Relevance 101: How To Plan A Community Forum

Part of a Continuing Series

My experience in conducting town halls is in Richmond, VA, with an initiative called the Public Square. This picture captures a discussion about the opioid epidemic.

The Relevance Project offers workshops on how newspapers and their trade associations can be THE Community Forum.

The Community Forum is an umbrella strategy to attract and connect with a growing audience. Its centerpiece action is the town hall (in Richmond, where I moderated 78 civil, civic Community forums, they were called the Public Square; sample it here).

In both the strategy and the big action, the desired result is elevating your Relevance, a key goal in any transformation or reinvention.

This month, I presented “How To Become THE Community Forum” to publishers and editors from press associations based in three states — Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Thanks to the associations for the invitation and to the attendees who showed up to learn — on a Friday, no less.

A frequent question from workshop participants is how to plan a town hall. I offered advice on the Zoom calls. But in this Relevant Point, I sketch in detail a planner that defines the steps that go into thinking, planning, plotting, organizing, conducting and reporting a Community Forum.

The model below assumes a town hall is conducted quarterly. It also works for an annual program.

After reviewing this approach, build your own tracker that charts required steps and results. Adjust as you see fit.

I am contemplating a separate Relevant Point on how to moderate a town hall. (Note: there’s a series among the Relevant Points that reports my Public Square experience. Let me know if you’d like a shortcut to read them.)

In the meantime, here we go:

Based on 4X a year (quarterly) model.

Create a written plan detailing the Town Hall’s role and how the initiative advances the newspaper’s Mission. Place a great emphasis on the newspaper’s Relevance to its community and the importance of modeling civil, civic dialogue in a divisive society battling misinformation. 
INTRODUCE your initiative in a publisher or editor column.
Mention this is part of a strategy to become THE Community Forum. 
REMEMBER: Planning and practice better prepares you for success. Wing it at your own risk.
A WORD TO THE WISE: Invest in technology (especially sound) that provides the best possible experience for participation and understanding. 
If you are able, announce all four topics that make up the year cycle for your town halls. If you can’t, at least start the planning 90 days out with firm deadlines on what to accomplish. 

90-60 DAYS OUT
Organize the Planning Team to brainstorm, collaborate on required actions and manage details. Make sure each member has a key role/responsibility: Consider: Invitations/registration; room/technology setup; news coverage; promotions; speaker coordination; program moderator and management; guest welcome; security; afterward thank-you gestures. 
Decide how often the Planning Team should meet. I suggest every other week 90 to 60 days out. Weekly 30 days out. Put these check-ins on the calendar so they don’t get lost. You can always cancel them if there is no need.
Decide if you want people to register or just show up. Think security and how to avert hecklers/disruptors. 
Identify the location to hold the town hall. 
Plan on the town hall to be 90 minutes. 
Set a date. Confirm the location. 
Pick the topic (assumes you are not playing off breaking news). Write a nut or context graph on why people should care about this topic and why you are focused on it. Be strong. 
Compose the topic in terms of the strongest question that will attract the biggest potential audience. (If you have trouble writing a captivating question, rethink the topic.)
Identify the format (debate, presentation, panel discussion, one main newsmaker, etc.) and guest speakers. Secure their commitment.
NOTE: Make sure you leave ample time for audience participation. There’s the 30-30-30 (30 minutes for presentation; 30 minutes for moderator questions; 30 minutes for the audience); or 45-45 (45 minutes for the presentation and guest speakers; 45 minutes for the audience).
Update the timeline/tracker on what needs to get done from now until the program occurs. Make sure the planning team has the tracker with clear directions on who does what. 

60-45 DAYS OUT
Announce the program with a news story and explain how the public can participate. Send the story to broadcast media to see if they’ll also promote it. 
Begin to think who would be best to supplement the guest speakers by being in the audience willing to speak. Create a list of invitees and make the effort to invite them by including a copy of the news story and promotions. (For example: In Richmond, we tried to invite college classes and professors studying the topic. Also, we tried to make sure those involved in the issue knew about the town hall and acknowledged that not everyone was a subscriber who saw our promotions.)
Create a set of promotions that can run each week to gather new signups. If you have limited audience capacity, update with the latest availability of “seats.” Schedule publication and distribution.
Consider partnering with other media. 
Whenever a news story is about the topic, match it with a sidebar about the town hall.
Assign the big takeout story that will appear no later than a week before the town hall. Consider making it a special report in print and online.
Do an initial conference call or meeting with the guest speakers so they know what’s expected of them. Set up the next check-in call. 
Check on the technology to be used. 

45-30 DAYS OUT
Set up conference call or meeting with the guest speakers to go over their roles and answer their questions. Give them enough guidance so they are comfortable with what they will provide at the town hall. 
Decide how you will transcribe the program so you can publish an edited version in print and the full text online. (Note: In Richmond, we hired someone to do the transcript. It cost us about $200.)
Check the planned special report so it will be ready. 
Check on the technology to be used.
Check on the registrations to see if you have to adjust. 
Create a quality welcome concept to attendees that ensures you secure their email addresses. If the town hall is done in person, consider name tags for all participants and a check-in sheet that identifies every attendee. 

Confirm who will cover the event. Make sure you are ready to at least get a head shot of everyone who speakers. 
The moderator should have a “script” of what to say to open, run and close the program. Included should be clear ground rules on what a civil, civic discourse involves. 
Check on the speakers.
Think about the best way to welcome invited guests and the public. 
Always test the equipment for sound. Being able to hear clearly is critical. 

Have your guest speakers/subject-matter experts show up in advance to go over the room, where they will speak and any last-minute questions. Make sure their mics are working well. 
Have someone besides the moderator focused on welcoming attendees as they come in. Have a plan for those who show up really early or late. 
Moderator runs the program. Make sure it starts on time. Think carefully about the opening as it enthusiastically welcomes, explains why the paper is the host, goes over the ground rules, explains the town hall’s format, and thanks everyone for attending — with a reminder that this will be a civil, civic discussion. 
Always use at least two microphones and have a Planning Team member ready with the ability to turn off a mic. 
Record the town hall for posting online.

Post same day coverage of the event online. Fuller coverage in print.
Think through the online presentation. For example: Consider breaking up the recording into “chapters” for easier viewing. Also consider the town hall content as part of a rich archive about the news issue that was discussed. (Long term: the town hall approach has an identity as strong as the newspaper format.)
A week or two after the town hall, publish the transcript. Make sure you have the correct name and a picture of each speaker to run. 
Add an editorial/commentary that examines what the public should do next based on key findings from the town hall. 
Do a post-mortem with the planning team on what to improve. Consider rewarding them with a lunch/snacks for their efforts. 
Announce/tease the next program.
Create a promotional ad thanking the public for attending. Publish it a few times over the next 30 days. 
Consider adding a reminder with subsequent stories on the topic that it was the subject of the town hall and you can review online what was said then. 

Restart the process. Do it again. Lessons learned will improve the next program. ONWARD.

A Relevant Offer: Free feel to contact me if you want to further discuss. I’m open to helping you launch a Community Forum series. That would be a fun assignment.

-Tom Silvestri

‘Count On Us’ Joins The Election Series

A fourth promotion expands The Relevance Project’s “The Election Series.”

The latest house ad touts “Our Reputation Is The Difference” and is based on the results of a 2021 survey by the reputable Pew Research Center.

The well-earned Relevance and reputation of a news organization combine to become a top factor with readers and viewers as they decide whether a new story is trustworthy.

This promotion allows newspapers to proclaim “count on us” when covering politics and government.

The Relevance Project staked out election coverage to help advertising staffs secure political ads because newspapers do a better job of labeling and presenting these types of messages. The Election Series also salutes journalists for digging out the truth and facts during sometimes complicated and intense political races.

The Election Series appears in both the Revenue Resource and Support Local Journalism sections on The promotions are available in print and digital versions.

The Relevance Project again thanks Metro Creative Graphics for its contributing design work.

–Tom Silvestri

We All Could Use A ‘Stamp Of Approval’

Good to see the LION roar in this commentary that newspaper/press associations are Relevant. 

“Pressure state press associations… to open their doors to our digital members…,” writes the executive director of LION Publishers, “which provides teaching, resources, and community to independent news entrepreneurs as they build and develop sustainable business.”


There’s an opportunity, for sure.

Associations become the “good housekeeping seal of approval” for legitimate news organizations, regardless of media platforms.  

That’s a valuable future.

For local news, trade associations and democracy.

–Tom Silvestri

July Q And A: Kentucky’s David Thompson

David T. Thompson is a Hall of Famer who is fortunate to be alive.

The executive director of the Kentucky Press Association also is eloquent in his advocacy for newspapers — especially his all-in members — but realistic about the challenges and pace of change.

Talking with him about his impressive career leaves the solid impression he’s seen it all.

And this: You can’t find a better cheerleader for the Newspaper Association Managers.

In agreeing to participate, Thompson called it an honor to be featured in this month’s Executive Director Q&A.

Actually, it’s our honor.

Read on and you’ll know why. (Just don’t ask him about his “closest friends.”)

David, can you introduce us to your association?

KPA is the nation’s 10th oldest state press association and in 2019 we celebrated our 150th anniversary. Fortunately, that went better than the 125th in January 1994 when the week we had set to celebrate, Kentucky got its first blizzard in decades and the whole state was shut down for more than a week. So months and months of planning were taken care of with 17 inches of the white stuff. I’m proud that since 1993-94 we’ve had 100 percent of newspapers eligible to be full members as members. It hasn’t been much of a struggle to maintain that because if you offer beneficial services and do all that you can to help them, they will remain loyal to the organization.

We also have the largest board of any state press association with 29 voting positions. We have 14 elected directors, four State At-Large, five division chairpersons, five executive committee members and the chair of KIPA. We also have two representatives from the journalism schools/departments who are ex-officio.

KPA Executive Director David Thompson

KPA also welcomed a new division three years ago – the Kentucky Intercollegiate Press Association. That’s an organization of 13 to 15 student publications at colleges and universities. We have a long-standing relationship with those student publications so the KIPA members came to us a few years ago to ask that KPA run the organization for them. 

What makes the KPA different from other associations?

Our Board has a long history of making as many services as possible available to all members at no additional cost. One of our most successful services was the Kentucky News Press Service that we started in October 2010 and fully funded. That required a full-time staff member and we paid libel insurance coverage for the 95 or so newspapers in the service.

As I had warned members from the outset, KPNS is “free for the foreseeable future.” Well, when the foreseeable future arrived, we tried to get them to ante up. Only a handful did but far from an amount that could sustain the service. Still, we tried to keep it going by cutting back the hours of the director of the service. Then when the pandemic hit, we were no longer able to fund it and shut it down. That’s after about 70,000 stories were shared for all participating newspapers to use, plus another 6,000 to 7,000 editorials. All of those coming from the participating papers. We didn’t require them to upload stories; that was done by the director. But it was a costly endeavor that I hated to see us close down.

Now you: What’s been your career path? 

My father was sports editor of the Lexington Herald so I started working there as soon as we lost in the district basketball tournament in March 1965, my senior year. I stayed there until being drafted in early 1968 and got an “early out” from the Army in December 1969, because it was time for basketball to start and I applied for a “seasonal” work early out. And the Army bought it.

I had made the decision the month JFK was killed that someday I wanted to be editor of my local newspaper, the Georgetown News and Times. I got to live that dream in March 1979 and remained there until September 1983. I left because the company that owned the paper put it on the market and I wasn’t in a financial position to purchase it.

The same week, an ad came across my desk as publisher that KPA was looking for an Executive Director. I figured what the heck, I’m not qualified at that level but not knowing who the new owners will be, I figured no harm in applying. Ended up I got the job with KPA and am about to celebrate the 38th year!

How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?

When my two daughters were younger, if someone asked them “just what is it your father does?” they would respond he opens the mail and talks on the phone. In all seriousness, it’s the best job ever if I didn’t have to worry about my 138 closest friends called the Kentucky legislature.

I’ve met scores of great people across the state who are newspaper owners and publishers and editors and ad managers, and just reporters and ad sales folks. I do have to lobby but don’t look at me like one of those pinstriped suit lobbyists everyone complains about. I’m in an advocacy position, advocating for newspapers but at the same time for regular citizens of Kentucky because of Open Meetings and Open Records and Open Government. It’s a lot of public relations, building up newspapers, helping the public understand why we (the industry) do what we do and how we do it.

What do you like best about your job?

Everything not involving my 138 closest friends.


Anything involving my 138 closest friends.

What is your proudest career moment? 

2006, when I was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Ours is not operated by KPA but by the University of Kentucky, so that made it special. There have been many special moments in the last 38 years but that one I never expected I’d receive. I was honored with the Al Smith Award for Public Service through Community Journalism in 2019 and it’s special because only one person receives it each year.

What are some of the 2021 priorities for you and your association? 

We’re in the communication business. Strangely enough, communication is our President’s focus for 2021. And she’s pretty much on target. We take for granted that anytime we send an email, every recipient is going to read it. We are incorporating a program called Slack that allows us quick communication with our members and allows the members to ask questions of other members. Some of our newspapers were using this already within their own companies so it’s been fairly easy to move into Slack as a way of communicating with groups of our members or with individuals.

Our communication wanes during legislative sessions and we’re working on focusing in social media areas that will allow quicker and broader communications to our members. Things do get overlooked because of the vast number of emails our members get. We mark anything legislatively as URGENT in the subject line to draw their attention but it still doesn’t get the notice. 

We may have to depend on emails, texts and other communication resources to make sure the messages get out and get the attention we need. If not, it’s often too late for them to help us take action on supporting or defeating legislation

How has the COVID-19 experience changed your association?  Can you share any lessons? 

COVID and a financial hardship changed KPA and KPS at the very beginning of the pandemic. Within a month of the first case in Kentucky, we laid off four employees. One of them had been here more than 25 years. Two had been here almost 20 years. But the Executive Committee saw the opportunity to make changes in staffing that would tremendously help the bottom line so the layoffs took place.

We were most concerned that advertising would plummet because of COVID. After all, we were hearing that from our member newspapers. And I have to be honest. We didn’t know with the financial downturn already in place, if COVID would put the nail on the coffin of KPS, as the president of the organization at the time said. But the four remaining staff members went to work, focused on advertising sales, ended up with $1.137 million in political ad sales for the elections and 2020 ended up as one of the best years in the organization’s history.

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges? 

A lot of times it’s just routine duties that will keep me awake, remembering that I have to do this or accomplish that and wanting to make sure I remember the next day to get those jobs done. But from January to April of each year, the nightmares are about the legislature. Thinking about testimony, thinking of ways to combat legislation coming to a committee, thinking about who can we get on “our side” to help stop or sufficiently change legislation. Going over testimony in my mind as I try to go to sleep. It’s hard to edit that way and then remember how to put it on paper the next day but by working it out in my mind as I try to go to sleep I can think of ways to say things differently that could make the outcome better.

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?

I’d spend it on staffing, to get the newsrooms and sales departments back to the level they were just a few years ago. I’d make sure each newspaper had an “investigative” journalist. That’s the part that’s lacking now that I hear so many people complain about newspapers. There isn’t the emphasis on investigative reporting as it used to be.

I’d buy the most modern printing presses and get them to the 28 newspapers that have shuttered their presses in the last few years. In 1993-94, we had 43 printing plants in Kentucky. That’s down to 15 now. We’ve got daily newspapers now that are printing out of state, way out of state. For them to get tomorrow’s issue back home for delivery, they have early press times and earlier deadlines. It’s hurting our industry but perhaps has the ulterior motive of getting readers to switch over to reading the newspaper online because the news there is up-to-the-minute. 

What is something most people don’t know about you? 

There are a few around – Dave and Beth Bennett, Mark Thomas, Bill Rogers, Felicia Mason and Robin Rhodes to name a few – in 1997 who know about this. I “died “four times on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997, starting at 5:56 p.m. We were practicing handbells at church and I damped (to stop it from ringing) one of the bells on my chest. That set it off. The hospital was only about 2 miles from the church but in the time to get there, EMS personnel had to revive me four times. The bottom third of my heart is “dead” but everything else is ok. I’ve not had any more heart attacks since then – thankfully – though I suffered from atrial fibrillation twice in 2017.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

My wife got me a T-shirt for Christmas that states: “I have a retirement plan. I plan on watching my grandson play baseball.” Well, that’s true but actually it should read “grandsons” since the two oldest had been playing baseball for several years. Golfing used to be the pastime but with health issues it takes more effort now so I’m down to just a couple of times each year. The NAM golf outing at the convention takes priority for me in playing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
How would your advice differ when offered to someone trying to break into the business compared with an industry veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?

Wow, you are going to get an education like you never thought you’d need. This industry is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with. But you must because otherwise you’ll be left so far behind you’ll never catch up.

Anything else to add? 

Back to what my daughters always said when someone asked what it is their father does, only NAMers really know. Basically no other person in our state has any idea what goes on each day at a state press association. That’s why NAM is so very, very important.

To the ones who haven’t been in their position very long, NAM is the lifeline you need to help you grow in your job. We are all brothers and sisters in NAM and our commitment is to help our comrades in NAM as best we can. Make use of those friendships from day one.

David makes his weekly newsletter a personal note to members, with plenty of links, of course.

–Tom Silvestri

Newspaper Research: Multigenerational Readership Is Lucrative Target For Advertisers

A Special Report

Today’s newspaper readers are an advertiser’s best prospects.

That’s because Americans of all ages — not just “old people” — read newspapers.

In addition, these discerning readers collectively are educated, active consumers who are ready to shop.

Those facts are among the major conclusions from a series of statewide-market studies conducted by Coda Ventures, an independent newspaper research and consulting firm based in Nashville, TN.

Coda Ventures aggregated recent market studies it conducted for seven newspaper trade associations. They are the Iowa Newspaper Association, the Kansas Press Association, the Louisiana Press Association, the New Mexico Press Association, the North Carolina Press Association, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Tennessee Press Association.

In all, the studies involved 4,251 respondents who were asked details about themselves and their newspaper use. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.5 percent. The research “quantified the demographic profiles and buying power of both print and digital newspaper readers for each of the associations,” said Marianne Grogan, president of Coda Ventures.

The upshot:

The collective results confirm that today’s newspaper readership is a lucrative target for advertisers marketing a wide variety of products and services, Grogan added.

Coda Ventures is a collaborative partner of The Relevance Project, having supplied the research behind the “15 Calls To Action” series that documented the power of newspaper ads to motivate readers to take actions that ultimately benefit advertisers.

Coda’s latest research is the subject of a new promotional series by The Relevance Project. This Relevant Point serves to elaborate on the conclusions and provide details about the results.

Newspaper readers are educated, invested in their community and active consumers ready to shop, according to Coda’s research.

Five out of 10 — 54 percent — have a household income of $50,000 or more.

Nearly 7 out of 10 — 67 percent — own a home.

Nearly 8 out of 10 — 78 percent — attended or graduated from college.

Nearly 4 out of 10 — 38 percent — have children living at home. 

Note: The respondent makeup was 51 percent women and 49 percent male.

We keep hearing that “only old people read newspapers.” That’s partly correct. Readers 65 and older are loyalists.

But junk the “only.”

Coda’s research shows the two other age categories collectively covering 18 to 64 are well represented.

Here are the numbers and related commentary:

*Three out of 10 newspapers readers — 30 percent — are in the 18-to- 34  age group. It’s no surprise that this group uses smartphones to access local news from all sources, including newspapers.  Credit newspapers for strategically pushing into digital as a way to reach new audiences. Newspapers now are improving digital initiatives focused on attracting new audiences with new products —   responsive websites that adjust to various screens, social media campaigns, easy-to-use apps, emailed newsletters, video, multimedia E-editions, digital niche offerings and more. 

*A whopping 5 out of 10 — 50 percent — are 35 to 64. This group is primarily composed of Generation X (born approximately between 1965 to 1980).  

According to the US Department of Labor, Gen Xers account for 27% of all US household spending and outspend all generations on housing, clothing, dining out and entertainment.  

They access news and information across a multitude of media platforms and comprise the largest segment of newspaper readership.

*The remaining two out of 10 — 20 percent — are 65 or older.  With this group, 75 percent believe that newspaper advertising is important.

According to Nielsen, an audience data and measurement firm, Boomers control 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States, making them a dominant financial force in the marketplace.

They always have been strong print newspaper readers, but they are also accessing content digitally. To reach the people who have the time and income to spend, astute advertisers are leveraging both print and digital newspapers.

Newspaper readership is multi-generational.

Coda Venture’s studies show these readers “access newspaper content, local news and advertising through a host of printed newspaper offerings (special sections, niche publication, etc.) and digital platforms, including websites, social media, e-newsletters, apps and more.” For the most part, they’re homeowners, educated and ready to shop for products and services.

That makes today’s newspaper readers an advertiser’s best prospects. 

We appreciate the seven noted newspaper press associations for sponsoring and sharing these studies that demonstrate the continued strength and importance of local newspapers.

We look forward to adding other associations’ market results to The Relevance Project’s Revenue Resource.

–The Relevance Project & Coda Ventures

Note: To download the related promotional campaign, go to the Revenue Resource section of The Relevance Project.

Don’t Let Anyone Else Own YOUR Story

Part of a continuing series.

The latest round of depressing global facts about newspapers is one good reason that successful publishers should be THE Community Forum and own THEIR story.

Important as they seem to be, the annual findings of the Pew Research Center, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and analysts like the Poynter Institute mean nothing if they don’t reflect the true longterm value of a community newspaper, its strengths and how it smartly confronts challenges.

There’s a big difference between battling to prosper and perpetuating no hope. One is a moving picture, the other a snapshot.

I know the story I’d want to tell.

Dynamic community newspapers are moving pictures. They’re full of potential, promise and purpose.

Annual report cards about newspapers, especially after a pandemic, are snapshots. In 2021, the message unfortunately sticks to advertising continuing to decline, total circulation continuing to drop even though it is now the top revenue producer (yes, it’s funny math), and audience growth continuing to be online. The broken record: Minuses outweigh the meager pluses as total revenue remains a disaster.

No success stories are noted.

Rather, as a consolation, we’re forced to reminisce about the good old days. Here’s an example from a research piece headlined “The great unbundling of local news” and posted by the Nieman Journalism Lab:

“Traditional local news sources, especially local newspapers, used to bundle news and information on a whole range of local topics. Local politics comes first to mind. But they have also covered stories that help build community, featuring local people who participate in local sports and local events, in addition to providing information such as weather forecasts, traffic updates, or shop opening hours. In the last year, local news has also been tremendously important in covering the local consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This bundle of some hard news, some soft news, and other information was a major selling point in the past. Even if people didn’t care that much about local politics, they had to get the local paper if they wanted to know where to go, or what jobs were available in the area. But as this year’s Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows, audiences no longer think that the local paper is the best source for most of this.”


Why do we keep sharing these reports without a response?

The Relevance Project asserts the time is now for newspapers to adopt the Community Forum strategy to work like heck to engage citizens via town halls, surveys, group discussions, moderated online forums and other actions that go well beyond producing a newspaper that guesses at what people are interested in. Rebuild the business on civil, civic dialogue.

The Community Forum model is the best way to put the engage in audience engagement. It’s a great way to improve a community’s news literacy. It’s a vital route to helping a community seek solutions for a better quality of life.

Part of this strategy at the outset includes sharing all local newspaper victories to counter any and all bad news provided from a national perspective and in comparisons to other countries. It’s also important to be open about the revenue challenges the legacy businesses face in a transformation to a multimedia enterprise.

Use the Community Forum to meet with readers and discuss what you are doing to keep the local newspaper the indispensable source of news and information. Take the same approach with advertisers, sponsors and other backers.

Talk to them directly.

Let them hear from you about the local news operation.

Be creative.

Search out those who can’t attend.

How about this goal: Make it a point of talking to everyone in your community at least once a year.

Too lofty?

Then pause on this sentence in the same Nieman Lab article: “While the local newspaper used to solve problems and performed many jobs for readers, many users now find that other sources are better able to fill those roles.”

Used to solve problems.

Performed many jobs for readers.

Other sources are better able.

If you are one of those papers that never left this overall encompassing mission, then stand up and tell that story. Loudly, please.

If you’re not, it’s tempting to think the future is a matter of restoring what worked well in the past, but doing it across multimedia platforms.

Only you know.

In meantime, tell your best story that shoots down the global reports that imply — what a weasel word — newspapers are going away.

If you don’t, no one will.

Tom Silvestri

Hello? A Smart Recourse For Outdated Publishers

I have a new line for newspaper trade associations frustrated with publishers who won’t fix crappy websites.

Be smart.

Encourage community newspapers to jump over a website mess and go all in with news reports that are built for viewing on smartphones.

That’s where the audience is.

More so, since the pandemic shook up the world.

Here’s why:

The popular headline on last week’s annual global report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford was that the United States ranked last in media trust. (The Relevance Project has an answer for that: be THE Community Forum. See previous commentaries.)

But what caught my eyes in the latest survey results was the hands-down popularity of an obvious digital solution and Reuters’ matching context on how readers want to consume news and information. Even if it wasn’t breaking news, it’s an ironclad trend that publishers should call, text and email home about.

“More widely, the use of smartphone for news (73%) has grown at its fastest rate for many years, with dependence also growing through Coronavirus lockdowns,” the institute concluded. “Use of laptop and desktop computers and tablets for news is stable or falling…”


Be smart.

With innovation, it follows that if you are stuck in past or behind the times, stand up, dust yourself off and embrace a better way by jumping ahead.

“Hey, dummy, you need a better website!”

Tired of hearing that?

Go all in on the smartphone.

It’s OK to start over.

And win, this time.

“Across countries, almost three-quarters (73%) now access news via a smartphone — up from 69 percent,” Reuters Institute stated. “Part of this is a continuation of trends which have seen the mobile phone overtake the computer as the primary access point in almost all countries, but Coronavirus may have also played a part. Governments around the world have focused on these personal devices to communicate on restrictions, to get citizens to report symptoms, and to book appointments for vaccines.”

Keep reading:
“Smartphones have become critical for keeping in touch with friends or booking takeaway food and drink — but also for discovering and consuming news. Computer news access by contrast has fallen from 49% to 46% …” (You can read the report’s Executive Summary here.)

Be smart.

Make your news report as easy to read on a smartphone as it is in print. Welcome new readers.

My bet is your non-readers who use a smartphone to access news make up a much larger group than traditionalists clinging to print.

Associations, keep helping your members become Relevant with technology while attracting that huge audience glued to the smartphone.

Zero in there.

It could probably help the trust factor as well.

-Tom Silvestri

PNA Adds A 12th ‘Big Book’ To Its Solutions Library

The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association thinks big.

It also has a winning formula to do so.

Each year, PNA “identifies a topic of interest and relevance to our members,” said Jane Hungarter, the association’s director of marketing. (Special emphasis added on Relevance. )

It then builds a “Big Book” around it.

This year’s focus?

Big Book of Sales Solutions.

Credit the many unforeseen challenges created by the pandemic.

“As business begin to recover from the devastating effects of the coronavirus, PNA wanted to help our members’ advertising sales teams be prepared to assist their clients and prospects moving forward,” Hungarter said.

The resulting 112-page book offers 55 best practices or lessons that can provide instant guidance, advice and the foundation of a training program for those interested in jumpstarting staff development.

The Big Book “includes a variety of articles written by industry experts, practical sales tips to increase print and digital business, helpful ideas to improve ad design and numerous marketing flyers that demonstrate the effectiveness of newspaper advertising,” Hungarter added. “It also contains important information for sales managers, from rate card design to responding to advertising-related legal matters, along with successful revenue-generating ideas that can be replicated by other news media organizations.”

Among the headlines:
“Newspapers are the most trusted source of news and information”
“Post-COVID media sales: Are customer needs assessments dead?”

Valuable tips to sell your digital inventory”
“What the heck is branded content?”
“Helping others provides winning revenue strategy”

PNA staff wrote and designed much of the content. “We also solicited input from our members and invited industry experts to share an informative piece that would benefit advertising sales professionals,” Hungarter said.

The Relevance Project is honored to be included in the Big Book of Sales Solutions with “A Relevant Reminder: 10 Points.”

“The goal was to provide educational support to sales teams across Pennsylvania and to help them generate more revenue,” she added. “Our Big Book series works in conjunction with the other resources we provide to our members, ranging from the ongoing training delivered by our Foundation to the marketing sheets provided to sales teams across the state.”

The Big Book of Sales Solutions is PNA’s 12th publication in its annual installment series. The other titles are:
Big Book of Alternative Revenue
Big Book of Events
Big Book of Distributed News
Big Book of Generational Engagement
Big Book of Growing Audience
Big Book of Industry Promotion
Big Book of Knowledge
Big Book of Monetizing Digital
Big Book of Special Sections
Big Book of Voter Engagement
Little Book of Coronavirus Coverage

It’s an impressive list.

What’s been the reaction so far?

“The Big Book of Sales Solutions was released in conjunction with our recent PNA Advertising Symposium,” Hungarter explained. “We received tremendously positive feedback from both ad sales reps and sales managers, along with senior leaders, from Pennsylvania’s news media organizations. The Big Book is available for download in PDF format, or in hard-copy format. The majority of our members have either downloaded or requested a hard copy of the Big Book.”

Hungarter added that the Big Book is available to other press associations at no cost. PNA is open to discussing ways to customize the book for another group’s use, but keep in mind there would be costs involved for that route. For orders and options, email

PNA already knows the topic of its 2022 Big Book.

“On deck for next year,” Hungarter said, “are the Big Book of Editorial Tools and a smaller Little Book of Circulation and Production Strategy.

Cheers to PNA’s solutions library.

–Tom Silvestri

The Community Forum Is Shelter From The Storm

One in a continuing series.

Efforts to save local news are like summer storms.

The heat builds and builds to sweaty highs. Humidity soars in tandem. Dark, ominous clouds arrive. It looks like the end of the world. Winds kick up. Branches snap, debris swirls, old roofs are exposed. Concerns about damage, loss and injury rise to near panic.

And then the storm arrives.

If you survive the thunder, lightning, downpour and deluge unscathed, the bonus is clear skies, cooler temps and a rainbow.

Good times.

In 2021, local news continues to be stuck seeking shelter from the storm.

The latest round of handwringing stems from a column last week by Politico’s media correspondent that indicated there’s not enough demand for local news to make it a viable business. I’ve seen it picked up in several newsletters. My favorite quote: “Maybe the surfeit of local news of yesteryear was the product of an economic accident, a moment that cannot be reclaimed.”


Solutions exist.

We just keep ignoring an obvious one.

The Relevance Project’s advocacy is for newspapers to become THE Community Forum where the focus is on engaging everyone in a local market.

Note: Audience could expand to beyond a home market, depending on the news topics. For example, exploring a problem facing military veterans could be of interest to the entire universe of vets.

The Community Forum is a three-prong strategy.

Explaining the mission of the news organization, welcoming constructive advice and securing valuable insight on what to cover.

Never tire.

Deepening the news literacy of the community. It’s the important work of building a better news consumer, replacing the damage caused by divisive politics and shortsightedness by certain newspaper owners.

Never assume.

Examining community problems and exploring related solutions. Do it over and over. Add dissecting (and even celebrating) community positives and finding new ways to expand them. (Beats only writing about broken government.)

Never let down.

This is not about producing a better newspaper. Or website.

It goes beyond product.

It’s all about service.



Solve someone’s problems and you’ll be in demand. They may call you only during a crisis — at least they call! — but there’s always preventative measures to share and deeper knowledge to strengthen connections in the meantime.

I don’t understand why more newspapers don’t embrace the Community Forum model. When I press, I hear excuses.

No time.

Not enough staff.

We have a paper to put out.

We need money now to meet our budgets.

We have to check with corporate.

My favorite: Why would I want to get in front of a bunch of critics?

If that’s your attitude, you’ve made the Politico correspondent a truth teller.

A trend exists among entrepreneurs creating niche news outlets. One of the first hires they make is that of an audience engagement point person.

Media is audience.

No audience. No business or future.

Relevance is flexing meaningful connections to your community which views you as indispensable.

The Community Forum is audience engagement at its highest level.

Added thought:
To pay for a newsroom, I agree with Nancy Lane at the Local Media Association you also need a plan for community-funded journalism. She makes an excellent case in her latest commentary.

Specific projects or targeted news coverage attached to the Community Forum are winning formulas.

Time is running out on advertising and subscription revenue as the long-term play.

“Economic accident,” remember.

Future home runs are community philanthropy from partners and dollars from marketing budgets of raving fans.

Shelter from the storm, you know.

Be the Community Forum.

–Tom Silvestri

The Ingredients Of Trust In News Stories

Getting lots of shares, likes and comments on social media matter the least to adults determining how trustworthy a news story is.

Thank you, Pew Research Center.

It’s reassuring that what matters most is the Relevance and reputation of a news organization that publishes the stories Americans read, watch or listen to.

Next in importance are the sources cited in the story.

These factors are tops for Democrats and Republicans alike. Who said the parties can’t agree?

Examine for yourself the latest Pew survey that adds important perspective on what determines whether a news story is viewed as trustworthy.

The Relevant takeaway for newsrooms:

Be disciplined in sharpening the newsroom’s overall reputation and be super-careful on how stories are sourced.

Bonus action: Drill your talent on the building blocks of trust. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page.

And this:
Limit how much effort is spent wandering on social media, which finished last among the six factors Pew examined. (A readers’ gut instinct about a story, the person who shared it, and the specific journalist who reported the story were the other considerations.)

Trust matters.

It certainly does to the Americans surveyed by Pew.

–Tom Silvestri