Director Q and A For June: Alabama’s Felicia Mason

Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association.


2021 is a special year for the Alabama Press Association.

That also makes it a great time to check in with Executive Director Felicia Mason for this month’s Relevant Question-and-Answer, our fourth installment in the Newspaper Association Managers series.

Learn what APA has planned to mark its 150th year, what Felicia likes most and least about her leadership role, and what sport she’s a champion.

The Relevance Project also thanks Felicia for her continued support.

Read on:

Can you introduce us to your association?

The Alabama Press Association is the oldest trade association in Alabama. We are celebrating 150 years in 2021. Currently, there are 110 active member newspapers, along with 20 associate member publications, several magazines and most major businesses, universities and state agencies who support the newspaper industry.

Congratulations on your 150th year. How are you celebrating this extraordinary anniversary?

COVID-19 put a damper on our celebration planning. We did not have an in-person winter meeting, and we were unsure about the summer convention plans until last March.

Our governor will attend and present a proclamation at the opening reception of our Summer Convention. We also have been publishing excerpts from our history book — published to mark the 125th anniversary — in weekly communication with members.

We will have special recognitions throughout the Summer Convention, as well as slideshows of old photos playing at events.

What has been your career path?

I came to APA in 1987, after graduating from the University of Alabama. I sold ads for The Crimson White, the student newspapers at UA, while I was in school. I would still be there if it had not been a student position. It is how I paid my tuition, etc. I became APA’s executive director in 2000.

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

Even my family isn’t real sure what I do. I think the best way to describe my job is to say I am in a support role for the men and women who put out Alabama’s daily and non-daily newspapers. I often compare APA to the dental, medical or trial lawyer associations — just that we represent newspapers.

I also include that we are usually the only group that lobbies the state Legislature on open meetings and open records issues. Most people do not think about access to government activities until they are denied.

What do you like best about your job?

The people.

I am fortunate to work WITH a great group of people and FOR a great group of people. There are three of us at APA who have been here more than 30 years. We are more like family than co-workers.

I truly admire and respect our members for the work they do. It is often a thankless job, but the work they do is vital to their communities.

Least?

The Legislature!

What is your proudest career moment?

In spite of my answer above, we successfully lobbied the state Legislature to pass a new Alabama Open Meetings Act in 2005. The new law made much needed improvements to our outdated law.

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

We are focusing on our sales efforts — both print and digital. I think the best thing we can do for our members is to send ads to them!

We also have been working on a new Open Records Act, but that has been a slow process. We will keep trying.

Personally, I want to get out and visit with our members more. They always seem to appreciate the time and effort when we take the time to visit.

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

I think we learned that we can stay connected with conference calls and Zoom meetings, but I hope we don’t see these as replacements for our in-person meetings. I would like to use more virtual meetings for training sessions, but not for other meetings.

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?

The shrinking newsrooms are a concern to me. We need our newspapers to be involved locally and maintain a visible presence in their communities.

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

I would make sure all of our newspapers had an impressive online presence, and at the same time keeping their core products fresh and innovative.

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

I used to be an Olympic gymnast.

Just kidding!

I was once the bowling champion in a league of ad agencies.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to travel.

How would your advice differ when offered to someone trying to break into the business compared with an industry veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?

Be aggressive.

Find ways to connect with millennials and learn from them.

Never be afraid of change.

-Tom Silvestri

About APA:

The Alabama Press Association is the state trade association of daily and weekly newspapers in Alabama.

Active members must have been published weekly under a Publications Class (Second Class) Postal Permit for a period of one year.

Founded in 1971 as the Editors and Publishers Association of Alabama, the name was changed to Alabama Press Association in 1891.

APA represents the interests of the newspaper industry by offering two annual conferences and a number of workshops and conferences. It also represents the newspaper industry before the state legislature, focusing on government access laws and on business-related laws that impact the newspaper industry. It also offers media law advice to active member newspapers through its APA Legal Hotline, media law guides and offers a number of other services.

APA acts as a clearinghouse of information that it provides to members through its monthly newsletter, AlaPressa, and its semi-annual tabloid, The Alabama Publisher. In addition, it publishes an annual newspaper directory and semi-annual advertising rate updates. The APA staff also seeks to help members find answers to problems and challenges they face by referring them to other members or to experts outside the membership.

From time to time, APA pays for readership research that it provides to member newspapers.

Source: APA website

Associations in 2021: What’s The Future?

Are newspaper trade associations underplaying their big-picture value to high-quality journalism and local news?

Is the modern-day association’s focus too inward in trying to help members shore up their businesses, rather than advocate more stridently for better practices and more sustainable operating structures?

Should the association be about stability or innovation?

Is there a bright future for trade associations and professional groups despite the newspaper industry’s decades-long retrenchment?

How does a state association change in the face of more niche groups, such as those focused on diversity, trust or specific advertising categories like branded content?

Seeking answers to those questions and understanding today’s issues is what attracted to me an academic paper by a group of University of Alabama researchers who assessed newspaper trade and professional journalism associations. The findings left the door open to additional examination on whether there’s a bigger or better role for associations to play during turbulent times.

For the record, I paid to download the report published in the Journal of Media Business Studies with the title: “Journalism’s backstage players: the development of journalism professional associations and their roles in a troubled field.” The authors are Lindsey Sherrill, Jiehua Zhang, Danielle Deavours, Nathan Towery, Yuanwei Lyu, William Singleton, Keqing Kuang, and Wilson Lowery.

The academics examined the history of U.S. associations, which includes those serving newspapers, broadcast, periodicals, and digital enterprises, and makes this distinction: “Trade association members are typically competing for firms … while professional associations members also include individual practitioners and managers…”

The article’s overall observations would be worth a discussion — or debate — at the August conference of Newspaper Association Managers — at least at the bar or on the golf course. There’s a lot of change going on in 2021 and I’m not referring to masks or vaccinations.

Consider the points made in the article’s executive summary, or “abstract”:

“Professional associations’ roles in shaping the journalism field have been understudied in the news industry research. Adopting a social population ecology perspective, this study provides an across-time analysis of the emergence, rise and variation of the population of U.S. journalism professional associations. In addition to the population demography, content analysis of current association websites was conducted to reveal associations’ patterns of development and adoption of roles. Findings suggest associations are turning inward, embracing roles that are internally oriented towards members, their financial struggles, and their identities, while there is less emphasis on externally oriented roles that serve field-wide needs.”

And then there’s this: “We argue that professional associations are important field-level actors. As in any organizational field, journalism needs stable agents for fostering interaction and learning; for negotiating and reaffirming best practices, norms and values; and for helping a field’s organizations reduce uncertainty in the environment.”

What I found particularly Relevant given the challenging times is the researchers’ ranking of salient — or prominent — roles performed by associations. The results might surprise you.

Here are the most salient, based on a review of 84 associations:
1. Education (Support training, professional development for members).
2. Product quality (Support improvement of news product quality).
3. Networking (Support connections for members’ career aims, work tasks).
4. Fostering community (Support exchange, camaraderie among members).
5. Maintenance (Support functioning, maintenance of association itself).
6. Ethics (Support professional ethics and service to society).
7. Legitimacy (Support public reputation, standing, influence of journalism).
8. Diversity (Support diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, identity).
9. Vision (Support visionary thinking and innovation).
10. Lobbying (Support efforts to influence societal leaders on association issues).
11. Intermediary (Support mediation of crises/controversies within profession).

I wasn’t surprised by the top half of this list that have the highest scores. But it’s the bottom half, which carry major impact for broader, positive change but ranked low, that gave me pause. Also, “no roles emerge as highly salient” in the researchers’ ratings. That’s fascinating. Mission creep?

The researchers provided a Discussion section, which cites other research findings as well. What they have to say is food for thought to provoke explorations about an association’s future:

“The organization studies literature emphasizes the association roles of providing knowledge for members (cognitive roles) and encouraging the profession’s cohesiveness, stability and standing (cultural roles) more than they view associations as tools for achieving instrumental objectives for the industry — such as lobbying for policies or repairing the industry’s reputation….

“Yet, the most salient roles — regardless of size, scope or age of association — also reflect attention to individual members’ everyday problems more than they reflect attention to field-wide existential problems. The roles of educating members, supporting ways to improve quality, and encouraging networking with other members — are oriented towards cognitive benefits for individual journalists in their daily work. … Less salient are outward-facing roles that serve the field as a whole — lobbying for specific policies, mediating controversies that damage industry reputation, and establishing industry-wide vision.

“The vision role alone showed a significant difference by association size and scope. Large, national associations were more likely to prioritize the problem of finding a way forward for journalism broadly. … Smaller and state-focused associations were less likely to see ‘divining the future of journalism’ as their jobs. Findings also showed that field-wide, holistic roles such as nurturing the field’s legitimacy and reputation and protecting political interests were less common at smaller, specialized associations. Yet, it is the smaller, more specialized association that has proliferated in recent decades. This suggests diminishing attention to field-level existential issues by the agents that are best positioned to address these issues — the field’s meta-level professional associations — even as the industry as a whole faces disruption and uncertainty.

“The salience of ‘member service’ roles like training and networking, as well as the self-maintenance role for associations, indicates a narrowing focus on the financial bottom line for both associations and news managers. Traditionally, associations are funded by member through membership fees, contest fees, and conference registrations. As the financial health of the news industry has declined, training budgets have dwindled, and associations are under more pressure to produce deliverables that have practical value for understaffed news organizations … Such deliverables help reduce uncertainty about members’ environments in a number of ways …. The associations’ prominent focus on its own self-maintenance speaks to the imperative of financial survival as well. Results suggest, therefore, that ongoing disruption has focused news managers and association leaders on narrow, day-to-day necessities — saving money, navigating unfamiliar technologies, practices and audience behaviors, and negotiating turbulent job markets. Metaphorically, the priority is spotting life-rafts rather than envisioning better systems for shipping — a narrow, short-term emphasis that is somewhat surprising for the field’s ‘meta-organizations.’

“While roles suggest associations are concerned with the bottom line, the study’s population analysis shows a fairly steady rise in density (number of associations) over the last 150 years and a steady rate of foundings since the early 1900s, offering little evidence of diminishing niche resources for the population. Meaningful patterns in number of members, staff and budget across time are not very apparent, and there is no obvious evidence of external influences. This is consistent with the fact that associations have low start-up and overhead costs, making them less vulnerable to external market and political changes … This stability may help the news industry project reliability and legitimacy, but conversely, it may contribute to a dysfunctional lack of responsiveness to political and economic ups and downs facing the news industry.”

Publication of the academic research arrives as the restrictions of the pandemic are lifting, a good time to take a deep look at what’s ahead for newspaper trade associations.

“Scholars have speculated about reasons for associations’ low profile in academic scholarship,” the University of Alabama researchers wrote. “Perhaps their influence is underestimated because they operate ‘backstage’ or perhaps it is their relentless stability: They are ‘relatively boring,’ as authors of one study put it … Professional associations do tend to lend stability to their field, as new niche areas of associations emerge and wane. We assume there are shifts over time in the associations’ ‘ecology,’ and that these accompany and shape ongoing changes in the identities, norms and practices of the journalism field.”

Associations are focused on helping its newspapers succeed. It’s important work.

But if everyone is obsessed with the bottom line, who is concentrating on the future of newspaper associations besides the executive director?

–Tom Silvestri

Author’s note: I changed the spelling of a few words to conform to American use. My apologizes to NAM’s Canadian members.

What’s Your Definition Of Relevance?

I collect newspapers’ definition of Relevance.

The good ones get a prize from The Relevance Project.

I asked participants in this week’s virtual joint conference of the Colorado-Kansas Press associations to describe what Relevance means to them. “Think of Relevance as an ACTION,” I added.

How can you not like the name of this newspapers that’s been publishing since 1977?

Barbara Hardt, the publisher of The Mountain-Ear in Nederland, CO, emailed me this point:

“For me, a small town weekly, Relevance means being connected to each other, to the community, to the greater region covered by my business. And being able to recognize the people and entities that work hard within the region, that are very public about who they are. As well as the many people who work hard way behind the scenes to make our communities successful.”

Pretty good.

Connected is a word I use a lot when talking about Relevance. But Hardt adds empathy, engagement and understanding. And this: A result of Relevance is success.

For the community.

That’s a winner.

A box of cookies is on the way to Colorado. Enjoy.

–Tom Silvestri

P.S. My thanks to Emily Bradbury in Kansas and Tim Regan-Porter in Colorado for the invitation to speak at their conference. Congratulations on an excellent program. A tip of the organizer’s hat to Bay Edwards for her help on the “CO-KA” logistics and connections — there’s that word again.

‘Today’s News’ Brought To You By The WVA Press Association

Don Smith knows first-hand the daily grind his members experience as news aggregators. He also appreciates how important providing Relevant news coverage is to attracting revenue.

Each weekday, the West Virginia Press Association distributes “Today’s News,” a newsletter that compiles stories from the state’s newspapers and press releases from newsmakers.

The May 17th edition, for example, shared a daily coronavirus update, an article from The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington on West Virginia officials rejecting a federal voter reform bill, a story from the Bluefield Daily Telegram indicating swarms of cicadas might not be visiting after all, two pieces out of the state capital on new pandemic rules, an update from WV News about the state Department of Education’s summer programs, a Charleston Gazette-Mail analysis of energy data, carbon emissions and the state’s coal economy, details about the West Virginia Renaissance Festival, and two more press releases — one announcing a concert at Appalachian Power Park and another about the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority hiring new staff to boost economic development.

Not your typical association fare.

Atop the newsletter is a picture of Executive Director Smith and the main paying sponsor, AARP West Virginia.

Therein lies Smith’s strategy: Help members. Make money for the Association.

An example of the newsletter’s presentation and its statewide focus.

The content-sharing newsletter also was borne out of financial urgency when Smith arrived in 2012. “We’re small,” Smith said. “And we needed immediate funding while providing a valuable service to members.”

The arrangement has “majority rules” approval for other newspapers to use contributed stories the next day. The newsletter presents a couple of graphs from each story, with a link sending users to the Association website and then to the originating newspaper’s website. That allows the Association to offer two opportunities for sponsorship messages to appear and, in turn, the member newspapers to retain web traffic to its stories.

The newsletter focuses on distributing interesting features, “good news,” member news, stories about government, and issues of statewide interest. “No sports or crime,” Smith said. “Newspapers report plenty of that already.”

Smith said in some years the sponsorships and revenue from paid press releases have brought in approximately $100,000. In addition to AARP, other notable sponsors include West Virginia University and oil and gas businesses. This year, because of the pandemic, total revenue is trending around $40,000. “That’s still significant for us,” he added.

Smith also extends the sponsor packages to include the Association’s legislative events, annual meeting and other programs.

Today’s News has about 2,000 subscribers, but not all are newspaper staff. By design, Smith has updated the mailing list so all of the state legislators get the newsletter as well as county and business leaders. It’s important to the Association that officials see the trusted journalism being produced by West Virginia newspapers and their efforts to ensure coverage is factual and balanced.

Smith estimated the newsletter had an open rate of 15 precent — 10 percent by “outsiders” and 5 percent by those in the newspaper industry.

Maintaining the story-sharing and newsletter production is “labor intensive,” said Smith, who has a news background. He taps a part-time staffer for help, especially when the legislature is in session.

In addition to stories, Association member benefits including an unusual collaboration orchestrated by the Association during the state high school basketball tournament in Charleston. Smith hires a photographer who shoots all of the games and delivers photos to member newspapers compliments of the Association.

“They get four photos of each game,” Smith said. “If they want extra, they can arrange to pay for it with the photographer.” It costs the Association $600 each for the boys’ and girls’ multi-day tourneys. It is one of the more popular benefits to members.

Nine years after starting Today’s News, Smith has his eyes on what’s next. He wants to create a video version of the newsletter.

“The Association has a studio in its office,” he said. “I’m eager to offer something new. I just need to learn how to do it daily with video.”

Stay tuned.

–Tom Silvestri

Make Room For The Hybrid Event Host

Let’s take attendance.

In-person events are starting to return. Yippee!

But before you run maskless into a ballroom or auditorium, pause on this:

Lessons learned are lasting, after more than a year of only virtual conferences and programs.

Association executive directors have told me that while they miss seeing newspaper colleagues in the flesh, their programs on Zoom and webinar platforms reached more people who, because of time, staffing and money constraints, probably would not have participated without the virtual connection.

No one wants to lose that wider involvement.

What’s ahead for events and programs is the three-headed organizer and host.

Virtual will remain.

Live and in-person will make a comeback (fingers cross on the virus).

But hybrid will join the options.

In all, the three-prong strategy will allow a maximum audience reach and the best chance to meet or exceed revenue goals. And the opportunity exists to shuck some previous expenses.

One authority is Gannett, which during the pandemic put on 146 events last year. That’s not a typo.

At America’s Newspapers’ 2021 Pivot spring conference, which was virtual, Gannet’s vice president for events, Lyndsi Lane, illustrated each of the options.

Information slide shown at America’s Newspapers’ Pivot 2021.


In 2020, virtual was used for the company’s many high school sports awards programs. These major events used to involve a meal and a high-profile professional athlete as the keynoter. During the pandemic, it was all virtual featuring pre-recorded video with sports stars on a screen celebrating local athletes. In the future, Lane said, the program will look to live-streaming so celebrities could “be there” while doing multiple programs without the scheduling hassles of travel and hotel accommodations.

Live remains the staple for something like a home and garden show. This year, the event will be smaller and will focus on retail vendors only, Lane said. Stage presentations and workshops will have to wait for better days. But at least you can smell real flowers.

The hybrid is used for versatile ventures, such as specialty races — until they can be run in-person at the same time. For now, virtual presentations explain the race and registrations; targeted emails update; swag (think T-shirts) is delivered; the running is done on the participants’ time; and an online hub records all of the facts, pictures and results. It all culminates with a virtual post-race celebration. Gannett’s example was something called the “Hot Chocolate 15k/5k” (think cold weather).

How do these options relate to associations?

A few thoughts:

The bedrock annual awards programs moved to virtual and video presentations. Many comfortably handled the announcement of winners, displays of excellence, and informative presentations that were later archived online. Did people really miss the dinner where the talk from the tables got louder and louder with each awards category, often drowning out the messages from the podium? Sticking with virtual on these types of productions could be the way to go.

Save the live approach for interactive programs and special occasions, where people MUST be with each other. Also, ask this question: Is it worth the added cost?

Use the hybrid for brainstorming or collaboration sessions, as well as a series of related programs. Information and overviews can be shared on Zoom with all participants, who then on their own develop suggestions and share them online for all to review. Then, you could use a live option to bring back everyone for an in-person conclusion on a project or recommendation. The hybrid also could be used for multiple sessions with a trainer or speaker, with the finale done in person for a big ending.

And this:
Collaborate with other associations on high-ticket speakers. Share the video (or live-stream) and then discuss the Relevant points in-person.

The pandemic forced us to work remotely and live on Zoom. We not only survived the change, in many ways we mastered it.

Sure there’s Zoom fatigue. But don’t lose what worked well.

The best is yet to come.

–Tom Silvestri

Mr. President: Hire Newspapers To Achieve Your 70%

It’s the newspaper industry’s turn to say, “C’mon, man!”

President Joe Biden, who uses the retort to express frustration, now has Relevant details about newspaper effectiveness in reaching citizens who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. He also can end the mystery as to why a collective $380 million in new federal funding isn’t flowing in meaningful amounts to newspaper trade associations’ ad services and the publishers they represent.

As of today, there has been no formal response to a May 13th letter sent to Biden by the News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association. Read the full letter here.

“We shared the letter with the Administration and have heard back from the political people” at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Paul Boyle, senior vice president for public policy at the News Media Alliance. “I am trying to lock-down a date and time in which we can talk with them.”

Among the topics will be this statement: “We believe the Administration, to date, has overlooked the reach that our member newspapers can provide, despite our offers to demonstrate our capabilities.”

Time is of the essence.

Newspapers are ready to roll on distributing trusted information to help improve vaccine education. With newspapers publishing sponsored content and paid messages from the government, for example, the Biden Administration would be in a better position of achieving its goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. citizens inoculated by July 4th.

“Our champions on (Capitol Hill) were told a month ago that HHS has been using newspapers for 11 percent of its campaign,” Boyle said. “We don’t have any insight on the total dollar amount spent with newspapers and whether this has (or will) increase in the coming months. Hopefully, on a call we will get some clarity on size and reach of the campaign.”

The letter signed by NMA President & CEO David Chavern and NNA Executive Director Lynne Lance identified two sources of new federal funds for coronavirus strategies: $130 million for vaccine education and $250 million to assist state governments with outreach efforts to encourage citizens to get the shot.

The letter to Biden stated that “newspapers, through their print and digital products, can deliver the audiences that you want to reach, particularly in states with lagging vaccination rates.”

“For example, in Mississippi, newspapers and their websites can reach 75 percent of households daily and in Alabama, more than 50 percent of all households,” the letter continued. “Further, the inclusion of a print advertising campaign in these states — and others like them — will reach citizens in rural and diverse communities where internet connectivity in homes is lacking or broadband penetration in the community is low.”

Successful advertisers use extended campaigns to ensure the audience understands its messages and is motivated to act. It’s not clear from state associations if ads received by some newspapers are one-and-done or repeated messages that run several days.

“We heard from newspapers that they have received ads over the last month — both print and digital placements,” Boyle said in an email. “We hope that with this letter, HHS and the Administration decides to step up their use of local newspapers particularly in states where inoculations are lagging.”

Maybe newspapers advocates should start wearing this T-shirt, which is available for sale online.

That’s a cue to trade associations to confirm where that problem exists in their respective states and then provide additional details. Now is the time to step up the advocacy.

In his email responding to Relevance Project questions, Boyle quoted national figures that less than 4 in 10 Americans have been inoculated. That’s a “far cry from 70 percent which is the goal by July 4,” Boyle said. (The Wall Street Journal reported May 18 that the “U.S. has vaccinated 48 percent of its population, at least partially as of Sunday…”)

“The government needs as many messages and messengers as possible to get to that 70 percent rate,” Boyle added.

The latest confusion over masks isn’t helping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines of “no masks for the vaccinated,” Boyle said, “will actually hurt as most Americans will only hear, ‘No mask.'”

And then there’s the problems with social media, tainted information and toxic discourse.

The newspaper advocacy groups’ letter pinpointed the solution: “From our perspective, the best way to counter misinformation about vaccines that has proliferated on social media platforms is to provide positive messaging about vaccines through a trusted source that has been operating in local communities, in some cases for more than two centuries: the local newspaper.”

In a news release, Lance added: “Newspapers have state advertising networks in place that can quickly and easily carry out a nationally coordinated, locally focused campaign.”

–Tom Silvestri

Two More Legs Stretch The Community Forum

One in a continuing series.

Let’s widen the Community Forum strategy.

One of the Relevance Project’s priorities is to help newspapers, working with their state or provincial association, become THE Community Forum. Because a community is in many ways an overabundance of conversations, the local newspaper is in the best position to orchestrate civil, civic discourse to help citizens make sense of issues of importance, exchange different views, and explore what makes a community tick.

The newspaper as master moderator builds bridges, increases awareness and understanding, deepens knowledge, and inspires problem-solvers and the commitment to a better quality of life.

Because trust is the foundation, newspapers should start with community discussions about keeping local journalism strong and the role it plays in an enlightened democracy.

In a recent Relevant Point, I listed several topics that can be used to attract an audience while launching the Community Forum. In essence, they all roll up under the initiative to examine the future of community newspapers.

By conversing with their communities, newspapers go beyond producing a product. They embed further in a community and reset the relationship with readers as meaningful collaborators instead of mere customers.

What’s next?

I see a second and third follow-up concentrations.

The second involves a strident initiative to improve the news literacy of a community.

The third digs into the top issues a community faces, from the controversies that divide to the positive projects that pull people together.

In future Relevant Points, I’ll explore each of these stages.

At this point, some strategists would show you a graphic of a three-legged stool.

In the Relevance Project’s initiatives, the Community Forum is a platform to relaunch the newspaper’s future.

One leg is all about the newspaper and its reputation as a trusted source of news and information.

The second brings in news literacy to propel the newspaper’s credibility by building up better news consumers and countering misinformation.

The third involves community issues — vexing problems, stalemates, potential solutions, expansion of strengths, and, once again, ingredients for a higher quality of life for all.

I usually resist using a three-legged stool since it’s been carted out so many times.

But it works with the Community Forum.

Besides.

The moderator could use a seat to check the progress of an enlightened democracy.

–Tom Silvestri

Checking In With Arizona’s New Executive Director

Lisa M. Simpson is not quite a month into her new role as the executive director of Arizona Newspapers Association but she already is working a list of top action items.

She shared them during a Relevance Project introduction.

Lisa M. Simpson

First on the list? “We need to modernize our marketing,” said Simpson, who joined ANA on April 22 after handling advertising, marketing and event needs in the last three and a half years for the Arizona News Service, which publishes the Arizona Capitol Times.

Improvement of marketing includes upgrading the Association’s website, social media use, and weekly communications to members.

Simpson said another priority will be to educate Association members about the Arizona advertising solutions and the opportunities to sell into the network.

A third and related focus will be rolling out digital solutions for advertisers.

“We need to help our members think outside of the box,” she added.

Simpson succeeded Tim Thomas, who retired after serving as executive director for more than two years.

Over the last 20 years, Simpson held sales and management positions at newspapers including The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune and La Voz Publishing.

Simpson said she is looking forward to attending the Newspaper Association Managers conference in August and remarked how impressed she’s been with the network of new colleagues who have contacted her with well-wishes and offers to help.

ANA is planning its annual conference for Oct. 16, Simpson said, with fingers crossed it will be in-person.

–Tom Silvestri

Director Q-and-A For May: Layne Bruce

When he isn’t running the Mississippi Press Association, Layne Bruce is the “clerk” of Newspaper Association Managers.

Call him the administrator of NAM to match the many tasks he completes and he quickly will correct you: “I’m just the clerk.”

Bruce prefers to operate in the background, but push him to the front of the stage and you’ll find an informative, competitive, curious, insightful, problem-solving, sharp-witted executive director.

Ask him for advice and you can take it to the bank. Hang around him for any extended period and you will discover he deeply cares about his members and appreciates his newspaper colleagues.

And you can’t beat his family’s roots in the business.

Bruce also has a stack of “get of jail cards” with The Relevance Project as one of the orchestrators of the initiative and the caretaker of http://www.relevanceproject.net.

Check that: “Clerk” of the website.

Bruce participated in this month’s Director Q&A from his pandemic bunker near the state capital of Mississippi. Enjoy his answers, especially the one about a surprise talent.

Executive Director Layne Bruce outside the Mississippi Press Association offices.


Can you introduce us to your association?

The Mississippi Press Association is the sixth oldest trade group of its kind in the United States, founded at the end of the Civil War. It’s an old joke, but we claim to be the sixth oldest because no one really ever contests such a middling distinction.

One can infer by the time of our Association’s founding that its original mission may not have been altruistic, but today the Association and its 100-plus print and digital members stand for serving our communities and state, and being a mirror for each.

Now you: What’s been your career path?

My entire career has been in newspaper media. My father was editor and publisher of our hometown newspaper, the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Miss., for a number of years. I joined the staff part-time while in high school and worked in the production department.

I have served as a reporter, production manager, editor, and publisher for a number of other newspapers in the intervening 33 years and joined MPA in 2006 as marketing director. I was elevated in 2007 after the retirement of my predecessor, Carolyn Wilson, who served in the job for 22 years. I owe my job to Carolyn, who hired me in marketing and sought me out as her eventual successor.

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

That’s always a good question. Tell someone you work for a trade association and you often get a blank stare back. And such a short answer nowhere near quantifies everything the job involves.

So I usually tell them I represent the newspaper industry and ask about their local paper. Particularly if the person is from Mississippi, there’s usually an instant connection after that. Though, no, I usually can’t help get your newspaper delivered faster.

What do you like best about your job?

Pre-pandemic, I loved traveling to communities across the state and visiting member newspapers. I have loved this industry since I was about 9-years-old and my father let me shoot high school football games for the paper while he was on the sidelines. (In retrospect, there were probably some child labor law entanglements there, but I can’t overstate how much I loved it). So, I really enjoy visiting different newspapers, seeing how they do things, and learning how they are coping and adapting in this constant age of change.

Since the pandemic started, I have worked primarily from home, but each member of our small staff has derived intense satisfaction from being a resource for our members during this very troubling experience. We fostered long-distancing networking for them through the year and worked hard to answer any question they had.

Least?

Legislative sessions. I’m a terrible lobbyist because I simply cannot say what I really think after several years editing an opinion page and writing editorials and columns. Thankfully, we employ two crackerjack lobbyists who get the job done well.

What is your proudest career moment?

Oddly, given my previous answer, a legislative battle that resulted in the state legislature declaring publicly owned hospitals had to adhere to the Open Meetings Act. This included a short but intense period of stand-off with the state hospital association, probably one of the best oiled lobbying machines in the state legislature. In the end, their argument that these taxpayer-funded hospitals should not be accountable to the public just fizzled amid pressure from newspapers and concerned citizens.

But, sentimentally, the chance to become editor and general manager of my hometown paper six years after the death of my father is probably the proudest I have ever been.

Mississippi Press is one of the biggest supporters of The Relevance Project, which is prominently featured on the Association website.


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

We’ve done fairly well keeping members connected through virtual platforms, but we are truly seeing some of our combined muscle wasted by not being able to gather in person. I hope we can have at least one in-person event, even if it’s small, in calendar 21.

Otherwise, we continue to fight for the familiar issues of transparency, responsible government, and the preservation of public notices in our state legislature.

What adjustments have you made during COVID-19 and can you share any lessons?

We shifted to primarily work from home on March 17, 2020. The staff has not all gathered in person since that time. But we have found the technology that helps keep you connected has been a truly indispensable tool that will lead to permanent modifications of how we operate post-pandemic.

I previously scoffed at the notion one could be as productive in a work-from-home setting. To my delight, I think in many ways we have become even better at our jobs since giving it a go.

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?

I sleep very well at night.

Things that used to have me in knots don’t worry me like they used to. That’s the benefit of doing this job for so long and from seeing how much our industry has persevered.

But, truly, I worry about small towns drying up because of the brain drain of students leaving the state after college and the effects of e-commerce on local retail. All of this affects papers, and it physically pains me when a community loses one.

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

The pandemic has taught us that decline in service from the post office may accelerate our move to digital more than anything else. I would love to be involved in incubating new subscription and revenue models for small newspapers.

Some of us have done our jobs so long I think we feel inextricably tethered to a physical print product. It’s not time to let that go, but it’s long past time to seek and embrace next generation ideas.

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

I can wiggle my ears.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Music, good food, and James Bond movies.

How would your advice differ when offered to someone trying to break into the business compared with an industry veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?

Oh, it’s the same: When you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask the question of someone who does.

Anything else to add?

NAM is truly a unique organization and one that inspires me. There is something very special about being able to send an email or make a call and having someone who knows exactly what you’re going through answer.

–Tom Silvestri


At the Mississippi Press Association, we believe in the power of community newspapers to deliver unmatched content and audience reach. Our 110 member newspapers are the leading source of news and advertising information in the communities we serve, from Corinth to Bay St. Louis and everywhere in between. Learn more about the power of our reach within Mississippi.

Value statement on the home page of the MPA’s website.

MDDC’s New Website Trades ‘Clunky’ For ‘Scrappy’

You can tell a lot about a newspaper trade association by its website.

That’s a good reason why a new online hub is in place for the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association.

“We needed a refreshed look that reflects our scrappy, grassroots nature and showcases the important work our members do,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of MDDC. “Since our staff is very limited, we needed a site that requires minimal upkeep and had the ability to post quickly and easily.”

Snyder said the former website existed well before she arrived at MDDC in 2015, “so it was time for a change.” The website also was clunky and looked homemade, “which it was!”

“It was not intuitive to post content or pictures,” she said. “In these days, our association essentially lives virtually on our website — it is like our office — and our space looked cobbled together and did not represent the vibrant, influential and committed organization that we know we are.”

Executive Director Rebecca Snyder

The new website has quick links to “About Us,” “News & Events,” “Advocacy” (public notices, Sunshine Week and FOIA), and “Expanded Connections” (information about awards, contests, becoming a member, and internships).

The redesign also followed MDDC’s change in vendors for its public notice website.

“We moved to Column for that service in February and so migrated away from Expression Engine, which was the platform for our MDDCNews.com website, which houses our public notice site, and our MDDCPress.com site, which is the anchor for our Association,” Snyder wrote in an email. “We needed a simpler, more modern site that was easy to administer. Over time, our site had gotten too complex and ponderous, and it didn’t reflect some of our cool projects.”

Snyder singled out three member benefits now highlighted:

MDDC is an example of an Association that pushes out news items and information via a weekly newsletter, a best practice that is another indication of how communications to members is changing. “I found we were using our Weekly Update — formerly our Friday Planner — as a defacto website, posting relevant news content and events there instead of the website,” Snyder acknowledged. A newsletter signup box is prominent on the new site.

MDDC’s hiring of a website designer had a dual, if not higher purpose. In addition to an updated design, Snyder said, the selection was “part of a larger effort focused on racial equity in news media.”

“We also wanted a designer who is Black, and were delighted to work with Michelle Whitaker from MCW Creative,” who was referred by Common Cause Maryland for grassroots advocacy work, Snyder said.

What’s ahead?

“We still need to load some more content, primarily in the advocacy sections and get our digital advertising up on the site,” Snyder said. “But we are looking forward to more accurately representing our work and activities to the larger public.”

–Tom Silvestri