.

*Public records battles. Lots of angles from new restrictions and expanded sealing to high costs charged and new ways to resist. When to sue? Also, the arrival of reverse lawsuits where government sues the requester of information.

*Can you prove newspaper websites are better than governments’ when it comes to effectively informing the public? Good workshop material.

*Growing threats to journalists. Ensuring safety in the workforce. Disturbing trend.

*Changes in court access, from cameras in the courtroom to juvenile identified to the use of technology while reporting live from a trial.

*Covering police is a whole new ballgame in many states. If it isn’t demands for reform, it’s what information gets released (mug shots, for example) vs. what doesn’t, and the added risks of publishing certain information. Don’t forget body cameras. Lots of tension, including the relationship between the police and local government.

*How COVID has affected access to health-care information. And why do some government agencies use newspaper ads to inform and others do not?

*The fight for transparency: Who is winning, who is losing. Do Sunshine laws work?

*Cyber attacks that threaten to shut down newspapers (and associations). Ransomware and old computers.

*Delivery problems with a changing U.S. Post Office. What can a publisher do?

*Are “weekly” and “daily” designations outdated? What’s wrong with being a “local media company”?

*Libel law updates. Endless.

*Controversies involving the coverage of high school sports. One state is requiring “anti-bias training” for reporters. Taking photos and video may be challenged.

*The truth about news deserts. What to do? Some associations have lined up grants to improve statehouse reporting, for example.

*Restrictions on marijuana advertisements. Don’t let your potential ad dollars go up in smoke.

*The disappearing position of publisher. Who is in charge? Does anyone care?

All of the topics are based on association experiences and their top challenges. The hallway conversation added more.

Good luck.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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