November Q and A: Arizona’s Lisa Simpson

A Monthly Series

Lisa Simpson acknowledges that she sometimes questions her sanity for taking on the role of executive director of a newspaper trade association at a time of continued upheaval in the industry. 

The challenges can be daunting, especially in the state legislature, with the urgency for effective revenue-generating strategies, and managing through necessary change. It’s often an uphill battle each day.

Lisa Simpson

But Simpson is quick to click through priorities and projects intended to improve results and newspapers’ standing. Add in blunt determination and she has a firm hold of what will keep an association Relevant to its members.

“It’s something I love,” adds Simpson, who is in her eighth month leading the Arizona Newspapers Association. “I’d rather be in the trenches, in this role, fighting for its survival.”

In the November installment of the Director Q&A series, Simpson describes the road ahead for ANA and its opportunities, while noting problems to solve and upgrades to master.

Two immediate changes are a new office in Tempe that involved moving out of leased space at the Arizona Capitol Times, and the adjustment to a two-person staff with the retirement of the association’s longtime ad placement manager. 

“There will always be shenanigans at the legislature and revenue issues,” Simpson said in one of her answers, “but the connections I have made already are worth the struggles and sleepless nights.”

A huge sports fan, Simpson also lets you know why you might find her around 4:30 a.m. at a pub cheering on her favorite soccer team.

Read on to learn more.   

Can you introduce us to your association and team?  

Arizona Newspapers Association, in its present form, was established in 1930 after evolving from other associations established as early as 1905. 2021 is a year of change for us. I took over as the Executive Director at the end of April. We  recently had to make some tough decisions and are now a two-person team. Me and the Marketing/Ad Placement Manager, Sarah Flynn, who just joined our team. She replaced a person who everyone knew, Cindy London. After 17 years of service, Cindy has decided to retire. I am going to miss her, but I was excited to find Sarah. She is new to the industry but brings with her a raw talent and a willingness to learn and bring fresh ideas.

What makes your association different from others?  

I often tell everyone that Arizona is still the wild west. We have 82 members and everyone one of them is a maverick and wants to do things their way (which is the ONLY right way). Not sure if that is different or not, as I am still counting my tenure here in months (or 7 covid years).
I do know that we are behind in the digital evolution and there is a lot of work to be done. I was able to attend the NAM convention during the summer, which was very helpful. Most of the associations represented there were very well-established and much larger than Arizona. I hope to emulate their successes and make the ANA a true asset for its members.

Now you: What’s been your career path?  

What is a girl that went to college for engineering doing in the newspaper industry? Dad needed help in the family auto business, so from college I went to help him out and had so much fun, I never left. Turns out that between my technical knowledge and big personality I was great in sales!  
After we closed the business, my husband and I moved to Arizona. I decided that it was time for something new, so I joined the Arizona Pennysaver to sell, what else, automotive ads. From there, I have worked at most of the Phoenix Metro papers, running La Voz & TV y Mas for several years. Most recently, I served as the Ad Director at The Arizona Capitol Times which gave me a huge insight into Arizona politics.
I love the news industry and was excited when the opportunity at the Arizona Newspapers Association became available.  

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

My role is to look out for our members. To protect their rights, provide training, advanced industry knowledge and support them however they need. And to be an advocate for the industry to others. 
When I talk about rights and the First Amendment, most folks get it. When you bring newspapers into a conversation, I always look at it as an opportunity to educate folks and help them understand why newspapers are important.  

What do you like best about your job?  

First – The people.
I love meeting all my members and listening to them share their story with me. And the great folks I have met at other associations and supporting associations. I am amazed at how supportive this community is and how small. We are all connected in some form.  
And secondly – The challenge.
Our industry is at a precipice of change. How do we remain relevant with our readers while maintaining journalistic integrity and revenue? I want to be the catalyst for change and bring our industry forward.

Least?  

Legislation. Thankfully, we have a veteran lobbyist to help navigate the political side. But I am not going to lie, when he calls there may be a deep sigh and eye-roll before I answer.

What is your proudest career moment?  

Hmm. This is a tough question. I am not sure I can point to any one thing. My wins have always come in little steps here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I love the recognition when I won sales or leadership awards for a job well done. 
I do remember this one thing, though. When the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl in 2008, I was running the Spanish Newspaper for the Arizona Republic (La Voz). I was excited to do this special section. It was going to help us exceed our revenue goal and have amazing reader engagement. Everyone at The Republic laughed at me – “These never work”. The La Voz team rallied – great content and advertiser support. We really killed it and won the day (unlike the Cardinals).  

What are your association’s priorities? (Feel free to add a personal priority.)  

So many… We are focused on growing. We need to modernize and be what our members need. Things that are at the top of the list include:  
Creating robust digital solutions  
Updating our website and improving member communications  
Meeting our member needs better  
Protecting the newspaper industry against bad legislation  
Creating professional development learning paths  
Finding new revenue streams  

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
 

It’s mostly revenue. It will always be at the top of the list. Everything costs more.

What’s been your biggest surprise running a newspaper trade association?  

My biggest surprise has been the apathy from so many of the members. Much of that is the association’s fault by not engaging and being valuable to the members. I knew there would be some, didn’t know how much. I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the support of other associations. NAM folks have been lifesavers.

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

Rebranding. I tell everyone we need to make our industry “sexy” again. Educate folks on our purpose and passion. Creating pathways to interact with their local media. Helping everyone become more platform agnostic – get your news how you want – print, apps, YouTube, whatever. We are there for you.  
And investing in the talent. I have always been on the sales side of the industry, so compensation hasn’t been an issue. But our journalists should be paid well. In-n-Out burger should NOT be a better paying job that being a journalist.   And financially supporting our local papers. Asking what you really need to turn the corner and helping them get it.    

What are some of the best practices you’ve used to help guide newspapers to excel as a multimedia business?  

It’s about the audience reach, not the platform.   Newspapers tend to have focused on the “thing.” Whether it’s to sell search or social or whatever is new. Stop doing that. Figure out who your audience is, how they best engage, and build around that. 


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

Well. Just one thing? I love sports. I am a huge English Premier League Football fan (soccer here). My favorite team in Liverpool FC. I have been known to be at the pub at 4:30 a.m. yelling with my fellow supporters here in Phoenix.  


What do you like to do outside of work?    

See above? I am also an outdoor enthusiast. Love time to be out Jeeping, hiking, hunting, but not fishing or camping. There is also this little nerd in me. I play a tabletop game called Warhammer. It is a lot of fun, building and painting models and then having battles against opponents. Strategy and a lot luck involved.

How would your best career advice to a newcomer to newspapers? To a veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?  

Newcomer – It’s OK to bring ideas but listen to those who came before. They may be old and cranky, but they know stuff. Buy a veteran a cup of coffee and just listen. And patience. Success doesn’t come overnight.  
Veteran – Never stop evolving. Things change at the speed of light now. Don’t hang on to the “old ways.” I have conversations with folks who wonder why they struggle doing things like hiring new staff when their handbook and policies were written 1957.  

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

To advance the business interests of Arizona news media companies and to promote a free and independent press.

Our Vision: Uniting strong newspapers for a better Arizona.

Our History: The Arizona Newspapers Association is a non-profit organization that represents more than 70 Arizona newspapers. Established in 1930 as the successor to the Arizona Press Association of 1905 and the Arizona Daily Newspaper Association of 1922, the organization’s purpose is to improve the quality of newspapers throughout Arizona through educational and training endeavors, while strongly supporting the First Amendment.

–From the About Us section of http://www.ananews.com

Walks Like A Turkey, Talks Like A Turkey, But, No Thanks, I’m Hungry For Relevance

Look what invited itself to the local journalists’ Thanksgiving meal this year. Yes, the vampire hedge fund that devours newspapers as if they are celery sticks on the appetizer dish.

Isn’t this really a continuation of Halloween X?

Instead of pressing ahead with the transformation of print media, we’re instead forced to endure another anxiety laden period for trusted local journalism. How many job cuts this time if the deal for Lee Enterprises goes through? Ugh.

Gobble, gobble and gobbling more newspapers isn’t going to help us figure out the future. Not when the first order of business is recoup the purchase price as quickly as possible.

Fearing for your jobs, waiting for the next round of cuts, and reporting to remote financiers is also the worst environment for innovation. Let alone courageous journalism.

You do your best work after getting smacked in the head with a two-by-four. Sure.

Putting aside the latest depressing development, my money is still on some smart operator of a local daily or weeklies who is close to the customer and in tune with what a community wants from its news provider. That’s where the big pivot to becoming THE Community Forum will happen.

Or is happening.

Just remember you will have to really search to find this solution in action as it won’t garner press attention that reserved for the big media. Meanwhile, back at The New York Times…

Please allow a flashback: When I worked for Richmond-based Media General Inc., you couldn’t call it a chain. That was reserved for corporations focused only on profit. No, we were a Southeast media COMPANY. It was Chairman J. Stewart Bryan III’s subtle way of keeping our concentration on news coverage and community.

When I moved to the publishing division, Mr. Bryan also offered valuable career advice on how to work with newsrooms.

Don’t tell anyone what to do, even if you are division staff and can.

And have no ego.

Translation: The best decisions are reached with consensus that earns buy-in before actions occur. It’s too easy — and lazy — just to order someone. Besides, earning full support has built-in explanation and testing phases to learn and improve as you go. Also, ego should be at the community level where the news occurs and the newspaper’s employees live. Someone in a distant headquarters has a partial — and often temporary — view and might do more damage with an ideology or philosophy that’s tone-deaf to local realities.

That advice about respect and Relevance led to success, despite being saddled with the title of director of news synergy (a word that is edited out of stories by sharp-eyed copy editors and now rests on the side of Exxon stations for its brand of fuel).

Sadly, like Media General, the collaborative way of managing and thinking is gone now — along with the bulk of newspapers’ print revenue. Media General wasn’t perfect in trying to at least do the right things but compared with what’s happening these days it’s a reminder that there’s a better way of running media companies.

As we get ready to eat a big Thanksgiving meal, the newspaper industry finds itself with Alden Global Capital sitting on the dining table again. Alden, which The Washington Post described as “a hedge fund with a reputation for laying off journalists, selling buildings, and slashing newsroom budgets, now wants to sprinkle its magic dust on Lee Enterprises, “one of the last large independent newspapers chains in the United States.”

Full disclosure: I also worked for the BH Media Group, which bought Media General’s newspapers before it was sold by Warren Buffett to Lee.

Let me confirm that all the “easy” cuts at the Media General/BH Media Group have made made. So have the tough, difficult, plans B to Z, do-more-with-less, keep-positions-open, consolidation, make-budget contingency, removable of muscle, bone rearranging, and non-core/core reductions. And Buffet’s company still owns the real estate, if it hasn’t already been sold. (Added disclosure: That happened on my watch in Richmond as publisher of The Times-Dispatch.)

I suppose there’s always a cost to cut by a hedge fund if there’s a dollar left, even if the business is a ghost of itself.

Left out of the news stories about Alden’s offer is what would happen to the trade associations that boost newspapers in their respective states. Well, one of the first casualties would be membership fees, despite their return on investment for the many benefits and ad revenue received. This would be another tragedy. At least there’s solid support in many cases from independent owners.

Given the new round of uncertainty, especially in states where Lee dominates, this would be a great time for associations partnering with member newspapers to use the Community Forum strategy to hold discussions with local residents on what this development means to readers, taxpayers and those interested in trusted news sources.

From The Relevance Project’s series Support Local Newspapers.

Journalists shouldn’t be alone in sounding concern about the future. Involve the communities.

The upshot:
The business of local-newspaper journalism (yes, print and digital for the millionth time) needs a Relevance Revolution — collaborative with community, focused on improving qualities of life in villages, town, counties, and regions they serve, bent on nurturing an enlightened democracy, and always about universal engagement based on location and interests.

We’ve had enough of the turkey.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

What To Do With Now 3 Digital Bigfoots

Dramatically improving a newspaper’s Relevance might be the only way to defeat the tech giants soaking up more than six out of 10 digital ad dollars.

This just in: Amazon is beefing up its bid to make it a three-way race to the top of the estimated $200 billion digital advertising market.

And we thought outmaneuvering the two-headed monster of Google and Facebook was tough enough.

According to The Kiplinger Newsletter, which is one of my must-reads, Amazon last year raked in 12 percent of the U.S. digital ad spending. By 2023, the box-with-a-smile company is poised to take nearly 15 percent of the market, Kiplinger quotes eMarketer, a market research company.

“That year, Google is set to take 26%; Facebook…24%.”

Do the math: the Big 3 will account for 65%.

That leaves 35% for the rest of us.

It’s going to take more than attending another “How To Sell Digital” workshop for community newspapers to expand its share of digital ads.

At least the “digital advertising pie…continues to grow bigger fast.” It’s on track to top $300 billion in yearly spending by 2025.

Watch Amazon, sure. But community newspapers and their trade associations need to press harder on building up local Relevance. Be THE Community Forum, for starters.

Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

Go Big On Gift Subscriptions

Associations, thinking of what to get your members for Christmas?

Make it the Season of Subscriptions.

Added audience always top newspapers’ wish lists. So, be a good Santa’s helper.

Develop some snappy promotions that help community newspapers sign up “gifted” subscribers (no pun intended).

Launch a province- or statewide goal to reach, encourage your members with a contest, and reward the top achievers with free admission to the next conference/convention.

Offer a workshop on best practices to sell gift subscriptions.

On the promotions, consider one of these themes:

Santa’s Favorite News Source.

Makes the Perfect Stocking Stuffer.

Give the Gift that Keeps on Giving.

This Will Last Beyond Christmas.

Shop Local This Christmas. Support Local Journalism.

Read On: Simply Made in America.

Turn A Page In 2022.

You Want To Know. Now You Can.

Ho, Ho, Ho for the First Amendment.

Warm Your Mind This Winter.

No Assembly Needed! (For print: No Batteries, Assembly Required!)

Add your own theme on how wrapping up a newspaper subscription is a worthwhile holiday present to family, friends and neighbors.

Good luck and much success to community newspapers.

Here’s to the Season of Subscriptions.

Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

Part 2: Radically Rural, Community Journalism

A recent Relevant Point suggested newspaper advocates keep an eye on a thriving partnership in New Hampshire called Radically Rural.

Here’s the promised sequel.

The partners are the local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel, and the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.

Their intense focus is on keeping rural life vibrant. One of the core catalysts is a healthy and Relevant local newspaper. What’s not to like?

The goal for local news: “Radically Rural seeks to provide ideas, solutions, and models for news organizations and communities to ensure the financial health of those operations so that residents can stay informed.”

If you missed the Relevant Point about Terry Williams, the president and chief operating officer of Keene Publishing, find it here. He and Mary Ann Kristiansen started Radically Rural, a national expansion of a regional event called CONNECT.

Williams leads the Community Journalism track at the annual summit, which this year occurred as a hybrid event in September.

I wanted to know if the Radically Rural concept could work elsewhere, with more community newspapers partnering with their trade associations or similar entrepreneurial centers.

I put the question to Julianna Dodson, who became director of Radically Rural in February.

Radically Rural Director Julianna Dodson

“Yes” was the short answer.

Look no further than the attendance trends in the four years a Radically Rural summit occurred:

2018: 544 participants, from 21 states.

2019: 586, from 25 states.

2020: 502, from 43 states (virtual, thanks to the pandemic).

2021: 460, from 43 states (in person and virtual).

Radically Rural’s lesson is that you can build a following from the networks attached to guest speakers, funders and participants. Add in relationships born from shared experiences and an update newsletter to further lock in connections and continued interest.

In her strategic planning, Dodson said she examined successful program and event models elsewhere. In particular, she cited learning from the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, which bills itself as a gathering place to “advance the needs and promote the interests of rural or remotely located communities.”

“Our relationships with organizations like theirs are mutually beneficial as we all grow and help our rural communities,” she said.

Dodson confirmed Radically Rural is expanding beyond the once-a-year event to year-round programming that can drill even deeper on important issues such as downtowns, entrepreneurship, land use, clean energy, health care, the arts, and, of course, community journalism.

“We will be doing monthly virtual roundtables on the second Wednesday of every month, January through June, possibly, July,” Dodson added. “We will be posting a schedule with signup links soon. The best way for folks to keep up-to-date is to sign up for our newsletter.”

In many ways, Radically Rural is a version of THE Community Forum, a core strategy of The Relevance Project.

It’s one more way to strengthen community newspapers by moving them closer to the people they serve — or want to attract.

Radical, indeed.

Associations, jump in.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

Pick A Narrative To Support Journalists

Rallying around the Local Journalism Sustainability Act should be an easy task.  

After all, it’s about helping local news operations get through a rough patch.   

Anyone hear about the pandemic and an uneven economy with labor and product shortages?  

This just in: Some newspapers are skeptics about aid from Congress, even if we are talking about temporary tax credits.  

Not surprised.  

Skepticism is baked into the fiber of journalism. Bless all skeptical journalists.   

But this is different.   

Allow The Relevance Project to offer a set of narratives that will help newsrooms and publishers get to YES, as in, Yes, The LJSA is a good solution. We need it.   

America’s Newspapers continues to provide updates and advocacy for The LJSA. Nice picture of my SNPA colleague Leonard Woolsey of Texas.


Background: I’ve read several excellent commentaries advocating for the tax credits proposed for subscribers, advertisers and news organizations (for employing journalists). The bill is being remade in the sausage factory known as Congress, and industry advocate America’s Newspapers says only a five-year credit for local newspapers to employ and adequately compensate journalists is in the budget reconciliation bill. Stay tuned.  

(If you want to read the bill itself, click here to review the U.S. Senate version.)   

For the fence-sitters, presented for your consideration are 10 storylines that offer comfort in backing The LJSA. Pick one you like and run with it:       

#1: The benefit is limited. It’s not forever. That runs counter to how Washington works. But it gives newspapers some breathing room to get back to transforming their businesses in a chaotic digital world. Besides, we eat deadlines for lunch. And expanding journalism is an excellent five-year — and beyond — goal.   

#2: Helping business and creating new jobs — which government does a lot to stimulate growth and economic development — shouldn’t discriminate against the business of newspapering. And, by the way, we’ve paid plenty of taxes over the years.      

#3: This is federal help for small-town America and its main local news sources. It’s not about national news, as NO national news organizations can qualify. So, there’s no conflict.       

#4: Consider it payment — finally — for all of those letters to voters that community newspapers have published from the serving members of Congress. Newsprint is expensive, you know.       

#5: Think of it as a make credit for all of the political advertising that went to TV because candidates didn’t have to advertise in print since the newspaper did such a good job covering elections. (Bang head here.)      

#6: More journalists in jobs are good for a thriving community. Good for an enlightened democracy as well. Good for informed decision-making. (Add your own reasons.) Just plain good.       

#7: This is no handout. Newspapers still need to do the hard work of reporting in-depth, earning trust, replacing misinformation with facts, and informing the public on news they need to know.       

#8: You can still advocate with your Congressional representatives that loyal subscribers and advertisers should be rewarded with tax credits for supporting newspapers and being informed voters. Helping local is the watchword. Keep fighting for local.      

#9: There are NO coverage strings attached. Good government should welcome scrutiny and accountability anyway.  Full steam ahead.     

#10: This is justified compensation for Washington letting big tech gobble up advertising without any liability for the damage they’ve caused to local news. This is a stopgap until Congress can update laws that fix social media.       

Many newspaper trade associations have put their reputations on the line to advocate this worthwhile solution in Washington. They want their members to succeed and the newspaper industry to thrive at a time when trusted news sources are vital to a healthy democracy.       

If you don’t like any of the narratives above, please craft your own. Share it with your state association and send it to your representative in Congress.       

Sustain journalism. Keep it strong. That’s the Relevant Point.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

The Counter To Social Media Madness

Part of the front of the insightful REVIEW in the Oct. 30-31 The Wall Street Journal.

Newspaper still can play a role in fixing social media.

It also might help them transform their own industry.

Be THE Community Forum, for starters.

In all the chaotic discourse about the future, I keep coming back to this question: Why hasn’t the newspaper industry collaborated to build its own answer to Facebook?

With Facebook facing a surplus of challenges, now would be the time to provide that answer.

Any innovation only would have to be good enough to take hold. (Fans of innovation guru Clay Christensen knows what that means.)

And, if the corporate owners don’t want to play, then independent publishers working with newspaper trade association is the route to success.

What got me worked up again was the intriguing REVIEW section in the Oct. 30-31 The Wall Street Journal, which published 11 crisp essays on “How to Fix Social Media.” I highly recommend reading all of them.

The upshot: I wouldn’t bet on the government to figure it out, though finally acknowledging with new laws these social media giants are publishers would be a welcomed correction. That would allow the courts to create worthwhile change.

Several observations from the essays are worth examining by newspaper associations, at least during their various conferences and workshops. (Relevant Note: If you think this Relevant Point is too long, just know I’ve summarized four pages of content.)

Consider these discussion starters:

*Facebook wants to be regulated. OK. When is the last time you heard a for-profit business invite regulators? “Congress could start by creating a new digital regulator,” wrote Nick Clegg, vice president for global affairs at Meta, the new parent brand for Facebook. “It could write a comprehensive federal privacy law. It could reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and require large companies like Meta to show that they comply with best practices for countering illegal content.”

*There’s little trust in Facebook self-regulating itself. “We cannot expect Facebook — or any private, corporate actor — just to do the right thing,” wrote Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, the co-founder of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute. “Creating a single company with this much concentrated power makes our systems and society more vulnerable in the long-term.”

*Some U.S. senators are ready for action. “One reason Facebook can get away with this behavior is because it knows consumers don’t have alternatives,” wrote U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. , whose comments were highlighted on the section front. She added: “To protect competition in the digital marketplace, we have to update our antitrust and competition laws and make sure the enforcement agencies have the resources to do their jobs.” All in favor…

*From the other side of the aisle comes agreement that “too much power (is) in too few hands.” Add Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri to the chorus singing Congress must update antitrust laws to stop big platforms from killing competition. He also takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protects tech companies from owning up that they also are publishers of content. “In all other industries, the prospect of liability helps to hold the powerful responsible and makes obtaining concentrated market power more difficult, but Section 230 now is a perpetual get-out-of-jail-free card,” Hawley wrote. “….To fix social media, break up centralized authority and help regular Americans take back control over their lives.”

*There’s no shortage of skeptics. Not everyone is convinced government controls will work, especially “at a moment when government is among the least-trusted institutions in American life,” wrote David French, senior editor of the Dispatch and the author of “Divided We Fall: America’s Succession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.” He added: “It’s the task of a free people to exercise that liberty responsibly, not to beg the government to save us from ourselves.”

*”Slow It Down and Make It Smaller” was the headline on the essay by Clay Shirky, author of “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.” The vice provost for Educational Technologies at New York University wrote: “We know that scale and speed make people crazy.” Another essay urged “circuit breakers” to insist on reflection, adding a tout to the edited medium of newspapers. “Reputable newsroom don’t simply get a tip and tweet out a story,” wrote Renee DiResta, the technical research manager of the Stanford Internet Observatory. “They take the time to follow a reporting process to ensure accuracy. Added friction to social media has the potential to slow the speed of content that is manipulative and harmful, even as regulators sort out more substantive oversight.”

*Another solution: Take a page from the broadcast regulations. “These laws defined broadcasting as a privilege, not a right,” wrote Nicholas Carr, an author and visiting professor of sociology at Williams. “They required radio stations (and, later, television stations) to operate in ways that furthered not just their own private interests but also ‘the public interest, convenience, and necessary.’ Broadcasters that ignored the strictures risked losing their licenses.”

*Plenty of work remains to be done with online users, who need to step up to address the challenge that “social media is broken.” Added Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT: “But changing social media is not enough. We need to change ourselves. ….good citizenship requires practice with disagreement. We lose out when we don’t take the time to listen to each other, especially to those who are not like us. We need to learn again to tolerate difference and disagreement.” (That’s a strategic pillar of THE Community Forum.)

*Believe community newspapers can advance solutions to humble the tech giants. Clive Thompson, an author and journalist who covers science and tech, wrote the online communities that work best have a common characteristic — they’re small, which “makes all the difference.” He added: “First, these groups have a sense of cohesion. The members have joined specifically to talk to people with whom they share an enthusiasm. That creates a type of glue, a context and a mutual respect that can’t exist on a highly public site like Twitter, where anyone can crash any public conversation.” See the opening, community newspapers well-connected to their audiences.

Finally, join me in studying this graphic that accompanied the “Topple New Gods of Data” essay by Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and author of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” (Insert applause for that title.) It confirms the Facebook risks and how video is overwhelmed by one big player. But look how few people use the echo chamber Twitter and the noise-filled Nextdoor, Reddit, TikTok, Whats App and Snapchat. The network-seekers on LinkedIn are rather limited, too. Interesting context, isn’t it?

All this gets back to where we began: Why can’t the newspaper industry build its own master platform where trusted journalism, edited responsible content, and civil discourse can offer a solution to the mess called social media?

The question is Relevant.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

Relevance Project’s Flag Flies In Canada

Thanks to the Ontario Community Newspapers Association for including The Relevance Project in the Canadian group’s annual Independent Publisher’s Retreat Nov. 5-6.

The RP TRIPLE PLAY presentation detailed the ingredients of Relevance, Relevant resources on www.relevanceproject.net, and why local newspapers should become THE Community Forum.

All in a crisp hour.

It was The Relevance Project’s first workshop for a Canadian group and it was great to hear that GETTING BACK RELEVANCE factored prominently into newspaper thinking there.

Leading the way, the Ontario association is in the process of rolling out a new strategy plan built on four main pillars:
*Support strong journalism as “the absolute core of our being and our value.”
*Advocacy for community newspapers that will result in membership growth for the association. (OCNA has 218 members, with 118 being independent publishers.) “Declining members trends + Continued fragmentation among news publishers = Urgent need to review mission and membership.”
*Secure government and other funding by “understanding all opportunities” and “equipping members to apply successfully.”
*Expand the association’s advertising reach and boost diversified revenues. “Digital capabilities and valued offerings are essential.”

I enjoyed learning more about the association’s priorities that now includes a leadership transition. OCNA’s acclaimed executive director, Caroline Medwell, is retiring. She has been in the role since 2015. During the conference, Medwell received several tributes from board members, whose new task is to find a replacement.

Given the COVID protocols still in place, the TRIPLE PLAY program was a Zoom delivery. That worked out fine for me as there were no delays at airports.

Here’s wishing Medwell a rewarding retirement and the Ontario association good fortune in the months ahead.

–Tom Silvestri

The Evil Cousin Irrelevance

Thank you, Nieman Lab, for defining IRRELEVANCE so newspapers can determine how to get back Relevance.

After simply asking news subscribers why they canceled, researchers at the Nieman Foundation of Harvard University detailed five core reasons.

No. 1: Money (31 percent).

No. 2: Ideology or politics (30 percent).

No. 3: Content isn’t good enough (13 percent).

No. 4: Too much to read, too little time (13 percent).

No. 5: Customer-service issues (12 percent).

They add up to Irrelevance.

Each is potentially toxic. They’re also a call to action.

For staters: Turn on the urgency to replace them with Relevance.

Ignorance will get you cancelled.

Discovering Irrelevance is a matter of matching the Nieman-confirmed reasons to a newspaper’s performance and being unable to eliminate the problem.

Don’t feed the turkey vultures with irrelevance.

Developing Relevance means having an answer for each threat and beating it out of the operation everyday. Think along with The Relevance Project.

For example:

On money: Just don’t put out a newspaper. Financial justify the price you charge with a meticulous adherence to adding up the benefits of each publication or online offerings. Total them up so they at least equal what you charge. Address where you fall short. Report periodically to your subscribers a justification. Explain. Transparency is important, research shows.

On ideology or politics: Focus on issues and facts, not inflaming politics and rhetoric. Be strong, but smart. Can you live without opinions since social media is awash with it? Ticking off loyal readers is dumb and turning off potential subscribers is nowhere-land. Better yet, be THE Community Forum. (Read the Continuing Series in the Relevant Points section of www.relevanceproject.net )

On crappy content: Cutting coverage and charging more is a losing proposition. You might win a short-term budget goal but don’t expect it to last. Renew ongoing efforts to learn what your readers want and deliver it. Favor quality over quantity but realize readers want more quality. No arguments, please.

On no time to read: Is it they have no time to read in general, or no time to read what YOUR newspaper produces? Win the competition for eyeballs with a vigorous purpose for publishing. Here’s an idea: Grab a stopwatch and watch readers with your publication. What did you learn? What do they really read? Make that a daily exercise.

On customer service: You can publish the best newspaper in the world, but if you can’t deliver it on time, or your technology frustrates, or there’s no one to answer an inquiry, it doesn’t matter. Everyone on staff should be able to handle a customer call — and welcome it. A publisher who excelled at customer service once advised to look for “friction” with subscribers and advertisers. The moment you find it, fix it.

Nieman Lab said it received more than 500 responses to a request for readers to tell their stories about recent cancellations. Researchers found the comments “largely thoughtful and detailed.”

Even more reason to stay out of the dark side of IRRELEVANCE and move into the light of Relevance. It won’t happen without awareness, understanding and commitment.

–Tom Silvestri

Minnesota Validates Power of Newspapers

The Relevance Project’s “All!!! Ages Read Newspapers” promotional series received additional credibility with the results from a new readership study in Minnesota. 

Latest research continues to show: local newspapers are read by all generations; they are relied upon more than any other media for information about local government; and newspaper advertising motivates readers to shop local. 

This summary is the foundation for a Relevance Project promotional series.

Cheers to the Minnesota Newspaper Association for hiring Coda Ventures, the research firm that is one of The Relevance Project’s most valued partners. 

Coda provided the data for the “All!!! Ages Read Newspapers” series of six promotional ads that were based on readership studies commissioned by seven newspaper trade associations. The series was posted earlier this year to the Revenue Research 2021 section of www.relevanceproject.net

Last week, the Minnesota association released highlights from the statewide readership and marketing study and they are indeed outstanding. Among the findings:

*Nearly 9 out of 10 adults in Minnesota (3.9 million customers) have read a local newspaper either in print or online in the last 30 days. “That is an impressive number and reinforces and amplifies what we know to be true — Minnesotans value and read their local newspaper,” MNA said.

*Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesota newspaper readers are under the age of 65.

*Eight in 10 Minnesota adults report that “newspaper advertising is important.” (Another Relevance Project promotional series thumps this same point with 15 “Calls to Action” from specific advertising categories.)

*And, almost 8 out of 10 newspaper readers vote in local elections.  For Minnesota, Coda Ventures surveyed 600 adults between Sept. 24 and Oct. 12.

“The survey was fielded online and respondents were screened by ZIP code to ensure an accurate representation of urban and rural communities,” MNA reported. “Additional quotas were set for age and gender to match the demographic composition of the population.  The data were weighted and projected to the most recent ESRI census estimates. The survey has a margin of error of plus/minus 4 percent.”

Coda told The Relevance Project that it hopes to have a total of 10 statewide surveys completed soon so that in the first quarter of 2022 the “All Ages” series can be updated.  Here’s a snapshot from The Relevance Project website:

The Minnesota association said a representative from Coda Ventures will lead a session during the upcoming association convention so members “can learn more about the impressive results from this in-depth statewide survey and to show you how you can use the information to increase advertising sales.”

Well done, Minnesota and the other newspaper trade associations that are data hawks.

Here’s to the power of newspapers!

-Tom Silvestri