Wisconsin Advances The Community Forum

Thanks to the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for allowing The Relevance Project to talk up THE Community Forum as fuel for a newspaper’s transformation.

It was fitting that WNA’s format was its first COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER FORUM. Bingo!

The 3-hour forum yesterday (Oct. 21) had four parts:

*“Creating Connections: 6 Steps To Organizing A Community Forum” — The Relevance Project’s initiative to build a network of Community Forums throughout North America depends on local publishers and editors seizing the opportunity to create vital connections with their audiences by orchestrating civil, civic conversations on issues of importance. I adjusted the “Be THE Community Forum” presentation to meet Wisconsin’s needs. I’m now ready to assist any newspaper that’s eager to foster civil discourse and, in turn, elevate readers’ trust in local journalism.

*Community-Funded Journalism: Philanthropic Options For Newspapers & Tips For Success” — Julia Hunter, WNA Membership and Communications director, provided a crisp overview of philanthropic options available to for-profit local newspapers, including WNA’s Community News Fund. She also reassured participants they can be successful with this added approach to financial support.

*Using Your Website To Gain Subscribers And Grow Revenue” — Patrick Schless, chief technology officer for the Missouri-based Lewis County Press, detailed several practical ways — “make it persistent ….make it painless” — community newspapers can improve their digital services and offerings to add audience and increase revenue. He also explained his Community Journalism Project that offers grants to help newspapers test and experience new technologies.

*”Building Trust And Growing Your Audience Through Meaningful Engagement” –– Hunter returned to discuss best practices for implementing strategies that enrich an audience’s experience with newspapers. It’s a matter of changing a newsroom’s mindset, going beyond “likes,” and tapping into industry resources. “Engagement happens when members of the public are responsive to newsrooms, and newsrooms are in turn responsive to members of the public.”

If you care to peek at the programs materials, you can find them here.

Cheers to the Wisconsin association for advocating THE Community Forum and actually embracing it for its own use.

Who’s next?

–Tom Silvestri

Turn Up The Volume On Media Literacy

THE Community Forum strategy compels newspapers to improve citizens’ news or media literacy.

That’s because community-focused publishers and editors should be motivated to help readers repel misinformation, dangerous manipulations, and fake news sources.

Looking for a timely angle?

Next week, one of the non-profit groups seeking to advance media literacy is hosting the seventh annual U.S. Media Literacy Week (Oct. 25-29).

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) says it will celebrate this year’s theme that defines media literacy as the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE and ACT using all forms of communication. It welcomes partners.

Newspapers should consider giving voice to the celebration, which the association said was inspired by Canada’s Media Literacy Week (now in its 15th year).

“So each day will focus on one of those words and we encourage participants to organize events, teach a lesson, or create media related to the day’s theme,” the association said. “But don’t worry if you can’t! Media Literacy Week is all-encompassing and it’s totally fine to combine multiple theme words into an event or lesson. “

The association acknowledges there are many different types of media literacy definitions.

“Just like you would evaluate information for a research report for a class assignment, all forms of media literacy encourage students to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act on all types of media responsibly. This includes, but is not limited to, news media, social media, movies, television, music, advertisements, and more,” NAMLE notes in its frequently asked question section.

To learn more, check out the association’s website.

The Relevance Project recommends using THE Community Forum to discuss media or news literacy, borrowing from the week’s suggested result: “To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel, and behave.”

And this:

“Today’s information and entertainment technologies communicate to us through a powerful combination of words, images, and sounds. As such, we need to develop a wider set of literacy skills helping us to both comprehend the messages we receive and effectively utilize these tools to design and distribute our own messages. Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the boardroom, or the voting booth.”

In January, the News Literacy Project and E.W. Scripps Co. conducted National News Literacy Week which also sought to raise awareness.

The News Literacy Project is another potential partner for newspapers.

When it comes to news literacy, you can’t have too many collaborators or friends.

Here’s to U.S. Media Literacy Week 2021.

–Tom Silvestri

This Magazine Remains A Star

Happy 80th birthday to Parade magazine.

You’re still looking good.

Last Sunday’s special edition presented “The Many Faces of Parade” by showing covers selected from 4,000 magazines since its arrival in 1941.

Not an easy task.

For longtime newspaper readers, no Sunday is complete without Parade. As a longtime publisher, I always valued my relationship with Parade and their strident efforts to strengthen newspapers with support, content and research. Its representatives — past and present — are first-rate.

Parade is also a mainstay as a sponsor of newspaper industry gatherings, helping trade associations with dollars and advice aimed at encouraging publishers to be further relevant to their audiences.

Over the years, Parade “has covered presidents, politics, the space race, sports, royalty, health and many other important topics that mattered to its readers,” the magazine stated in explaining its flashback edition, “But keeping a finger on the pulse of pop culture was a place where Parade really shone, from spotlighting Hollywood’s old guard to revealing each era’s rising stars.”

The magazine remains a star as well.

Congratulations, Parade, and here’s wishing you many more years to come.

Note to the newspaper industry: Where’s the big parade for a trusted friend?

–Tom Silvestri

Director Q and A: Oregon’s Laurie Hieb

Laurie Hieb deserves some shelter from the storm for being an executive director of a newspaper trade association.

Her home state of Oregon has been a hotspot during the pandemic and protests over the last year-and-a-half of stops and stops, shutdowns and re-openings, and plenty of disruptions.

Lobbying at the statehouse remains challenging and frustrating.

Even setting up the annual conference hasn’t been straightforward.

Laurie Heib (second from the left) enjoys the Newspaper Association Managers’ conferences. In 2016 in Reno, she caught up with executive directors LIsa Hills (Minnesota, left), Susan Patterson Plank (Ohio) and Michelle Rea (New York, right).

The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association was looking forward to holding its 2021 conference in person.

Then the COVID variant arrived.

Hieb’s board decided to play it safe to protect members and a week away from the conference opted to go virtual with the meetings and programs.

Hieb quickly contacted speakers to see if they could still do the workshops at the in-person times — but on Zoom. “Luckily they were both proficient in handling the last-minute curveball and made it work,” she said. “I moved the awards ceremony to the day prior so it wasn’t too much time for members to be in front of the computer in one day. My president and I recorded the awards ceremony and made it a ‘premiere watch’ on YouTube. This way, our members had time to have watch parties if desired.”

She also figured out how to keep a personal touch.

“I am using the awards delivery as a way to make some member visits,” Hieb said. “The members are very excited to see you when you are bringing them plaques.”

The abrupt change in plans was one more example how the Oregon newspaper association remains an indispensable service to its members. The Relevant Project caught up with Hieb for this month’s Executive Director Question & Answer.

Hieb also is a member of the executive committee of Newspaper Association Managers, a coalition of newspaper trade groups in the United States and Canada.

Congratulations on your election as vice president of NAM at the recent convention. How would you describe the state of newspapers in 2021 based on what you are seeing in your state and your discussions with other executive directors?
I am proud of how our members in Oregon made immediate adjustments as the pandemic hit.  Oregon was one of the states that closed everything and stayed closed for a long amount of time compared to other states.  The immediate hit on businesses resulted in little to no advertising dollars for our members, all while trying to cover the pandemic, ongoing protests and riots in Oregon. 
Our members continue to fight the good fight and to service their communities.  Just like so many other states and industries, we are all doing our best until the pandemic is under control and the economy picks up again.

Can you introduce us to your association in Oregon?
The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association was formed in 1936; prior to that it was called the Oregon State Editorial Association.  Currently, the association has 90 print publication members.  We have a great mix of corporate-owned papers and family-owned papers and our board reflects that.  We have a small staff of five who operate out of our headquarters office in Lake Oswego.

What makes your association different from others?
I think all of the state associations are unique with geography, politics, and membership makeup as big contributing factors.  In Oregon, we have a great mix of family-owned newspapers, small newspaper groups, and only five large corporate-owned members. Our geography is beneficial in advertising due to a good number of agencies buying the Pacific Northwest market. ONPA handles advertising for Oregon, Washington and Idaho, resulting in a much higher advertising territory.

Now you: What’s been your career path?
I graduated from Oregon State University with a broadcast journalism degree. My first job out of college was in the underwriting department at Oregon Public Broadcasting.  After a few years at OPB, I was hired by a radio station in Medford, Oregon.  In radio back then, you were hired to do a little of everything.  I was hired to do a combination of on-air work, production and advertising scheduling. I moved back to Portland and worked at radio station K103 for 10 years and ultimately landed at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association where I have been for 17 years. 

How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?
This is always an interesting question at cocktail parties.  I usually say that I am the director at the trade association that represents the newspapers in Oregon.  When they ask how, I tell them through lobbying, legal services, advertising, contests and training.

What do you like best about your job?
I enjoy working with the members on solutions or services that help their paper to be the best they can be.  I have worked with most of them for the last 17 years and view many of them as family.  

The legislative piece of my job is extremely frustrating when defense is an all-encompassing reoccurrence each session. 
I also dislike when legislators who know our argument wins on a specific topic but let politics dictate their vote the other way.

What are your association’s priorities?
Whenever we have asked that question to our members in survey form, we always get the same priorities in the same order.  Legislation/public notice, legal hotline and advertising.  If those are our members’ priorities, then we make it the association’s priorities.

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
The path newspapers will take from print to online and what monetizing looks like during and after that transfer.

How has the pandemic changed your association and members?

It has forced all of us how to adapt overnight. 

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money? 
If I had unlimited resources, I would invest in two areas.  The first area would be getting newsrooms fully staffed again.  Then I would invest further in helping our members create a profitable and successful way to navigate through the transitions from a print world business model to a digital model.

What is something most people don’t know about you?
That I was in a bilingual (Spanish and English) program from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I am the happiest on the water.  Love to spending time on the river behind my house with family and friends.

How would your best career advice to a newcomer to newspapers? To a veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?
I would say to anyone thinking of joining the newspaper industry, come with your best creative and problem-solving skills.  To veterans I would say, be sure to teach and instill the vital role newspapers play in our communities and democracy to all the newcomers in our industry. 

Tom Silvestri


Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association is a trade association composed of weekly and daily paid-circulation newspapers serving large cities and small communities across the state. It is organized to represent the common interests of Oregon newspapers, to promote the value of newspaper advertising, and to further the public’s understanding that strong newspapers are the cornerstone of a democratic society.

RAMP — Real Access Media Placement — is a Pacific Northwest multimedia expert with nationwide reach. Clients and agencies rely on RAMP for no-cost multimedia ad placement services anywhere. “Our customized targeted ensures your success every time,” RAMP says.

Oregon Newspapers Foundation was incorporated in 1978 as a tax-exempt organization to increase the scope of involvement with journalism education and research. It assists with the development of journalism and advertising education programs, provides financial aid to students, and sponsors or funds continuing education programs for Oregon journalists and journalism educators.

The Celebration Must Go On

Now what?

National Newspaper Week adopted “Be THE Community Forum” as the 2021 theme.

The celebration ended Saturday.

Now what?

Did your newspaper conduct at least one discussion with readers about deepening the community’s trust?

Or, did the publisher or editor use the week to think about how to stage a series of civil, civic conversations to help the community improve its news literacy to fight disinformation and fake facts.

Or. better yet, you’re planning to uncork an initiative aimed at using the Community Forum strategy to explore issues of importance to your town, city, county, region or state and then to help identify solutions that improve the quality of life.

Be THE Community Forum.

The future of newspapers involves more vibrant engagement of their communities.

If you are a new publisher or editor, the Community Forum is a ready-made initiative to put your newspaper on stronger footing with you leading the way.

If you are a longtime publisher or editor, the Community Forum can rejuvenate your career and give the community a new way to understand and support their local source of news and information.

National Newspaper Week was a headline about transforming into becoming THE Community Forum.

Thank you.

It’s time for newspapers and their trade associations to write the rest of the story.

What now?

-Tom Silvestri

Momentum Builds For THE Community Forum

A shout-out to Jerry Raehal, executive director of the Louisiana Press Associaton, for adding The Community Forum to this timely promotion during National Newspaper Week:

We spotted the powerful message in this week’s newsletters from state press associations doing a great job touting the celebrated observance, a project of Newspaper Association Managers, which sponsors The Relevance Project.

That calls for a second shout-out to the South Carolina Press Association for aggregating and distributing LIVE! commentaries and stories about National Newspaper Week done by publications in the state. This one caught my attention:

Inside, The Sumter Item’s executive editor, Kayla Green, endorsed The Community Forum strategy. “This year’s theme for National Newspaper Week is ‘Community Forum,’ which is perfect for us. Community is what we’re all about,” Green writes. “We are real people doing real work solely for the benefit of the community. We’re analyzing the data of what you actually read, and that’s informing our coverage so we can deliver content that matters to you. We’re five meetings into our inaugural Local News Advisory Board, where we hear from a group of 24 community leaders, officials, activists and stakeholders about what they want covered in their local newspaper.”

Green concludes: “We want to inform and entertain, celebrate, build and support a more knowledgeable and more connected community. Because without you, there is no us.”

I’d say Sumter has a newspaper that is working hard to be THE Community Forum.

Readers of the Relevant Point blog know that one of the core principles behind The Community Forum strategy is to upgrade trust in newspapers. In turn, The Relevance Project has advocated a simple first step: conduct forums or town halls about the newspaper and its coverage. That calls for one more shout-out, to The Post and Courier in Charleston, SC, for using National Newspaper Week to invite the public to a virtual event called “Behind the Headlines: The Future of Journalism in South Carolina.”

The discussion focused on the partnership between The Post and Courier and 17 community newspapers across South Carolina to “investigate corruption, abuse of power and misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Can’t think of a better way to honor National Newspaper Week.

Be THE Community Forum.

–Tom Silvestri

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

Missouri Remains The ‘Show Me’ State

Relevance is finding a way to complete the task, no matter the challenges.

That’s the reason for a round of hearty thanks to the Missouri Press Association for including The Relevance Project in its recent 155th annual convention and trade show.

What was to be an in-person General Session presentation at the last-minute turned into a Zoom show.

Blame the tenuous nature of air travel these days, as it was the first time for this experienced business traveler to ever miss getting to a destination in time — or at least the same day! A broken landing gear and the failed promise of “timely” repairs, coupled with booked-solid flights, were too much to overcome.

After many months of online workshops and meetings, Missouri Press was eager to return to physical presence meetings — you know, what we did before COVID. I appreciate MPA Executive Director Mark Maassen making an exception and Membership Director Kristie Fortier working with The Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs, MO, to figure out an unexpected virtual beam-in.

Through it all, I was happy to debut the “TRIPLE PLAY!” report that introduces how to measure Relevance, provides an updates on the free resources offered by The Relevance Project, and advocates how newspapers can transform into THE Community Forum.

I’m told my advice came in loud and clear.


One casualty of not being in Missouri, however, was I had to shelve handing out the NEW! Community Forum badge/sticker. So, I’ve added it here:

There’s always a next time.

Thanks again, Missouri Press Association, for never giving up on Relevance.

Tom Silvestri

(NOTE TO ASSOCIATIONS: The Triple Play! presentation makes a great one-hour workshop — longer if you add a Community Forum planning session. Open for invitations. Just ask. I am looking for volunteers among associations and their members to experiment with the Community Forum strategy. Eager to get going.)

Community Forum: Step-By-Step Advice

Part of a Continuing Series

Relevant Note: Consider this advice a sidebar to “Use NNW To Launch The Community Forum.” It also is intended to be a simplified approach to previous Relevant Points that explained and advocated how newspapers can become THE Community Forum.

The Relevance Project recommends a six-step approach to organizing a Community Forum on issues of importance to your town, city, county, region, state, province or nation.

Moderating a civil discourse requires planning, process and purpose.  Step up here:

Step 1: Pick
Select your topic, location for the Forum and format well in advance. Put your topic in the form of an intriguing question so that it attracts the largest possible audience. With the lingering pandemic, you are the best judge on whether the town hall is virtual or in person. Format determines whether there’s only a moderator with an audience or a moderator with guest speakers and presenters or a panel of subject-matter experts. The best time durations are 30, 60 or 90 minutes, depending on the topic and size of audience.

Step 2: Invite
Start planning the Forum at least 90 days out and invite the public no later than a month before the program. Create a formal invitation; publish and distribute it. Also, think who in the expected audience would have something valuable to contribute and invite each guest personally. Diversify your audience by including school classes, especially those studying the issue. Don’t be afraid to promote and do it repeatedly. 

Step 3: Inform
Before the Forum, publish stories, commentaries and promotions about the program and, in tandem, about the issue or topic to be discussed. Great time for an enterprise or in-depth report right before the Community Forum. Use online products and social media to also alert potential attendees. 

Step 4: Conduct
Plan how the forum will be conducted. Create clear guidelines on civility expectations. Practice. At the event, welcome the audience and explain how participation works. Moderate the program so the topic is first discussed by speakers and at a designated time invite audience questions and comments. Look to involve as many questions and comments as possible. REALLY important advice: Make sure the audio is excellent. People who can’t hear what’s going on tend to disrupt or leave. 

Step 5: Report
Consider broadcasting the forum live on the newspaper’s website. Write a news story on what people said and take pictures of the audience and everyone who spoke. Consider a follow-up editorial or commentary on potential next steps.

Step 6: Transcribe
Your news story presented the highlights. Now, transcribe the full forum so you can publish in a week or two the entire record of comments and exchanges, complete with the pictures of each speaker. Providing a full transcript can encourage more people to participate next time. It’s another way to involve interested residents. 

Bonus Idea: Consider involving your journalists by having them interview newsmakers, authorities or confirmed experts. It’s a neat way of exploring an issue and demonstrating the talent that creates invaluable insights. 

Ready to Help: Contact Tom Silvestri if you’d like to sound out your Community Forum strategy. Email: tas@relevanceproject.net or call 804-690-3361.

NOTE: Corrected 10.14.21 to fix typo in Step 6.