Lisa M. Simpson is not quite a month into her new role as the executive director of Arizona Newspapers Association but she already is working a list of top action items.
She shared them during a Relevance Project introduction.
First on the list? “We need to modernize our marketing,” said Simpson, who joined ANA on April 22 after handling advertising, marketing and event needs in the last three and a half years for the Arizona News Service, which publishes the Arizona Capitol Times.
Improvement of marketing includes upgrading the Association’s website, social media use, and weekly communications to members.
Simpson said another priority will be to educate Association members about the Arizona advertising solutions and the opportunities to sell into the network.
A third and related focus will be rolling out digital solutions for advertisers.
“We need to help our members think outside of the box,” she added.
Simpson succeeded Tim Thomas, who retired after serving as executive director for more than two years.
Over the last 20 years, Simpson held sales and management positions at newspapers including The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune and La Voz Publishing.
Simpson said she is looking forward to attending the Newspaper Association Managers conference in August and remarked how impressed she’s been with the network of new colleagues who have contacted her with well-wishes and offers to help.
ANA is planning its annual conference for Oct. 16, Simpson said, with fingers crossed it will be in-person.
When he isn’t running the Mississippi Press Association, Layne Bruce is the “clerk” of Newspaper Association Managers.
Call him the administrator of NAM to match the many tasks he completes and he quickly will correct you: “I’m just the clerk.”
Bruce prefers to operate in the background, but push him to the front of the stage and you’ll find an informative, competitive, curious, insightful, problem-solving, sharp-witted executive director.
Ask him for advice and you can take it to the bank. Hang around him for any extended period and you will discover he deeply cares about his members and appreciates his newspaper colleagues.
And you can’t beat his family’s roots in the business.
Bruce also has a stack of “get of jail cards” with The Relevance Project as one of the orchestrators of the initiative and the caretaker of http://www.relevanceproject.net.
Check that: “Clerk” of the website.
Bruce participated in this month’s Director Q&A from his pandemic bunker near the state capital of Mississippi. Enjoy his answers, especially the one about a surprise talent.
Can you introduce us to your association?
The Mississippi Press Association is the sixth oldest trade group of its kind in the United States, founded at the end of the Civil War. It’s an old joke, but we claim to be the sixth oldest because no one really ever contests such a middling distinction.
One can infer by the time of our Association’s founding that its original mission may not have been altruistic, but today the Association and its 100-plus print and digital members stand for serving our communities and state, and being a mirror for each.
Now you: What’s been your career path?
My entire career has been in newspaper media. My father was editor and publisher of our hometown newspaper, the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Miss., for a number of years. I joined the staff part-time while in high school and worked in the production department.
I have served as a reporter, production manager, editor, and publisher for a number of other newspapers in the intervening 33 years and joined MPA in 2006 as marketing director. I was elevated in 2007 after the retirement of my predecessor, Carolyn Wilson, who served in the job for 22 years. I owe my job to Carolyn, who hired me in marketing and sought me out as her eventual successor.
How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?
That’s always a good question. Tell someone you work for a trade association and you often get a blank stare back. And such a short answer nowhere near quantifies everything the job involves.
So I usually tell them I represent the newspaper industry and ask about their local paper. Particularly if the person is from Mississippi, there’s usually an instant connection after that. Though, no, I usually can’t help get your newspaper delivered faster.
What do you like best about your job?
Pre-pandemic, I loved traveling to communities across the state and visiting member newspapers. I have loved this industry since I was about 9-years-old and my father let me shoot high school football games for the paper while he was on the sidelines. (In retrospect, there were probably some child labor law entanglements there, but I can’t overstate how much I loved it). So, I really enjoy visiting different newspapers, seeing how they do things, and learning how they are coping and adapting in this constant age of change.
Since the pandemic started, I have worked primarily from home, but each member of our small staff has derived intense satisfaction from being a resource for our members during this very troubling experience. We fostered long-distancing networking for them through the year and worked hard to answer any question they had.
Legislative sessions. I’m a terrible lobbyist because I simply cannot say what I really think after several years editing an opinion page and writing editorials and columns. Thankfully, we employ two crackerjack lobbyists who get the job done well.
What is your proudest career moment?
Oddly, given my previous answer, a legislative battle that resulted in the state legislature declaring publicly owned hospitals had to adhere to the Open Meetings Act. This included a short but intense period of stand-off with the state hospital association, probably one of the best oiled lobbying machines in the state legislature. In the end, their argument that these taxpayer-funded hospital should not be accountable to the public just fizzled amid pressure from newspapers and concerned citizens.
But, sentimentally, the chance to become editor and general manager of my hometown paper six years after the death of my father is probably the proudest I have ever been.
What are some of the 2021 priorities for you and your association?
We’ve done fairly well keeping members connected through virtual platforms, but we are truly seeing some of our combined muscle wasted by not being able to gather in person. I hope we can have at least one in-person event, even if it’s small, in calendar 21.
Otherwise, we continue to fight for the familiar issues of transparency, responsible government, and the preservation of public notices in our state legislature.
What adjustments have you made during COVID-19 and can you share any lessons?
We shifted to primarily work from home on March 17, 2020. The staff has not all gathered in person since that time. But we have found the technology that helps keep you connected has been a truly indispensable tool that will lead to permanent modifications of how we operate post-pandemic.
I previously scoffed at the notion one could be as productive in a work-from-home setting. To my delight, I think in many ways we have become even better at our jobs since giving it a go.
What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
I sleep very well at night.
Things that used to have me in knots don’t worry me like they used to. That’s the benefit of doing this job for so long and from seeing how much our industry has persevered.
But, truly, I worry about small towns drying up because of the brain drain of students leaving the state after college and the effects of e-commerce on local retail. All of this affects papers, and it physically pains me when a community loses one.
If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?
The pandemic has taught us that decline in service from the post office may accelerate our move to digital more than anything else. I would love to be involved in incubating new subscription and revenue models for small newspapers.
Some of us have done our jobs so long I think we feel inextricably tethered to a physical print product. It’s not time to let that go, but it’s long past time to seek and embrace next generation ideas.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I can wiggle my ears.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Music, good food, and James Bond movies.
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?
Oh, it’s the same: When you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask the question of someone who does.
Anything else to add?
NAM is truly a unique organization and one that inspires me. There is something very special about being able to send an email or make a call and having someone who knows exactly what you’re going through answer.
At the Mississippi Press Association, we believe in the power of community newspapers to deliver unmatched content and audience reach. Our 110 member newspapers are the leading source of news and advertising information in the communities we serve, from Corinth to Bay St. Louis and everywhere in between. Learn more about the power of our reach within Mississippi.
Value statement on the home page of the MPA’s website.
You can tell a lot about a newspaper trade association by its website.
That’s a good reason why a new online hub is in place for the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association.
“We needed a refreshed look that reflects our scrappy, grassroots nature and showcases the important work our members do,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of MDDC. “Since our staff is very limited, we needed a site that requires minimal upkeep and had the ability to post quickly and easily.”
Snyder said the former website existed well before she arrived at MDDC in 2015, “so it was time for a change.” The website also was clunky and looked homemade, “which it was!”
“It was not intuitive to post content or pictures,” she said. “In these days, our association essentially lives virtually on our website — it is like our office — and our space looked cobbled together and did not represent the vibrant, influential and committed organization that we know we are.”
The new website has quick links to “About Us,” “News & Events,” “Advocacy” (public notices, Sunshine Week and FOIA), and “Expanded Connections” (information about awards, contests, becoming a member, and internships).
The redesign also followed MDDC’s change in vendors for its public notice website.
“We moved to Column for that service in February and so migrated away from Expression Engine, which was the platform for our MDDCNews.com website, which houses our public notice site, and our MDDCPress.com site, which is the anchor for our Association,” Snyder wrote in an email. “We needed a simpler, more modern site that was easy to administer. Over time, our site had gotten too complex and ponderous, and it didn’t reflect some of our cool projects.”
Snyder singled out three member benefits now highlighted:
MDDC is an example of an Association that pushes out news items and information via a weekly newsletter, a best practice that is another indication of how communications to members is changing. “I found we were using our Weekly Update — formerly our Friday Planner — as a defacto website, posting relevant news content and events there instead of the website,” Snyder acknowledged. A newsletter signup box is prominent on the new site.
MDDC’s hiring of a website designer had a dual, if not higher purpose. In addition to an updated design, Snyder said, the selection was “part of a larger effort focused on racial equity in news media.”
“We also wanted a designer who is Black, and were delighted to work with Michelle Whitaker from MCW Creative,” who was referred by Common Cause Maryland for grassroots advocacy work, Snyder said.
“We still need to load some more content, primarily in the advocacy sections and get our digital advertising up on the site,” Snyder said. “But we are looking forward to more accurately representing our work and activities to the larger public.”
The U.S. senator called “one of our industry’s greatest champions” is urging newspapers and their trade associations to help persuade lawmakers in Congress to add financial support for local journalism in the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by the president.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington state, spoke to America’s Newspapers’ virtual conference Pivot 2021 today (May 11) and repeated her position that proposed federal spending should add $2.3 billion for “communications infrastructure,” with the intent of boosting local journalism crafted by newspapers and television stations. Adding back journalism jobs eliminated during the newspaper industry’s continued contraction, in turn, helps to “build communities and ensuring trust,” she said.
The federal assistance would come in the form of tax credits and grants to the newspaper industry. The tax credits would offset the costs of health-care benefits and employee payroll, she said. The grants would come from the Department of Commerce. Both credits and grants would allow newspapers to restore jobs and to “build back” local content, Cantwell said.
She labeled local news a “centerpiece of democracy.”
When introducing Cantwell, America’s Newspapers President Alan Fisco called the senator “one of our industry’s greatest champions.” Fisco is also the president of The Seattle Times Co.
In her America’s Newspapers appearance via Zoom, Cantwell mentioned the lost revenue and workforce cuts to make this point:”We need to build this critical infrastructure now.”
She applauded newspapers’ performance in providing essential news and information during the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic and said it once again confirmed local journalism’s relevant reputation and accountability. “I can’t imagine going through COVID without newspapers,” she added. “We still saw the public and advertisers holding on to trusted brands.”
When asked by an attendee whether the rest of the Senate shared her perspectives, Cantwell said she thought other senators were “coming around” and then acknowledged perspectives were “all over the place.”
There’s also no immediate consensus among the Democrats and Republicans on what infrastructure encompasses in President Biden’s plan.
Cantwell called the next two to three years crucial for the future of local news and that company executives, publishers, general managers and executive directors should press their respective representatives in Congress for the federal help that she outlined.
“Please persevere,” Cantwell said before heading to her next meeting. “Trust me, we need you.”
The resource center noted the “outsized role” the Florida Press Association will play in the administration of the new statute, calling it “the most significant piece of public notice legislation in modern history.”
“It requires FPA to ‘ensure that minority populations throughout the state have equitable access’ to notices posted on the statewide site and to publish quarterly reports identifying the newspapers that post notices on the site and their legal basis for doing so,” the center reported in its May update. “The press group is also required to report the number of unique visitors to the statewide website, as well as the total number of notices published in print newspapers or exclusively online on newspaper websites.”
The Relevance Project asked Florida Press Association Executive Director Jim Fogler for his assessment and he kindly participated in this Relevant Q&A:
How did the public notice debate turn out in this year’s Florida legislative session? We think we reached a solid compromise in light of the political dynamics in Florida. The compromise recognizes the continued need for effective notice to citizens and that newspapers and their websites are still a superior way to provide notice, as opposed to simply posting them to lightly trafficked government websites. While the current public model in Florida has been disrupted by the bill and the increased competition the bill fosters will hurt some of our larger papers, we think it is still the best outcome for Florida.
The May newsletter of “Public Notice Monthly” reports Florida is the “first state in the country to significantly dilute the statutory requirement that notices must be published in print newspapers, but there’s a lot for the newspaper industry and residents of the state to like about the bill.” What’s your assessment? We think the printed newspaper will still be an important part of public notices going forward and the bill recognizes that. But the bill also contains forward-looking technology ideas, such as allowing local governments to use newspaper website-only publication in some cases. The bill also sets up an audience threshold non-rural newspapers must meet to qualify.
How does collaboration work in these types of legislative negotiations, given the divisive nature of politics these days? Was there a particular turning point? We worked with the Senate sponsor, Senator Ray Rodrigues, and his staff, to reach a compromise after a long weekend of collaboration in mid-April, and a growing realization by the parties that something needed to be done to avoid the government-website option that had been moving on the House side. Everyone realized the time was ripe for a change, but it had to be the right one reflecting good policy for the state with the overarching goal of providing citizens of Florida adequate notice.
The Florida Press Association played a major role in the new law. Can you explain? We were involved but it was a joint effort by the Senate sponsor, other senators, their staffs, allied newspaper and business groups, and, of course, our member newspapers who were there to testify at the many committee meetings.
Do you think what happened this year will do for the foreseeable future or will legislators who want to hurt newspapers will be back again? Not sure. We are hopeful that this compromise will address concerns on both sides for at least the time being.
You also garnered some praise in the legislature and support for printed newspapers. Were you surprised? It was nice to hear some of the positive comments but we believe that reflects what we have been saying for many years. We have been heralding the important function that newspapers bring to the public forum, by providing what is still the most effective means of informing citizens about the actions of their government and related actions.
Did being relatively new to Florida help you deal with the situation? I believe I brought a new perspective to the table, but needed to get up to speed quickly, and at times it sure felt like I was drinking from a firehose. It was a total team effort. The Florida Press Association has a strong active board and we decided at the end of last session to put together a solid Public Notice Action Committee who were instrumental in leveraging our local leadership both on the House and Senate side, which I believe made the difference in the end. Instead of lumping us together with the national news media, they now have a better understanding that we are local community news organizations providing hyper-local news and information, and helping to make a difference in the local communities we serve.
Some people, including newspaper folks, wonder why in a digital age, we’re still fighting for public notices in print newspapers. Is this a lost cause or a principled fight even if revenue for newspapers and government wishes are at odds? Even in the digital age, our newspapers still have an unsurpassable reach and traffic on their websites and other digital platforms. This has become a crucial additional way to get these notices to the citizens that rely on them, along with the print component, which is still important, especially in rural areas and with Florida’s demographics.
Finally, what is ahead? Getting all of our Press Association members up to speed on what this means to them by hosting a few Public Notice Virtual Information sessions via Zoom calls, and then at our upcoming conference in July, we are placing this topic on a panel discussion which will included county clerks sharing their perspective on this new public notice bill. Then, we will need to get all of our quarterly tracking requirements in place for our statewide site as we become the Gateway to Public Notices.
Good luck, Jim and FPA. Thanks for the insightful answers.
Leave it to David Thompson in Kentucky to remember that today is National Paste-Up Day.
The executive director of the Kentucky Press Association suggests that ink-stained veterans — working in the industry before desktop publishing arrived — spend time today explaining the “paste-up era” to younger staffers and why it’s important in the history of newspapers.
Newspaper layout and design haven’t always “been done on a software program installed on your computer,” Thompson wrote in a blog item referenced by his weekly “On Second Thought” newsletter.
“Desktop publishing is quite new actually,” added Thompson, who got his start in newspapers in 1965. “For the rest of us, we’ll think of Xacto knives and pica sticks, waxers and blue-line layout sheets, Compugraphic Juniors, 7200s and Headliners. Of sterile pens (OK, I know they’re called non-reproducing pens bet we refer to them as sterile). Of those days we went home after standing around the layout table most of the time and realizing that missing paragraphs was waxed to the bottom of your shoe. Of burnishing the layout sheet after all the copy was down just to make sure it was stuck to the page and not going to fall off.”
Thanks, David, for the trip down memory lane of hand-drawn layouts, type coming out of a machine in long sheets, boards, hot wax, cutters, rollers and rulers to keep it all straight.
Paste-up is special to me as well. I met my wife there.
California is the latest newspaper trade association revising its bylaws “to foster membership inclusion.”
The changes, approved April 29 at the Annual Business Meeting, also reflects ever-changing U.S. demographics and digital’s role in the future of community newspapers.
“With the revision, the bylaws now acknowledge mixed print and digital subscriptions and days of publication for digital products,” the California News Publishers Association reported in its May 4 newsletter, CNPA Bulletin. “They also consider Active Members to include community news outlets that serve non-English readers with ‘content that is not necessarily California focused, but it is of importance to predominantly California readers or the specific audience or demographic in California that the publication serves.”
The Association noted that the new bylaws require the publisher of content that’s in a language other than English to “certify that either the content published by the applicant is either principally focused on California or their readership is principally based in California.”
The membership changes are the latest in a series of moves by the Association under the leadership of new President and CEO Charles F. “Chuck” Champion.
Last month, a Relevant Point reported the South Carolina Press Association also changed its Constitution to allow minority-owned publications that are not weeklies or dailies to join as Active, or full benefit, Members. Read it here.
Americans witnessed that fact with the George Floyd trial and the murder conviction of a police officer in Minneapolis.
Now we’re seeing the use of body cameras by police as ripe for closer examination, especially whether the public has adequate access to the videos.
The Iowa Newspaper Association and its member newsrooms are doing just that.
The Association helped launch a statewide project to examine police video rules, regulations and related policies. The result is an investigative series that already is sparking debate about the public’s right to know, privacy, and transparency in policing.
Two parts have been published. A third is ahead.
The unusual series shows the important role an association can play as an orchestrator of distinctive projects and as a master collaborator that unites its newspapers for a higher purpose.
It also helps to have engaged members.
“We have a very active government relations committee and the idea came from a member on that committee,” said Susan Patterson Plank, Iowa Newspaper Association executive director. “A small group was put together for planning purposes and then a smaller group was pulled to actually do writing. The core team meets weekly.”
As part of the project, more than 50 journalists from 30 different newspapers in Iowa have requested copies of body-camera policies from local police departments, sheriffs’ offices and other law enforcement agencies. The Iowa Press Association received a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to help pay for the cost of filing public records requests, resources such as mentoring, and in some cases, legal review of stories.
Body-camera footage was obtained from more than 220 law enforcement agencies across Iowa. The journalists found that while many police departments shared videos when asked, others declined to make their videos public.
The first installment in January highlighted that “a decade after law enforcement agencies in Iowa started using body cameras, there are a widely divergent and unregulated system of rules and policies in place, according to a review of more than 200 policies,” the Association reported in its Bulletin newsletter.
The story confirmed disparities in video use, retention and public release, along with examples of police videos that have been made available through the efforts of Iowa newspapers and the public.
“Those disparities can endanger the ability of everyday Iowans to answer questions about a family member’s death or prove their innocence,” the Association added.
A second installment in late April explored “how Iowa law enforcement agencies balance accountability with privacy of people show in police recordings,” the Bulletin reported. “There are legitimate questions about how videos should be redacted to protect privacy, but there also are cases of law enforcement agencies using privacy as a red herring to keep videos secret.”
The Des Moines Register added to the Part II publication with a guest column from Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “Advocates for government accountability make the case that the open records law already requires police to release the immediate facts and circumstances of every crime or incident officers respond to, and videos recorded at the time of such incidents provide an unaltered accounting of those circumstances,” Evans wrote.
“While these advocates and some law officials disagree over the interpretation of the open records law, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the need for confidentiality of police investigative materials must be balanced against the need for transparency in important circumstances,” Evans added. “This is a conclusion we all should agree on.”
In an interview with the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Erin Jordan, one of the series coordinators, said the project shows that “local newspapers are on the front lines of pushing for police accountability.”
“Travis Mayfield, who is publisher of the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press and is on the INA government relations committee, wanted Iowa newspapers to do this series because his paper struggled to get video of a July 2019 incident when a 22-year-old man died after being Tasered by police,” said Jordan, an investigative reporter at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “Doing a statewide story on his own would have been tough, but joining forces with the INA and other news outlets made it possible.”
In its newsletters, the Association saluted the project team and the newspapers publishing the “InFocus” series, which is being “made available without charge to all INA members.”
Jordan said the support from the Iowa Newspaper Association and Fund for Investigative Journalism “feels kind of like a ‘we got you’ that can help motivate small newsrooms to do great work.”
Louisiana Press Association this year launched a new training program with the goal of fostering collaboration among other newspaper trade groups and becoming a “thought leader” in the industry.
The initial focus of MediaNext is digital, advertising and revenue, given the intense challenges faced by newspapers. Later, journalism, leadership and programs will be added.
“The training is meant to move us forward,” said Jerry Raehal, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association. “Print is not going away, though revenues will look different. And I know there still are papers that don’t want to deal with digital, but with the industry revenue needs, we need to know that digital is not going away either.”
Digital also is where the audience growth occurs, especially based on results during the pandemic. “Reach isn’t our issue. Monetizing it is,” Raehal added in an interview via Zoom.
MediaNext began in February with a webinar on the importance of local media websites. A program in April explored selling against social media. View it here.
(I attended both webinars and found the advice to practical, useful and clear. It also was refreshing to hear digital experts admit personally disliking Facebook but acknowledging having to be on the social-media platform because clients used it.)
MediaNext will benefit from a partnership with AdCellerant, a technology and digital advertising company that Raehal worked with when he was a publisher in Colorado. Raehal also is a former executive director of the Colorado Press Association.
“They are most competent and willing to do training,” he said. “We need to figure out training that can be administered at different (skill) levels, with a robust structure.”
Raehal said MediaNext plans to offer monthly webinars, short on-demand video training, one-sheet handouts with advice, other resources for members, and different formats. The topics will cover a range of subjects and issues, including:
How print and digital work together in a sales cycle.
Easy digital marketing strategies.
Effective advertising for small businesses.
Because newspaper staffs are often pressed for time, the 60-minute workshops can viewed live online or on-demand by connecting to MediaNext’s page. “We want MediaNext to be worthwhile for the time invested,” Raehal said.
MediaNext is free to participants, though some future programs might have costs depending on speaker fees. Raehal is inviting members of Newspaper Association Managers to use the training as well.
Once the program gets to full speed, Raehal said, LPA might use MediaNext to help secure grants for the Louisiana Press Foundation, and might ask for donations as part of the sign-up form. “Or maybe something else,” he added.
Raehal also hopes other press associations can collaborate on future training programs and projects to avert duplication while expanding learning opportunities.
“We want to be an advocate for thought leadership in the media space,” he said. “We want to help our members and the industry for what’s next.”
The Relevance Project offers a new advocacy resource: Support Local Journalism.
The addition is part of a reshuffling of the Revenue Resource 2021 section so it can concentrate on advertising, marketing and other revenue concepts for NAM members.
Nothing prevents an ad staff from touting local journalism, but The Relevance Project has created enough content to spin off the journalism-oriented advocacy into its own area on http://www.relevanceproject.net
The newest series in the Support Local Journalism section is “We Trust Newspapers,” which begins with three strong messages. Review them here. Thanks to our partners at Metro Creative Graphics for its design work.
The Relevance Project focuses on helping local news trade associations and their members tell the true story of the strength and viability of community newspapers.
As a reminder, association and newspaper staffs can use everything on The Relevance Project website without charge. Credit Newspaper Association Managers (NAM) for the initiative.
Also, I’m available to present “10 Things You Need To Know” about The Relevance Project to association staffs, boards and conferences. Included in the workshop is The Relevance Meter where attendees can judge for themselves just how Relevant they are to their readers and communities they serve.
Thanks for supporting The Relevance Project. More resources are in the pipeline. Stay tuned.