Now Is Not The Time To Stop Talking About COVID-19

One in a series on Relevant Trends.

How to survive COVID-19 dominates newspaper conferences and headlines in 2020, but as the pandemic continues a new urgent issue apart from capturing revenue is emerging.

It’s mental health.

The care of people’s well-being is becoming a more important factor, albeit a tough one, as the pandemic drags us into a ninth month of lockdowns, uncertainty, and continuing to work remotely.

Adding to the anxiety is the raised awareness of an expected second outbreak during the winter and what that could mean.

Concerns about mental health was a somber Relevant Point during the Oct. 21 panel discussion on “COVID Recovery” by the Lineup Thought Leadership program.

The consensus among the panelists from the United States, England and Ireland is that asking for and needing help should be out in the open and companies can’t get tired of asking, “Is Everyone OK?”

Investing in people for media companies includes making sure you have a strong Human Resources staff or point person. The Axios@Work newsletter even offered this big picture:

“HR departments across the world have pulled off the incredible feat of turning companies from in-person to remote overnight, and as the pandemic continues to determine the future of work, HR has been elevated from a back-office function to a C-suite conversation.”

Newspaper staffs will see more programs address mental health, including those focused on helping weary reporters covering the pandemic — as trusted journalism remains in big demand by readers and communities.

The workforce of the future likely will be a blended or hybrid one based on the pandemic experiences — the flexibility of working at home combined with coming into the office when needed or desired.

Amid the mental health concerns, more people also acknowledge that getting to spend more time at home has been a good thing, even if work and home lives now mesh into one.

Stay tuned.

Staring in July, COVID-19 has been the keynote at newspaper industry conventions and conferences. Individual webinars by associations or companies have added to the exploration of solutions and this-point-in-time discussions.

Early on, the focus was on figuring out how to work remotely and recover from a huge decline in April revenue as businesses and economies shut down.

The rush to working at home surprised a lot of managers in how quickly and smoothly it occurred. Those companies with crappy computers and terrible technology struggled, however.

Empathy became an early attitude to adopt when dealing with clients whose businesses were closed and employees forced to adopt Zoom and Slack as new tools. (Remember this Relevant Point?)

We also saw a wave of reductions in publication days, the stampede to apply for relief from the government, technology giants and foundations, some newspaper closings, and initial cost-cutting, including furloughs.

During the summer, newspapers were finding success with revenue programs where advertisers applied for “grants” that matched spending dollar-for-dollar to increase their ad presence. (Related blog item.)

Another positive occurred online as digital subscriptions soared at many newspapers. A regional editor at a major chain remarked that newsrooms finally realized the Internet wasn’t a fad.

One of the best summaries of COVID-19 and 2020 was offered by Neil Brown, president of the Poynter Institute, during America’s Newspapers’ Pivot 2020, a virtual convention.

(Pivot, by the way, competed with flexible, agile, adapt, shift, unprecedented, reboot, replan, relaunch and rebound for the keywords most used by presenters and panelists.)

Among Brown’s key findings:

  • *Marketing budgets and advertising are down.
  • *COVID-19 changed media behaviors, with more streaming of video and greater use of social.
  • *Publishers are finding markets for new products, with newsletters becoming more valuable in many ways.
  • *Paid subscriptions can grow, even as the “COVID bump” subsides.
  • *Audience want a broad content and are craving non-coronavirus stories and material.
  • *People are feeling isolated, looking for opportunities to build relationships with businesses and brands they trust.
  • Brown then provided several interesting “key takeaways” for the audience to act on.
  • They included:
  • *Depart from the “island of crisis management” and “begin strategy anew.”
  • *Overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate your goals. (He may have said it a few more times, but you get the point.)
  • *And when the goals change, overcommunicate they have. (See his SMART goals slide.)
  • *Believe in the distinctive. “Do it and make noise about it.”
  • *Stop doing things by doing other things.
  • *Ruthlessly pursue priorities.
  • *Invest in your people — “they want a culture of personal growth.”
  • *”If you customer service sucks, you lose.”

He added: Print is now distinct. But don’t let that dull your innovation as the world is digital.

Presentations like Brown’s are invaluable because we are being pushed to reinvent our businesses and to fight harder for sustaining revenues.

The backdrop is that we can’t ignore the unprecedented times.

You know it’s weird when people are already lamenting there will be no Christmas party at work this year.

And an advertising leaders says a silver lining in the pandemic is hiring really good people from a publication that had to close.

That observation made this comment, repeated several times during conferences, stand out:

“When we come out of this, we’ll be stronger.”

Yes, take care of the people.

It is super-Relevant.


News Business Has More Than One Leg To Stand On

One in a series about Relevant Trends.

The three-legged stool is making a comeback.

Have you noticed?

It’s again showing up in industry presentations and management workshops as a way to describe the changing newspaper business.

Have a seat for a bit of background.

My introduction to the stool as a business description or organizational image occurred when I was on the publishing division staff at the now-defunct Media General Inc.

The Richmond-based company was making headlines with its convergence strategy that blended its businesses into one strategic approach to appeal to all sorts of consumers who were platform agnostic in their media use.

The stool’s three legs:

  • Newspapers/Publishing
  • Broadcast/TV
  • New Media/Digital

Unfortunately, convergence was derailed by the 2008 great recession and corporate debt.

These days, the organizational stool is on the move.

It is used to describe key sources of revenue on which newspapers depend:

Advertising revenue, which is declining.

Reader revenue, which includes subscriptions and is growing.

Donation revenue, which is new to help steady the franchise.

Neil Brown, president of the Poynter Institute, used this stool in his excellent presentation during America’s Newspapers Pivot 2020 convention.

“New revenue for news orgs: Philanthropy” was his headline. It’s a hot topic, as is the non-profit model.

Brown cited the Tampa Bay Times and the Seattle Times as examples of news organizations funding journalism through donations and grants.

Timeout for a 2020 warning:

If you want to be outdated in your thinking or designing, then put out this stool:




Print and digital have converged.

In fact, another presentation at Pivot 2020 by Laurie Kahn of Media Staffing Network revealed 94 percent of the respondents to an advertising compensation survey said their ad staffs now sold all products — both print and digital. Only 6 percent indicated they had digital-only staffs.

Don’t even ponder a two-legged stool.

When it comes to Reader Revenue, you might use a different stool, again with three legs.

  • Subscription
  • Membership/Donations
  • Events

But alas, this stool is in shop being repaired as the pandemic and social distancing have snapped one of the legs. Don’t worry, it’s going to be better than new soon. (Someone suggested a virtual leg, but we’re hopping around to make that work.)

I’m sure there are other three-legged stools in the showroom or online catalog. If you have one, please clue in the Relevance Project. We collect them.

Still, I wish someone would reveal why we only get to use a three-legged stool in newspapering.

Personally, I prefer a stool with four legs under me.

Less wobbly.


Let’s Unite To Improve Media Literacy With The Community Forum

Follow the money.

That’s what sharp journalists do to uncover the real stories, especially when their complications and complexions are rooted in secrecy, obfuscation and the lack of transparency.

It’s certainly the path The New York Times followed for its story published this week, “As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place.”

At the outset, the story draws a distinction apart from “traditional journalism” found in community newspapers. Good.

Instead, this “fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites” is built “on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public relations professionals,” the Times investigation found.

Pay-for-play news, without proper labeling or disclosure, joins fake news as issues that cloud the integrity of news-gathering organizations. We hope the public can see through trickery and manipulation but there’s a feeling this is only going to get worse without a carefully orchestrated counter effort.

It’s particularly galling that our newspapers take pains to differentiate news from advertising, especially political ads, only to read in the Times story that a disclosure came as a result of an Illinois Board of Elections order. And then there’s the use of the new term “story watchers” to identify clients, at least one of whom was surprised to be listed.

(An aside: Equally infuriating is the social media giants getting credit for finally labeling advertising after years of a hands-off approach to manipulative messages purporting to be honest reporting. Maddening.)

The Times story reported several names used by the site network, including Metric Media, Locality Labs, Newsinator, and Interactive Content Services. The Times article did not mention, however, the outfit’s history with the Illinois Press Association, which in August 2016 issued a statement by the IPA Board of Directors in opposition to the upstart and added a caution to readers “to become as news literate as possible.”

Judging by how many times I was copied yesterday, this story hit a raw nerve with press associations. I’ve reread the article as well as scanned the highlighted reader comments.

Here are a few Relevant thoughts:

  • *This might be just the smoking gun for press associations to unite on a massive media literacy program to help people understand the value of trusted journalism and to judge a fake in newspaper clothing. Some associations are already working on this track. Applause. Again from the Illinois Press statement: “Technology has significantly lowered the barrier for entry into publishing—for both print and digital, making it extremely difficult to distinguish between legitimate news and political propaganda. News and information shape the decisions we make every day and the importance of news literacy is becoming more and more important each day.”
  • *The demise of newspapers-in-education programs is a contributor to confusion over news sources. Is it time to consider setting goals so our communities will earn A+ grades for media literacy because of community newspaper-led efforts? That’s a great role for the Community Forum, a Relevance Project objective. Ready to roll.
  • *Consider a new category for association-run contests that recognizes media literacy programs administered by community newspapers, too. You can limit it to a one-year special recognition to drive attention — The Year of Media Literacy.
  • *In the story’s comments section, readers asked the Times to publish a list of the news sites operated by the company or companies in question. Associations can consider doing that and making it available to member newspapers.
  • *A related step would be for associations to tout its members this week with a seal of approval for being reputable news organizations. Send to each member newspaper a promotional ad to publish that lists all of the association members so readers know who they are. Let them figure out why questionable outlets are missing.
  • *The Times story highlights the lack of transparency in the “About” sections of the web sites. This would make for a timely topic for a webinar on how to demonstrate transparency and where to document it.
  • *Also for discussion: the do’s and don’ts of branded content. Some associations have hosted workshops and webinars on the topic. Transparency is important here as well. Not all community newspapers can separate staffs into news-only and those producing branded content sold by the advertising team. Beware.
  • *Another workshop topic: Who is our competition? Given the deception on a massive scale, let’s be sure we know. Create bootcamps to better confront revenue and news competitors, with the mission of protecting trusted journalism as the core of our businesses. Help our newspapers and web sites.
  • *Avoid any dismissal of competition online. This is where disruptive innovation exists and eventual threats lurk. Treat any or all “local news outlets” with concern. Wish for the best, suspect the worst. See my blog item from last week about the Patch network.
  • *A recent Relevant Point monthly commentary recommended this: Spend more time reporting on harm caused by social media. We can’t be silent on this score. Start with local abuses and impacts.
  • *In addition to follow the money, there’s another adage at play here: You get what you pay for. $22 for a story?

Finally, think about this quote as to why the entrepreneur in question was motivated to build a business.

“No one covers all the small towns.”

That’s another smoking gun.


Industry Trends Here, Get Your Industry Trends Here, Scorecard Anyone?

The pandemic robbed The Relevance Project of a key driver: Collaboration in person.
The project was supposed to visit press associations when each had its annual convention, conferences or big gatherings.

The intended drill:

We’d compare notes, meet new colleagues, share ideas, thank vendors, and true up the mission of The Relevance Project.


Fun, right?

That all disappeared with shutdowns, travel bans, crowd restrictions and social distancing.
But there’s always Zoom.

Thanks to free passes, I’ve attended several virtual conferences in the last four months. The first wave of programs during COVID-19 occurred in the summer — cheers to the pioneers.

Then came another round of webinars and workshops in September. October brought more.

So far, I estimate I’ve watched 45 individual presentations. They helped fill five notebooks with advice and my iPhone photo app with shots of slides.

I hope to share in this space the 2020 trends by knitting together various topics identified as timely and the best practices presented by frontline managers, subject-matter experts, and experimenting innovators.

Call them the Relevant Trends.

Use the RTs to further plot your discussions and future programs. Go ahead and guess the topical talk in the virtual rooms. And step back to judge what’s necessary but missing.

We’ll start today with an overview and a scan of the convention headlines. In future Relevant Points, I’ll follow with more details and stories:

The New Keynoter: COVID-19

In the summer, it was how to survive the uncertainty, the sudden huge drops in revenue and the urgent safety measures as everyone was rushing to work remotely.

Lots of concern about the future. Workshops were therapy.

In the fall, it was more here’s what we know and who had a success story.

The terrain remains perilous. What will we do when a second outbreak hits? That’s a new burning question.

Despite the weird times, many in our industry are resilient. You can even see the stiff upper lips on the screen.

The Expected Keynoter: Revenue, Revenue, Revenue.

No surprise by this overemphasis. Like a bad dinner, it keeps everyone up at night.

Most of the focus squarely was on digital, though turning sellers into better prospectors is a popular program.

Not everyone is on the same page, however. Urgency battled long-term thinking among the advice-givers.

Old Standby: Anything to do with the blocking and tackling required to pull in advertising revenue.
Especially new dollars. What, where, when and how. This is a recording.

New Standby: Reader revenue models, strategies and tactics.

Lots of refreshed approaches being explored. Breakout specifics include the necessity of mining of data about your readers and nonreaders, aggressive pricing, the importance of talking to customers to deliver what they want while keeping them engaged, and advocacy for getting paid for content to support newsrooms.

Now In Demand: Donations, philanthropy and non-profit models.

This trend requires growing new brain cells.

Heard several times “don’t be afraid” to ask readers for support. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Non-profit status requires expertise in grant writing and building a funding pipeline.

Those who learned the money maze are sharing valuable tactics and lessons.

Anything to do with sustainability: In other words, survival.


Head-scratchers: Digital 101 workshops.

Actually saw a workshop with the opening slide: What is Digital Advertising?
In 2020.

Focus on Big Tech: Appearances by Google, Facebook and Microsoft leaders.

All were teed up to show they care about our industry. Money in 2020 is flowing from Silicon Valley to pay for news initiatives and projects. Applications, please.

Still, the devil remains in the details.

All of the giants took pains to point out “news” is not their business’s primary focus.
We understand.

Innovation in action: We may be on the verge of a significant era.

Bring it on. Welcome the entrepreneurs who have interesting stories to tell as they err, as one said, on “done versus perfect.”

But it’s got to be more than a shiny object to be effective. Several are grounded in community engagement.

“To be continued” is a popular closing.

The latest from Gordon Borrell: Slides fly.

As always, he’s a trend machine on identifying where the money is, why digital growth should happen, where breakthroughs are doing it, and how our industry compares to others.

Borrell knows he makes some newspaper leaders mad or uncomfortable. So what. Look who is still at it!

But lately, given the pandemic, he also offers “good news.”

A show worth the time.

News collaborations: Newspapers working together, not competing against each other.
We may have no choice.

Collaboration is not occurring everywhere, but if you’re in a state with one of the new news hubs — Oklahoma, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, for example — you’re watching closely.

Maybe everyone should lean in as well for lessons learned. Some are going forward without press associations being involved. Some are being led by associations.

Adding audience: If you’re not growing online, you are dying.

The spike in digital audiences pays homage to the newspaper’s crucial role of providing valuable reporting and needed information about the virus’ deadly impacts.

This audience growth is not going last on its own. Newspapers need growth strategies in place to keep it going.

The Google News Initiative offers a very good “Digital Growth Program.”

Diversifying the workforce: Watch this priority closely.

Surprised this wasn’t a more prevalent topic to discuss. Maybe it’s a metro thing.
But the workshops I did watch were powerful and deep in insight about building better newsrooms and organizations.

A related 2020 program: Social justice and what it means for newspapers and newsrooms.

Email for Dummies: Check your inbox.

If you don’t have a successful newsletter to entice readers to become subscribers, you’re stupid. That about sums up the message.

Some newspapers have different newsletters for loyal readers and samplers. It depends on the potential.

Branded content: It’s a revenue push, but interesting advertising is interesting content.
Subtitle: Getting paid to write stories for advertisers on their terms. Did I mention this isn’t advertising?

Some newsrooms are involved; some are not.

Focus on People: Retaining, acquiring, onboarding and recruiting (fill in the blank).
It’s a Swiss Army knife to carve paths to securing happy advertisers, subscribers and employees. Have a plan and work it.

Reader feedback: How to collect and act on it.

One workshop detailed tactics to collect emails to open doors to new subscribers. Make sure your emails aren’t junked.

Industry consolidation, cost cutting and what’s next: Sorry for the downer.

When the big-company CEO is a keynoter and then talks about cost-cutting to improve the balance sheet, you can expect buyouts or layoffs coming. We’ve seen this picture before. Some newspapers and companies are not done with getting smaller.

At least one presenter went from the good, the bad, the ugly, and then to “Future is bright.”

Election 2020: The calm before the storm or the storm before the calm?

Advice included better ways to cover this most unusual election, how to counter social media’s toxicity, why it’s important for a trusted press to avoid being taken by surprise like the 2016 Trump victory, and why newsrooms should prepare for an “Election Week” to help readers understand what’s going on. Notice we didn’t mention fake news.

Listen. Listening. Shut up and let the customer talk.

This must be a major shortcoming of newspapers given the same L-word advice uttered throughout various workshops.

Why do we need to listen more? And work at it?

Maybe that’s an entire convention.

That’s also a good place to end.

I’m listening.

Upcoming Relevant Points will share the workshops’ salient advice with highlighted comments.

Note: Some of the hosts, including state press associations, posted conference videos on their websites.

Wear your mask while you watch and take notes. It might help you make believe things are somewhat normal.


Score Your Newspaper With The Relevance Meter?

It’s time for The Relevance Project to take score.

I’ve been tinkering with a Relevance Meter to act as a scorecard to help judge strategy, confirm focus, improve decision-making, sharpen management, or spark creativity to further uplift community newspapers.

With Relevance, We Progress.

With Greater Relevance, We Advance.

With Outstanding Relevance, We Lead.

Everyone wants to be in first place, right?

Second place is roadkill.

So, try the test.

This one is intended for newspapers. I’m thinking of creating one for associations.
Respond to each of the Relevance Meter’s 10 statements below. Use a score of 1 to 10 — with 10 being the super-achiever and 1 being clueless — to rate your Relevance as a newspaper and/or media company.

No negative numbers, please. Note: I also left out using a zero.

Your numbers indicate what you think about Relevance as defined by the statements you are scoring. Below a 7, doesn’t mean you are a terrible newspaper or organization. It indicates you could be in the land of the irrelevant and why you struggle.

Please share all perfect scores. We’d like to get the scoop on what they’re doing Relevance well.

Thanks for participating.


_____Readership and viewership are strong. (TAS NOTE: Normally, “growth” might be the measure, but I shifted to “strong” because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.)

_____Your journalism creates trust in what you report.

_____News consumers are addicted to your online updates.

_____Social media sees you as fact.

_____Advertisers call you first before deciding their next marketing move.

_____Staffers are outstanding ambassadors for their newspaper and industry.

_____Government seeks your support and hires you to inform with public notices.

_____You’re super-connected as the reliable Community Forum for discussions, debates, exploration of solutions and civil discourse on issues of importance.

_____Your editorials ignite solutions.

_____You’re always searching for ways to reinvigorate your brand of media.

How did you do?

Check here:

A score of 90+: Congratulations, you’re in The Relevance Club.

80 to 89: Close, but pull up your droopy Relevance socks.

70 to 79: You’re full of potential but one step away from major problems.

60 to 69: Your skepticism is your culture.

50 to 59: Let’s just say you are distracted with other priorities.

Below 50: Irrelevant.

For those unhappy with the result, here’s a chance for extra credit:

_____BONUS: Integrity is one of your company’s values.

What did you think of the Relevance Meter?

What hit home?

What did I miss or what would you change or amend?

Welcome your suggestions to make this an even better tool.

If anything, the final score is a good way for your team to think deeper about the jobs to be done and direction you want to go.

In the meantime, I intend to ask future scorekeepers to share their results.
Here’s to insightful Relevant trends.


This is the monthly Relevant Point commentary for October.

A Bold Coalition Can Do Better Than Patching Up Revenue

Press associations, you’re being called out.

It’s about a revenue opportunity we’ve talked about. 

In The NewStart Alliance newsletter, West Virginia University professor Jim Iovino wonders why the Patch local news network is succeeding in creating enough bulk to start pulling in national advertising. 

After all, indispensable local journalism and Patch are far from a match. 

“The journalism may not be high quality, but Patch is leveraging its scale, free content and massive page views to attract national advertising that newspapers have been missing for a while,”  Iovino writes.   

Patch? It’s still around?

Yep, in an estimated more than 1,200 communities. 

Iovino quotes a Digiday article on Patch’s local news strategy and improving sales results, which include a record month in September for “the number of client bookings and revenue.”


That development prompted Iovino to ask two questions. The first is for community newspapers:

“So, if Patch can do all of this digitally, why can’t independent local newspapers? Shouldn’t all of these independent community papers across the country that have spent years building trust within their communities be able to amass even more scale than Patch and capture the attention of national brands?”

The second is for press associations:

“Are state press associations the ones to lead a coordinated effort to attract national digital advertisers at scale while individual papers focus on digital subscription models?”

In his weekly newsletter this month, Iovino provided short answers. 

Yes, community newspapers should band together. 

“But this requires collaboration and coordination. It requires ad standards. And it requires someone to step up and make it happen.”

On whether state associations are the ones to lead, his answer was:


So, I emailed Iovino after he welcomed hearing from anyone “who might be trying to tackle this issue.”

I wanted to let him know about The Relevance Project. I also was eager to learn more about NewStart, which is an admirable effort to identify, train and support the next generation of newspaper owners and publishers across the United States.

Iovino, who joined West Virginia University in July 2019 as the Ogden Newspapers Visiting Assistant Professor of Media Innovation, is the director of the year-old program that is injecting a better option for longtime owners who face either selling out to newspaper chains or shutting down when it’s time to retire.

Read an interview with Iovino here.

Rebranding the advertising services of state and provincial press association is an action step for The Relevance Project, thanks to the visionary NAM leaders who saw a need for this initiative that advocates for community newspapers and their press associations. 

Boosting revenue is also an opportunity for the new Advertising & Marketing Task Force that will work with The Relevance Project now that the Revenue Resource 2020 has launched. 

Iovino is right about seizing the urgency to attract national digital advertising with the implicit scale that already exists if we can pull together a large alliance of community newspapers throughout North America.

Let’s give national advertisers a much better local option as the tech giants face more and more questions about integrity and disruption. 

Take it from Patch, there’s gold in them there hills.

But it’s going to take collaboration on an unprecedented scale.

The Relevance Project is ready to pitch in. For starters, let me know if you are interested in joining the next conversation with NewStart’s Iovino.

Remember his burning question in the meantime:

If Patch can do it, why can’t you?


RP Revenue Resource Adds Tools To ‘Enrich The Pitch

Today, we’re making this announcement that follows the September launch of the Relevance Project Revenue Resource 2020. We’re asking newspaper associations to share this new offer with their members to help ad staffs close more sales. The benefit is free to all newspapers. Sell well!


Check out a new exclusive benefit to members of the Newspaper Association Managers thanks to a Relevance Project partnership with Metro Creative Graphics and Pulse Research.
Together, we announce a COMPLIMENTARY OFFER that further advances the Call to Action categories of advertisers featured on the Relevance Project Revenue Resource 2020. It’s an innovative approach to ENRICH THE PITCH!

Here’s the OFFER: 
For five of the Revenue Resource categories — Heating and Air Conditioning Services, Banks, Jewelry Stores, Opticians or Eyeglass Stores, and Continuing Education Services — associations and their members receive AT NO CHARGE access to household buying research presented in a teaser graphic as well as FREE creative services that provide up to 10 options for personalized ads that sales reps can take to potential clients.
The Pulse component features an audience shopping calculator. When you enter your circulation total, you will be amazed at the value of your audience.  P.S. So will your local businesses.  Also, it doesn’t matter if you are a 2,000-circulation weekly or a 40,000-circulation daily. The household total interested in buying that particular product or service varies with the market size.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All of the responses were collected by Pulse during the pandemic — a Relevant resource, for sure.
The creative services comes from Metro’s vast library of designs, templates and promotions. It’s impressive when you think of the possibilities that tap Metro’s outstanding talent.
Together, the house data from Pulse and the creative material from Metro are a winning combination. The newspaper industry is fortunate to have such valuable supporters. 

BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE! For each of the other 10 Call to Action categories, a spec ad is available — again FOR FREE. All you have to do is find it on the offer page and download it. 
More chances for pitches!

So, if you are ready to roll, here’s the process:

Find the LOCAL MARKET ADVERTISING SOLUTIONS box at the bottom of Revenue Resource page. It will take you to the  COMPLIMENTARY OFFER. Follow the instructions there. It’s that simple. Check it out. Again, start here:

If you’re further intrigued by the possibilities and want to continue with other advertising categories or creative service needs, please contact Pulse and Metro Creative. 

Tell them The Relevance Project sent you! 

Civility Can Flourish At The Intersection of News And Community Engagement

America needs civility.

Urgency was already sky-high before the Trump-Biden debate. It spiked again with the new negativity, fueled by heated reactions on social media.

I closed Twitter after reading an invitation for Russia to nuke the United States as a result of the debate disaster. When disagreements become toxic, nothing good can come from it.

Think Grand Canyon as the image for our civility deficit. It’s not just politics.

This crisis beckons someone to step in — and up — to model what civil, civic discourse is all about.

The Relevance Project remains steadfast that local newspapers must become the Community Forum, going beyond just producing a quality product. Instead, the pressing work is to reinvent the news business so community engagement comes first.

Let’s say at the outset that demonstrating civility, especially in politics and community service, is modeling strength.

There’s nothing weak about making a fact-based case, engaging someone who disagrees with you with respect, and producing lively arguments where an audience can better understand the issues and potential solutions. I t’s also based on thorough listening and creating the forum for effective dialogue.

There’s hope.

Encouragement for civility is coming from experiments and initiatives that behave like Community Forums. Some seek to bridge different sides by acknowledging and allowing passionate arguments without allowing them to shift into hate. Others are trying to use technology to lower the cost of new types of news operations to serve smaller communities in an era of newsroom cutbacks. And some are advocating that a moderator operate in the middle of community conversations — “a Next Door that cares” as one entrepreneur said.

A recent Knight Foundation webinar featured the Detroit Civility Project. Two award-winning journalists, Nolan Finley from the right and Stephen Henderson from the left, are demonstrating people can argue — often intensely — without losing their minds, because they insist on building relationships to establish trust. Note to Washington: Opponents can disagree and still respect — even like — each other.

However, “civility does not mean audience stays away from topics we see differently,” Henderson said.

The Civility Project’s October newsletter was headlined: “Be Brave Enough To Start A Conversation That Matters.” Creating that haven for civility is important given the risks and fears, but the upside is worth it, the organizers say. For news teams, it also would mean improving their standing in a community.

Meanwhile, the Local Media Association has started a series of informative programs to share knowledge from winners of the Google News Initiative that financially supports innovation and startups, especially new thinking for online journalism.

All are poised “to grow relationships with hyperlocal audiences.” That can be best done with civil discourse.

The first three prospects all based their launched innovations on purposeful conversations with their respective community to demonstrate quality engagement, hyperlocal inclusion and sustainable equity.

Crosstown from the University of Southern California Annenberg will engage all 110 neighborhoods of Los Angeles on community-level data collected on “traffic, crime, air quality, and more” — all important issues to residents. Crosstown’s mix of journalism, data collection and technology confronts its own contention there’s “no sustainable business model” for community-focused journalism.

Torstar in Canada is launching an app-first approach — “producing hyperlocal community content helps us reach audiences beyond our print footprint, showcase the diverse interests in each community, and connect local businesses with relevant audiences.”

Before each launch, extensive discussions were conducted with local officials and people who were “excited their local voice” would be heard.

The third winner, Wick Communications, has launched NABUR, a curated neighborhood social media platform for communities served by Wick newspapers. “Membership is growing at the two pilot program bureaus, where product managers coordinate discussions, conduct experiments in news coverage, and organize events across six communities,” LMA noted.

Sean Fitzpatrick, Wick’s director of digital, added another reason for community newspapers to become civil forums: “Technology companies have not generated trusting relationships….Hyperlocal social networks like Next Door create more questions than answers.”

All of these projects face the reality of having to pay for innovation to succeed.

But it’s inspirational to hear them say they are first guided by building new platform and organizations that better serve their communities, better seek to include all voices, and better installing the digital product in the middle of civic life to build out from there.

With a committed audience, selling comes next.

And if the distinct product solves a problem, it should attract people willing to pay to be a part of it.

One more thing about civility.

You can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing.


There’s An Art To Building Lasting Customer Relationships

The newspaper business is obsessed with revenue.

We all know why.

Conventions, conferences, workshops and webinars in 2020 are focused on sharing everything that gets dollars in the door.

We all know why.

Many of the best practices are delivered at high decibels and with lots of attention-getting energy.

Some of the volume has to do with today’s virtual way of life that zooms by on computer monitors. A reminder to use that chat area, folks.

We all know why.

That’s what made a concise — but comforting — conversation about winning revenue stand out even more. It was led by a newspaperman with 50 years of experience.

Robert M. Williams Jr. offered homespun advice during the National Newspaper Association’s annual conference earlier this month and invited his colleagues pictured in the little screens to add more.

They didn’t disappoint.

The result was a list of common-sense actions that anyone on a newspaper advertising team can use to build lasting relationships with customers.

For starters, Williams asked: “When is the last time you talked with your customer and it wasn’t about your product?”

Creating a give-and-take relationship is “more than just selling them something,” he added.

Williams is a longtime community publisher from Blackshear, GA, a past president of the NNA and now the NNA director of creative resources. Here are my notes that captured Williams’ recommendations and the frontline tactics from his NNA colleagues:

  • Know that building relationships is not a quick process. It takes a lot of time and effort. It’s no different from nurturing a longtime friendship.
  • Realize in all of your dealings that clients what to know how much you care about them.
  • Consider not walking into a customer’s business with your “sales tools” — computers, binders, briefcases, etc. Instead, arrive empty-handed as you visit for an update.
  • Choose a casual time or pick different times for when you drop by.
  • Ask more open-ended questions.
  • Listen. (And while you’re at it, listen to more than the boss. Employees of the business have great insight as well.)
  • Understand that nobody went into business “to buy advertising.”
  • Shop with your customers. Encourage your newspaper employees to do so as well. (One participant noted a publisher who awards a gift card to the employee who spends the most with local businesses. You compete by bringing in receipts.)
  • Even if you don’t buy from that advertiser at least give them a chance. (The reference was to buying a car and giving all of the advertising dealers an opportunity to compete.)
  • Provide your customers with case studies proving newspaper ads work. Consider building a library of testimonials and parking it online. Add video.
  • Talk to customers well ahead of a special section to get their suggestions before you commit to publishing. They’ll feel more a part of the project, and not an afterthought.
  • Make sure ads stand out in the newspaper and online. (Hint: Avoid tiny type.)
  • Send sympathy cards to clients when there’s been a death in their family.
  • Make sure the sales rep thoroughly reads the newspaper to help the advertiser know it’s a reliable source “for what’s going on.”
  • Point out to new subscribers your list of advertisers and ask them to mention the newspaper when buying goods and services.

The idea exchange ended with the urge to ensure more ads had calls to action and more advertisers benefited from frequency.

“I don’t want to sell you one ad, one time,” Williams recalled telling an advertiser. “That won’t get it done.”

Besides, Williams wanted to make sure the client’s success was more important than a sale recorded by the newspaper.

It’s all about enduring relationships.

We all know why.


Here’s To A Very Relevant Pioneer On Her 197th Birthday

Happy Birthday to Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first female African-American publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada.

Her distinction is that of an anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher and lawyer. She created in 1853 an abolitionist weekly newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, in Windsor, Ontario.

“It advocated equality, integration and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States,” according to Wikipedia. 

Shadd Cary was born on Oct. 9, 1823, in Wilmington, DE. 

I was going to write about another topic today until my wife pointed out at breakfast that she spotted Shadd Cary’s birthday being observed by a Google Doodle.

I’m sharing some of the sources I clicked on this morning after a simple search:
From the National Women’s Hall of Fame
From The New York Times
From the Literary Ladies Guide
And Wikipedia

In addition, this video.

I also ordered this biography by Jane Rhodes.

Articles point to Shadd Cary’s best-known quote: “It is better to wear out than rust out.” That could sum up the newspaper business, too. 

Shadd Cary died in 1893, at the age of 69. I can’t think of a better way to end National Newspaper Week by learning more about this pioneer.

Thank you, Mary Ann Shadd Cary.