–30– With A But…

This marks the end for my time as the compensated Executive Director of The Relevance Project.

For 2 1/2 years, National Newspaper Managers (NAM) boldly provided the seed investment for a lead role in advancing the initiative. It delivered advocacy for local newspapers, best practices to supplement training efforts, better ways to tell the story of newspapers, programs at conferences, and the first-ever toolkit that allows newspapers to grow into THE Community Forum.

Tom Silvestri (Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch)

Credit also the SNPA Foundation for adding to NAM’s support with two grants. SNPA is unusual in understanding the importance of Relevance in touting the effectiveness and the crucial value of newspapers.

I thank NAM and its Board for the opportunity and backing. In particular, I appreciate all of the extra time Michelle Rea (New York), Steve Nixon (Canada), Mark Maassen (Missouri), Beth Bennett (Wisconsin), Phil Lucey (North Carolina), Laurie Hieb (Oregon and current NAM president) and Layne Bruce (Mississippi) afforded the project. These executive directors of press associations are fearless in their defense of newspapers and resolutely determined to find innovative ways to sustain trusted local journalism and solution-based revenue generation.

Everything good has a beginning, middle and end, and there’s no such thing as an unlimited supply of money to do all the things needed to compete in a complicated media world — or fight the good fight on behalf of community newspapers.

The work of The Relevance Project will remain on www.relevanceproject.net (special thanks to Metro Creative Graphics for the design work on the offerings) and don’t be surprised if you see updates from time to time.

What’s ahead?

The Community Forum is a transformative strategy — even a future-focused business model. The Relevance Project only scratched the surface on its concepts, implementation and possibilities. Democracy needs civil discourse on issues of importance to thrive. Citizens need a safe public square to collaborate on routes to a better quality of life for all residents.

A huge void exists.

I’m going to stay at it, looking for new backers and grant providers who also believe in the Community Forum and its rich potential. We can build on an experiment this year in Mississippi where three newspapers launched Community Forums and on the experience of pioneers in other states.

Staying Relevant for the newspaper media means being super-connected with their communities. The reward is a growing audience and all that it brings.

The work continues.

–Tom Silvestri

RPD: Reach, Relevance, Revenue

114th in a 2022 Series*

If you haven’t had much time to think about next year, “5 principles to guide your media strategy for 2023” is for you. It’s also for those who want to double-check what’s planned or fill in what’s missing. The article distributed by Digital Content Next is based on a conversation with Juan Senor, president of the Innovation Media Consulting Group, and the Innovation in News Media World Report.

Here’s a snapshot of the digital content principles:
*Keep your foot on the subscription gas.
*Continue to explore opportunities for revenue diversification.
*Unlock the power — and results — of product thinking.
*Be tech-led, not led by tech.
*Invest in content, especially visual media.

Senor is quoted as saying the Innovation Report features examples that “are focused on reach, relevance, or revenue. Often, these elements are deeply intertwined.”

And Relevance leads the way.

–Tom Silvestri

*RPD is Relevant Point of the Day.

RPD: Adding To The John Foust Series

113th in a 2022 Series*

Newspaper advertising mentor and trainer John Foust has added three more advice installments to his exclusive Relevance Project series.

That makes a total of nine “favorites” from the author and instructor whose columns are among the most widely published by state press associations.

The new trio covers the “With-it-ness” Principle, Presentation Don’ts, and Tips on Using Numbers.

The additions will be posted to www.relevanceproject.net

In the meantime, here they are:

Our thanks to John for his graciousness and passion for newspapers.

–Tom Silvestri

*RPD is Relevant Point of the Day.

RPD: Cheers For No. 3 In Mississippi

112th in a 2022 Series*

Congratulations to Publisher Christina Pierce and The Pine Belt News in Hattiesburg for adding to an experimental series of Community Forums in Mississippi.

“How Do We Support Public Education?” on Nov. 30 featured a panel of three local school superintendents and a community conversation moderated by the mayor of Hattiesburg.

The Mississippi Press Association, in partnership with Mississippi Humanities, also helped orchestrate the two other Community Forums — in Cleveland (How Can We Expand Tourism In the Mississippi Delta?) and Tupelo (“How Do We Combat Brain Drain?)

The Community Forum initiative seeks to instruct and demonstrate best practices in organizing civil, civic dialogue on issues of importance, thereby increasing the Relevance of newspapers.

Who will be No. 4 in Mississippi?

What other press associations will follow the Magnolia State in ensuring its member newspapers are THE Community Forum?

–Tom Silvestri

*RPD is Relevant Point of the Day.

RPD: Rebut Tiresome Arguments

111th in a 2022 Series

This column was originally pitched for use during National Newspaper Week in October. I’ve tweaked it for anytime publication. If anything, use it as inspiration for your own version of what irks you.

By Tom Silvestri

It’s been almost three years since I received my last paycheck from a newspaper company before retiring as a publisher. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for local newspapers that remain Relevant to their communities. That advocacy, however, keeps running into tiresome arguments that are as yellow as faded newsprint. I’ve assembled a collection of these errant statements that numb the mind, along with a suggestion: When you encounter them, just turn the page, yawn or call timeout to replenish the beverage.

Newspapers are dead. Not if you are reading this in print. Not if you get your news from a local newspaper online. Not if you desire trusted journalism.

Newspapers face tough challenges. And so does everyone. That’s called life.

Nobody reads newspapers. Latest research annihilates this one. Check out http://www.relevanceproject.net for data compiled by the research firm of Coda Ventures, for example.

Newspapers must act with urgency. Embraced a long time ago. Old news.

Print vs digital. It’s not an either/or argument. Newspaper media understand it’s an “and” strategy — print AND digital. Move on.

Only Metros are Pulitzer Prize newsrooms. Consistent, thorough beat coverage over the course of a year merits better recognition and appreciation. Local newspapers are the lifeblood of a community.

Governments should be required to place legal notices in local newspapers. It’s more than tradition. It’s demonstrated transparency by responsible government. Newspaper readers are the best voters, by the way.

Cutting days of the week is good for newspapers (this is for the industry). Please, admit it’s about saving money. Don’t tell me fewer days of publication are good for readers. Also, stop with the “digital transition” lectures.

News stories should be free. The digital giants have wrecked that ability. So have the demise of Classified ads and the disappearance of preprinted advertisements. Free doesn’t pay for a local newsroom.

Journalists can’t be objective. Outstanding trusted journalism stands on its own. When it resonates and is a force for positive change, the objectivity worry melts. Accuracy rules.

I stopped at 10. Do you have one? Expose, explore and explode it. Let’s never give up on extinguishing tiresome arguments that distract us from keeping newspapers Relevant.

In the meantime, thank you for supporting local newspapers.

Tom Silvestri is executive director of The Relevance Project, a community newspaper resource and advocate financed by Newspaper Association Managers of North American and the SNPA Foundation.

RPD: Returning Favor To North Carolina

110th in a 2022 Series*

The Relevance Project thanks Phil Lucey and the North Carolina Press Association for the opportunity to talk Community Forum at the annual conference in Raleigh on Aug. 25. It was impressive to learn that a couple of newspapers had Community Forum-like approaches underway as part of either the Google News Initiative or Poynter’s Table Stakes programs. I hope the Relevance Project’s resources can further help other outreach efforts as well as jumpstart newspapers that want deeper relationships with readers and new ways to reach wider audiences. It was clear from the give-and-take responses at the lunchtime session that North Carolina newspapers know the best local issues to tee up for a Community Forum series. And they know the importance of explaining the newspaper’s Relevant mission as well as efforts to improve the media literacy of their news consumers. Since The Relevance Project’s start, North Carolina Press has been one of the biggest supporters. It was great to return the favor for their consistent advocacy. Finally, it also was fun to be back in friendly North Carolina where I spent many days in roles for Richmond-based Media General Inc. Lots of good memories. That makes it easy to cheer: North Carolina, be THE Community Forum.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Editor, The Relevance Project

P.S. Above is the NCPA program board that greeted attendees in the hallway. The nighttime awards ceremony had 300 registrations, I was told. Impressive.

*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.

RPD: Deep In The Heart Of Texas

109th in a 2022 Series*

We thank the Texas Press Association for embracing the Relevance Project’s resources and the Community Forum strategy as a vital part of its Convention & Trade Show in San Marcos this past Friday and Saturday (July 28-30). The invitation continues the strong support of The Relevance Project by TPA Executive Director Mike Hodges. Much appreciated. Our program focused on detailing “The Texas Relevance Project” by stressing that the content and promotions are for Texan newspapers to use and adapt as they see fit. (No charge!) The added bonus in traveling to San Marcos through Austin was the insightful talk by two publishers whose communities have been rocked by fatal shootings at schools. You could hear a pin drop when Leonard Woolsey of The Daly News in Galveston and Craig Garnett of the Uvalde Leader-News described how the national tragedies overwhelmed their communities and the local newspapers they publish. “You can never prepare for this,” Woolsey said. Added Garnett in referring to the shocking revelation about the delayed police response to confronting the shooter: The “ugly piece of information hangs over us.” A standing ovation greeted Garnett at the program’s end. It was clear emotions are still raw. Hanging in the air was his observation that at age 70, he had thought of retiring. But because of the devastation in Uvalde, he now thinks: “No. This is too important. I want to help our community.” Both Woolsey and Garnett emphasized they were proud of how their staffs rose to the challenge. Also at the convention, Woolsey was elected the new president of TPA, after leading the audience in a Community Forum-like discussion — called Publishers Q&A — on issues of importance to members. The high cost of newsprint, production and distribution, the shift from a printed newspaper to a digital E-edition for daily coverage, the challenges of hiring talent, and expansive revenue ideas filled the hour slot. Woolsey showed his chops as an effective moderator.

New Texas Press President Leonard Woolsey (right, standing) listens to a colleague comment during a Publishers Q&A during the association’s 2022 Convention.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.

RPD: The John Foust Series

108th in a 2022 Series*

Exclusive to The Relevance Project, veteran trainer and solutions shaper John Foust is sharing his favorite advertising advice columns that first appeared in trade association publications or accompanied his programs conducted for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. The set of six one-pagers covers a meaty variety of subjects, ranging from selling like a pro to lessons learned in advertising to the ingredients of ads that motivate readers to buy from advertisers. Use the series to capture new revenue or to spark an in-house training session. All six (a sample is below) are parked on the Revenue Resource page of www.relevanceproject.net. We thank Mr. Foust for his partnership and applaud his many years of advocating for newspapers.  The Relevance Project is honored to present The John Foust Series. We also thank Metro Creative Graphics for the design work.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.

RPD: We’re In ‘A Path Forward’

107th in a 2022 Series*

The State of Local News 2022 was released this week in a blockbuster report (link is here). We were pleasantly surprised and honored to see The Relevance Project show up in the section headlined “A Path Forward.” Here’s the recognition: “At a summit on rural journalism, Tom Silvestri, former publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wryly observed that sometimes there seem to be ‘more people trying to save local journalism than actually employed in local journalism.’ As executive director of The Relevance Project, Silvestri is one of those trying to save local journalism. Funded by state and national press associations, the Relevance Project seeks to strengthen the connection of local news organizations to their communities through in-person and virtual forums that bring together leaders and ordinary citizens to identify and help solve problems.” We appreciate the shout-out from author Penny Abernathy and Northwestern University. To the supporters of the 2-year-old Relevance Project, especially the state and provincial newspaper associations and the SNPA Foundation, thank you. Know we don’t take this acknowledgement lightly. There’s much more to do. Be THE Community Forum. ONWARD!

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) each weekday throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.

RPD: Community Forum No. 2 In Mississippi

106th in a 2022 Series*

The testing of THE Community Forum strategy continues this week in Mississippi with a second civil, civic conversation on issues of importance.  “How Do We Combat Brain Drain?” is the topic of the Community Forum in Tupelo at 6 p.m. Thursday (June 30). Daily Journal is the host newspaper, with support from the Mississippi Press Association and Mississippi Humanities. (The public invitation is above.) As they say in the birthplace of Elvis Aaron Presley, thank you, thank you very much. A Relevant Point reported on the first community event in Cleveland. The successful program focused on how to expand tourism in the Mississippi Delta, home of the American Blues. The achievement in Mississippi makes us hungrier for another state or province to also demonstrate the transformative Community Forum.  Who will be next?

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) each weekday throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.