9 Opportunities For Association Ad Agencies

The future of newspaper trade associations depends on becoming even more Relevant in finding advertising and marketing dollars for members.

Here’s to their success. Newspaper ads work.

I had the honor yesterday of presenting a Relevance Project update to the NAM Advertising Conference. The overall message: Start with a mindset that advertising services are the No. 1 benefit an association offers its members.

Part of a series available to download on http://www.relevanceproject.net

Feeding off The Relevance Project as an opportunity for NAM, I spent the back half of my 45 minutes listing actions the associations’ advertising staffs can consider when upgrading their strategies and sharpening their priorities.

My presented “9 Major Opportunities” were based on a review of the information on the associations’ websites about their advertising services and a year of conversations with NAM members.

My list is by no means definitive. But it’s meant to provoke discussion and self-analysis. Again, it’s based on how associations pitch their services.

A bonus consideration: Greater collaboration can speed desired results despite stretched local resources. That’s where the NAM network, including The Relevance Project, can help.

Onto The Nifty Nine:

  1. Make A Spectacular, Convincing Case For Newspapers: Upgrade your advocacy for local newspapers as the most trusted media. Focus less on talking about the sales process, and more on the effectiveness of newspapers in general as well as more on the unique value of community newspapers. (“LOCAL, LIKE YOU” is a Relevance Project promotion, for example.) Brag in the advertising services section that an informed reader is the best customer for clients and explain why. Tout the fact that local journalism attracts a quality audience.
  2. Use Data To Win Sales, Commit To Updated Research: Invest in readership and advertising surveys, local, regional and state research, and other facts that show newspapers are the best choice. Find the money. Too many sites are research deserts. Make a stronger case with facts that motivate customers to partner with us. If necessary, pool investment dollars and collaborate with other associations. But by all means, lean into current data.
  3. Go After Marketing Dollars, Not Just Advertising Deals: Accept the reality that marketing, not advertising, budgets are growing. Think like a marketer to pull in more of these dollars that are going into digital solutions. Which has a better future: Marketing or advertising? Follow the money.
  4. Use Video To Upgrade The Industry’s Image: Video might be the easiest way to show newspapers are platform agnostic. Plus, video can upset damaging stereotypes about our industry — stodgy, resistant to change, and dull. Please! Forecasters point to spending shifts that favor video and OTT (over-the-top media; video on demand delivered via the Internet). Update your image big time. We’re more than “those print people.” Prove it. Extra Points: Practice by completing an exercise of converting your various written messages to video. Step by step. Don’t forget to add creativity.
  5. Boast You Solve Problems; Go Beyond Just “One Call, One Bill”: Associations have done a great job documenting how they make it easier for ad buyers to reach newspapers. So, let’s assume most people know the association is indeed a one-stop shop. If that’s all you are, then it’s limiting. Zero in on how you solve customers’ problems and deliver solutions that increase their business. Solutions attract others. Boast you are a solutions machine. One Call, Many Solutions. Sounds better already.
  6. Think Economic Development — Markets, Not Newspaper Titles: This might be my favorite suggestion. Maybe it’s because I’m a former business news editor. Build on the ad agency approach by stressing the attractiveness and diversity of your MARKETS and why they are valuable. Value propositions in this case are more than a list of newspapers titles. Be a tour guide to your state or province, and get excited about larger business possibilities, thanks to newspapers. Think of the association as a business developer with money to invest and draw attention to markets that have potential for businesses to grow. Consider: What if advertising services were pure economic development?
  7. Commit To Innovation: We must fight the perception that we are a medium of the past. I know it’s frustrating. Take a deep breath. Think here: Innovate processes, products and peoples’ skills. Add to your digital expertise. Be a nexus of innovations for association members. Build labs if you have to in order to practice innovations. Promote it. Move into innovation as a home.
  8. Elevate Testimonials And Reviews, Wins With Partners: Tell these stories. Inspire. Use testimonials for Boomers. Reviews for Millennials. And both for Generation X. Avoid dull at every chance. Great sales make great stories. The journey to a sales victory is ripe for storytelling. Here’s another opportunity to use video to tell stories about your staff’s ability to help customers succeed. Stack up your victories and update regularly. Use social media to amplify. Work on making your clients’ successes your achievements.
  9. Add “New” to Newsletters: Associations distribute admirable newsletters. Many are weekly. More could include “news” about advertising services. So, go ahead and celebrate a sale. Salute your advertiser partners. Cheer newspapers that makes an association sale. Give the ad reps space to talk about, yes, opportunities. It’s OK to start a trend: BREAKING SALES.

There you have it. What did I miss? Tell me and I’ll add to the list.

In the meantime, here’s to association advertising services winning big in 2021 — and beyond.

–Tom Silvestri

Author’s Note: A special thanks to conference organizer Mark Maassen in Missouri for the invitation.

Leave Print Alone In A Digital World

Add “Bottom Line Personal” to the list of publications that learned mixing print and digital design isn’t always pleasing to longtime readers.

The bimonthly publication, which is one of my favorite sources of practical advice for living smarter, tried a new design this year that “was in sync with a more contemporary style.”

“We wanted to unify our corporate look and make the publication more appealing to the next generation of readers growing into our demographic,” Editor Marjory Abrams wrote in her column.

Social media and marketers apparently loved it.

Print readers? Not so much.

In its April 15th edition, Bottom Line Personal returned to its old design.

The bottom line:
“Sometimes we just like our old pair of jeans. Even though the new design was clean and contemporary, it didn’t feel as welcoming as the old design for many of you,” wrote Abrams, under the headline Welcome Home. “And I think, after this year of cocooning and rediscovery of traditional activities and simpler times, a sudden change was not what was needed right now.”

Timing indeed is everything.

Publications should try new things, but the Relevant Point here is: If your print publication scores high in functionality, leave it alone.

Innovation is still perfect for online and digital products. That audience gets change.

The print audience wants outstanding stories to read, trusted guideposts, and simple design that’s easy to navigate — not noisy.

Take it from a publisher who also learned the hard way.

I give Bottom Line lots of credit for its do-over. And to the editor for personally replying to upset readers.

At this point in the crazy world of publishing, let print be print.

Put your Relevant energy into storytelling and news coverage.

–Tom Silvestri

Deepen Trust With The Community Forum

Community newspapers must win the trust issue on their own.

Sorry, I guess I’ve read too many national studies about misinformation and readers losing confidence in “the media.”

It’s depressing.

Take the recent Media Insight Project report that found “not all Americans universally embrace core journalism values.” The major study then noted that doubts exist on just what is the job of journalists. (The Project is a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.)

Add in CivicScience’s recent check-up on Americans’ news consumption in which the headline says “Distrust in News Media Ticks Up, Concern About Misinformation Is Strong”. CivicScience checks quarterly on the news sources Americans trust most to deliver unbiased news.

Community newspapers, forget looking for your score that’s jammed in with others.

Besides.

By the time the survey responders consider newspapers, they’ve already been distracted by their feelings — I mean, beliefs — about big media: Broadcast network news, cable network news, national newspapers, and digital-only sites. Community newspapers are further pushed out of the picture by getting lumped in with “regional newspapers.”

As I said, forget it.

Plus, you’ll only feel bad because “distrust has rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Enough.

Here’s my advice to community newspapers: Don’t let anyone get between you and your readers. The only survey or conversation that counts is the one YOU conduct with your readers and the community at large.

Be the Community Forum — a civil, civic conversation on issues of importance.

Embrace the Community Forum strategy to strengthen connections with readers. Control the narrative about how newspapers are indispensable. Engage readers to deepen their trust in your brand of local journalism.

DO IT DIRECTLY.

Regular readers of this blog know that a priority of The Relevance Project is to help newspaper trade associations and their members become THE Community Forum.

Why?

Trusted local journalism needs greater community support to adapt, survive and, yes, grow. The good thing is we know there’s a crucial need for our reporting of news, providing vital information and publishing fact-based commentary on current events. We saw that big time during the pandemic.

Part of the challenge is that community newspapers are being squeezed by the rigors (and challenges) of the print franchise and chaos of social media fed largely by corporate giants.

Still.

Local newspapers have got to carve out more time to be the Community Forum.

Our Relevance needs renewal in a turbulent world.

Let me propose one route that follows my opening rant about “the media” studies. In launching a Community Forum initiative, start with these Phase One Topics:

  • What is the future of your local newspaper?
  • How can we better serve our readers?
  • Has the pandemic challenge changed us for the better (as a trusted news source)?
  • How do we build trust with our news coverage? (Why should you trust us?)
  • How can we be more Relevant to you? (My favorite.)

Add your own.

Use the invited answers and meaningful exchanges to plot improvements in coverage — and the next conversations. For example: Reward reader interest in boosting newspapers with your renewed efforts in helping the community solve its problems.

Keep at it.

Don’t let the national-stage noise distract you.

You are not “the media.”

You should be THE Community Forum.

One more point:

Cheers to the state and provincial press associations that help their members achieve it.

–Tom Silvestri


CNPA Beefs Up Advocacy For Local Journalism

Check out California for the future of advocacy to protect trusted journalism.

The California News Publishers Association is revamping its lobbying efforts to better uplift local journalism and newspapers. At the outset, the Association wants to counter the “proliferation of misinformation” on social media and to defeat harmful legislation when proposed at the statehouse. Fundamental to the new initiative is an urgency to secure greater awareness and effective appreciation of the importance of CNPA members to their communities.

CNPA logo

An initial campaign launched last month embraces digital technology that can send targeted messages to specific legislators, influencers, voters and readers.

The first ad in a planned series is the 30-second video above. The digital ad campaign touts “newspapers as an antidote for social media disinformation” and intends to stress the “shortcomings of social media and positions the news industry in California as the countervailing force against the effects of fake news.”

The overall message of “If not us, then who?” asks citizens to contact their legislators to “protect local, professional journalism.” And if there’s any hesitancy, the campaign adds: “The truth has never been so important.”

In a phone interview, CNPA President & CEO Charles F. “Chuck” Champion ticked off a long list of “prolific legislations” in California that are detrimental to newspapers — from removing public notices to restricting public access to curtailing freedom of information to hampering coverage of police misconduct to changing independent contractors rules.

“Newspapers don’t deliver pizzas,” said Champion, pausing to focus on the independent contractor debate raging in California. “Newspapers deliver democracy.”

Champion said his Association is beefing up its statehouse presence by hiring a full-time lobbyist firm, a public relations agency, a crisis manager and a technology company to advance the digital message campaigns.

Instead of just putting a video on a website or in a newsletter, the “The Truth Has Never Been So Important” messages will use geo-fencing to connect with legislators, those around them, voters, and influencers in “high-priority legislative districts throughout the state.”

Should the CNPA need to appeal to the governor, for example, “we’ve mapped out the people in touch with him. We know what boards he’s on, or has been on, his friends, his family, his staff, his church.” By placing the video inside those types of network, CNPA’s advocacy begins to be discussed and understood at the same time. Effectiveness improves, Champion said.

Programmatic ads also “will facilitate contacts through links to a forthcoming customer landing page at CNPA.com,” the Association said in its campaign announcement.

Digital campaigns will be supplemented by advertisements, social media use and commentaries published in newspapers. It’s all about being more strident in advocating for trusted journalism and pointing out what’s at risk when newspapers are weakened or go out of business.

CNPA isn’t assuming people know.

Chuck Champion

“Everybody needs to know the vacuum caused when professional journalists leave and the space is occupied with social media misinformation and propaganda,” Champion said. “Our journalists are critical to democracy. …It’s heartbreaking to watch” newspapers struggle.

Part of the new advocacy strategy involves using technology to better equip publishers with videos and scripts when contacting state legislators about the publications’ positions on proposed laws and to better document what those damaging changes would do to the newspapers’ indispensable service to their respective communities, Champion said.

The desired result is a strong “unified message for publishers to deliver,” said Champion, who added he is ecstatic over the support received from CNPA members and the Association’s board. “We go from a staff of seven to one of 40” when board members are so active, he added. “The industry is coming together like I’ve never seen before.”

In confronting social media misinformation, CNPA noted that “the industry’s credibility with readers has never been higher.” The association quotes the Pew Research Center’s report that “two out of three consumers now rely on their local newspaper for credible news, and 71 percent do so because they trust the accuracy of local journalism.”

CNPA adds: “Proof lies in the surge of newspaper and digital subscriptions since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Champion said CNPA intends to make the “The Truth Has Never Been So Important” videos available to other press associations.

“We’re thinking of the industry as a whole with our message,” he added.

–Tom Silvestri

Tennessee Press Is On The Upswing

The Tennessee Press Association is modest.

It reported an outstanding accomplishment in a mere brief tucked inside its March edition of The Tennessee Press.

The big news? The Association’s membership is at its highest level since 2002.

That’s something to crow about.

“I am VERY proud of our growing membership,” said TPA Executive Director Carol Daniels, after I emailed her seeking details on how the Association added members in February. “Our membership has been on a steady increase since I joined four year ago.”

The addition of two newspapers owned by Main Street Media of Tennessee increased TPA’s total membership to 132, equalling the last high recorded almost two decades ago.

Credit the ownership makeup of Tennessee’s newspapers as well as the Association’s stepping up its Relevance to members at a critical time — the pandemic.

“We have several group owners; fortunately for TPA, they are all very supportive of what we do,” Daniels said. “The majority of these groups are community newspapers. They are going strong. We, like all other associations, work closely with our members during COVID-19. I am sure the membership has heard from us more than usual over the past 14 months.”

The Association also didn’t let the crisis derail its plans to compile original market research that confirmed the effectiveness and importance of newspapers to the communities they serve. Tennessee is among a group of associations completing readership surveys with Nashville-based Coda Ventures, which also has supplied research to The Relevance Project.

Credit: The Tennessee Press

“”The members are fortunate that the Tennessee Press Service Board of Directors recognize there are many opportunities to do things that will benefit members over and above regular benefits. One of these projects included funding a readership study through Coda Ventures. The readership survey results are great tools for our members to utilize,” Daniels said.

“Again, like other associations we have worked hard to keep our reporters informed of anything we hear coming from the state or federal levels,” she added.

The increase in membership comes with a change in the makeup of the Association.

In 2002, 28 daily newspapers and 104 non-dailies were members. Today, the breakdown is 18 dailies and 114 non-daily members.

It’s also good to have members who are growing. Nine Main Street Media newspapers have joined since July 2017, the Association said.

“I don’t know what the ‘Secret Sauce’ is,” Daniels said. “What I do know is that TPA and TPS have a small but mighty team that is 110 percent all in when it comes to supporting our members.”

That’s front-page news, if you ask me.

–Tom Silvestri

The Director Q and A: Michelle Rea

The Relevance Project continues the new monthly series spotlighting executive directors who lead newspaper trade associations.

Our inaugural Q&A in March was with the president of Newspaper Association Managers, Steve Nixon of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association. In April, we spoke with Michelle Rea, the longtime executive director of the New York Press Association.

Michelle Rea

Michelle is a past president of NAM and an enthusiastic champion for the newspaper industry. Look no further than the license plate on her BMW convertible: 4thEST8. She also is a major reason The Relevance Project exists.

Her experience and enthusiasm provide valuable insight into the challenges of leading in a turbulent world. For starters: Never give up, but make sure you stay focused on member needs during rapid change.

Readers, be aware that tucked in one answer is a description of an innovation in development that could help other associations be more efficient.

We thank Michelle for participating in The Director Q&A No. 2 from her office in Albany.

Can you introduce us to your association?
The New York Press Association was established in 1853, when a group of community newspaper publishers in Western New York decided that fellowship and sharing best practices might engender camaraderie and communication that would help them strengthen their individual organizations, and, in turn, the communities they serve.

NYPA’s current membership includes 709 newspapers with a combined distribution of 13 million: 68 dailies, 514 weeklies and 127 non-English newspapers. The association has a staff of 18.

The New York Press Service provides media planning and placement services for display and classified network advertising and operates a web portal for automated placement and archiving of public notice advertising.

The NYPA Foundation provides 25 paid summer internships for college students.

Now you: What’s been your career path?
Fifteen years with daily newspapers and 30 years with NYPA — 28 as executive director.

How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?
NYPA’s mission is to do everything for the newspapers that they can’t do for themselves. NYPA works hard to help newspapers get to the next level and to ensure their sustainability by providing training, sharing best practices, introducing them to vendors and solutions that increase efficiencies and improve their products, generating revenue, and marketing their audiences. My role is to identify unmet needs and to expand NYPA’s capacity and revenue to meet those needs.

What do you like best about your job?
I like the mission — I believe in the power of newspapers.

I love the relationships — I’ve been in the industry for a long time and enjoy close friendships with NYPA publishers. Most of our publishers are owners — many second and third generation, and they are committed to their craft and the communities they serve. NYPA has a terrific, long-tenured staff, which delivers tremendous value to our members and to me.

Least?
It isn’t a job where you ever get “there.” The business is constantly changing, and the pace of change makes it feel like we work harder each year. I like the challenge of leading the evolution and growing the business, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.

What is your proudest career moment?
There have been several.

On Sept. 11, 2001 when New York City was under siege, NYPA found alternate printers, production facilities, and worksites for newspapers in NYC.

We did the same thing during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and were even able to get computer equipment donated, so our newspapers could publish. After Hurricane Katrina, the NYPA Board of Directors flew to New Orleans to help the staff at The Times-Picayune de-muck and clean out their homes following disastrous flooding.

We celebrated when several years running, we exceeded record-setting year-end revenue numbers at NYPS, and when, several years in a row we hosted more than 600 newspaper employees at our annual conferences. It is powerful and humbling to see how impactful NYPA can be.

What are some of the 2021 priorities for you and your association?
In November 2019, the NYPA Board of Directors asked NYPA to think about things we could do to reduce overhead and personnel costs for newspapers, and, in the process, create new revenue streams for NYPS.

They identified the administrative costs associated with public notice advertising as a pain point, so we hired software developers to help us build a self-service web portal to process public notices. The portal creates the ad in real time, schedules it, creates a proof and a confirmation, generates an invoice, or processes a credit-card payment, delivers the ads to the newspapers’ pagination system, generates affidavits, generates advertising and reports, and processes payments. We spent most of 2020 developing and testing, and began onboarding newspapers in earnest in September. Since then, we have onboarded 30 newspapers and without a single exception, every newspaper using the portal is saving a minimum of 20 hours per week on administrative support and additional hours in production and accounting.

In addition, after NYPS’ fees, every newspaper is generating more revenue than prior year. About $400,000 in public notice revenue went through the portal in 2020, and through the first three months of 2021, we have exceeded that number. The goal in 2021 is to onboard two new newspaper companies a month, and to market the portal to other state newspaper associations. When we achieve the benchmarks we have established for the public notice portal, we will focus on the development of a self-service classified portal.

We also are focusing on email marketing, helping newspapers with audience development and best practices for selling subscriptions, paywalls, and automated marketing. We’re offering free, One Day Universities once a month while we are unable to gather for in-person training, and we are, of course, actively promoting The Relevance Project.

What adjustments have you made during COVID-19 and can you share any lessons?
Like many organizations, we were surprised by how quickly we switched to working remotely, and how well it works. We have a couple of people who perform much better in the office, but for most employees, remote works well. It seems likely that several employees will continue to work remotely indefinitely.

Because many of our newspapers and advertising clients also are remote, we have moved more of our operational functions online. We email invoices, encourage ACH or other electronic payments, conduct sales presentations, training sessions and board meetings via Zoom or Microsoft teams.

NYPA has a terrific, long-tenured staff, which delivers tremendous value to our members and to me.

Michelle Rea

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
Revenue, misinformation, revenue, and revenue.

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?
I would go back to the days before newspapers were publicly traded. Satisfying shareholders and keeping newsrooms adequately staffed are conflicting goals that have had far-reaching consequences for the newspaper industry, including newspaper companies that are not publicly traded.

I would make Big Tech pay to use our content.

I would build better newspaper websites –most of them deliver terrible user experiences.

I would develop a marketing and education campaign to teach people of all ages that the source of their news matters, that community journalism is directly related to the health and well-being of their community, and that community engagement is important for people of all ages.

I would promote the unmatched power and impact of print.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I am a huge sports fan and I love the sun and hot weather –golf, beach, pool…Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots, and recently, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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?
A long time ago, another association executive reminded conference attendees to never stop doing things that made us successful in the first place. His advice was all the stuff we “learned in kindergarten”: work hard, play fair, tell the truth, do the right thing, be brave, be kind, be generous, be grateful. I’ve had his advice taped to my computer monitor ever since.

Anything else to add?
State and provincial press associations are amazing organizations that do tremendous work, but in many states, they don’t get nearly the recognition or level of engagement that they deserve, especially from publicly traded newspaper companies.

Collectively, press associations throughout the United States and Canada represent almost 9,000 newspapers — the combined reach and impact of state press associations far exceeds that of any regional or consortium advertising placement entities, and the years of experience and level of expertise of state press associations is unparalleled, but we are often invisible to the publicly traded newspaper companies. I wish I know how to remedy that.

–Tom Silvestri

NYPA’s Value Statement:
“As experts in the print and digital advertising industry, our goal is to simplify the buying process for advertisers and agencies by providing targeted, cost-effective solutions for your advertising needs. We’re owned by the news organizations we represent, so nobody knows the newspapers and the markets they serve like we do.”

Starve Extremists. Read Newspapers.

“Social media has become, in many ways, the key amplifier to domestic violent extremism just as it has for malign foreign influence.”

That’s what FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing April 14.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wray stopped short of blaming social-media companies for aiding domestic extremism.

Instead, he urged Americans “to understand better what the information is that they are reading” and approach it with a “greater level of discerning skepticism,” the Journal reported.

The Relevance Project offers a wise first step for all citizens in North America:

Read newspapers.

They at least cherish readers’ trust.

–Tom Silvestri

Update: The Relevance Project plans to add to the new “We Trust Newspapers” series a promotional ad that captures this point.

Wisconsin Thinks First About Civic Education

Newspapers bemoan the demise of civic education. Wisconsin is doing something about it.

In 2021, a purposeful contest ensures the First Amendment will be explored and celebrated in Wisconsin schools. Credit the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation for boosting civic education and engaging young students with its Wisconsin Civics Games Editorial Writing & Cartoon Contest.

Only in Wisconsin can you get away with a logo that shows a cartoon drawing of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wearing a cheesehead hat.

The contest was launched in tandem with Sunshine Week in March and is open to all Wisconsin middle and high school students.

The Foundation had been building its admirable civic-engagement initiative over the last four years, with the centerpiece being the Wisconsin Civics Games that debuted in 2019. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced a cancellation in 2020.

Undeterred, the Wisconsin Foundation moved ahead this year with a writing and cartoon contest to maintain a continuity in helping students better understand the rights set forth by the First Amendment. The hope is the full Civics Games return next year to deepen knowledge about citizens rights and responsibilities as well as the ingredients of good government.

“We didn’t want to lose the critical connections that had been made or the momentum that had been built toward fostering civic and civil engagement,” said WNA Foundation Board member Eve Galanter in an Association statement. “During this challenging time, we decided to continue these efforts with the launch of an editorial writing and cartoon contest.”

Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, confirmed during a phone interview the Civics Games “are our big thing” and credited Galanter as the “go-getter who got it done” by moving from idea to result and helping to line up support throughout the state.

The games became a major project to pull together but the Wisconsin Foundation board recognized the void and knew “people are hungry” for an initiative that brings back civic education, Bennett said. She added the impetus was further fueled by surveys in Wisconsin that noted an alarming number of local elections go uncontested.

Successful collaboration came from doing “a deep dive with the schools” and “not complicating the program,” said Bennett, acknowledging it is not easy getting traction with an idea formed outside school systems that already have full plates of requirements.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association detailed the contest requirements in a March 12 article:

For the writing contest, high school students will be asked to write a “guest column” (500 words or less) about the First Amendment, and middle school students will be asked to write a “letter to the editor” (200 words or less) on the same topic. Students can compete in the editorial cartoon contest by submitting one First Amendment-theme drawing.

The deadline is May 15. The Foundation said winners will be announced on July 1, just in time for the Fourth celebrations.

First-place winners will receive $500, second-place winners will receive $250, third-place will receive $100, and honorable mention recipients will get $50.

Winning entries will appear in newspapers across the state, as well as on the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s website.

The WNAF started planning the Civic Games in 2018. The guiding goal: “By engaging young adults in a collaborative competition, as well as through coverage of civic affairs, the Wisconsin Civics Game aims to help cultivate an understanding among future generations of their role in our democracy.”

The Foundation says more than 100 students from 25 schools participated in the first Civics Games. Participants “heard from several local officials, newspaper editors, state legislators, a state Supreme Court chief justice and the governor.” Four regional face-offs led to state finals at the Capitol. The four members of the winning high school each received a $2,000 scholarship to a Wisconsin college or university.

The Foundation’s mission is “to support programs that foster excellence in journalism, engage current and future newspaper leaders and invest in our communities.”

The Civics Games cost the Wisconsin Foundation about $40,000, an amount augmented by sponsoring government entities and in-kind contributions. The cost going forward is expected to be less without the one-time, startup expenses, Bennett said.

The success of the Civics Games prompted interest from outside of Wisconsin. Bennett said, for example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “contacted us about taking the model and running with it.” Other newspapers associations in states and Canadian provinces could do so, too. Bennett added that Wisconsin is willing to share its template.

Bennett said the project’s workload strain on her four-person team was worth it when “you saw the excitement of these kids who were participating. Just to see how invested the kids were in the Games made you feel just great about young people.”

It’s also an instructive example of how a press association is Relevant to its members, its state/province and to our future.

Well done, Wisconsin.

–Tom Silvestri

First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

New Presidents, Can You Top This Introduction?

This is one of the better openings to an introduction column by the new president of a press association board:

“Well, this is one heck of a way to start out my term as TPA president.

“First, we have to cancel the convention in January and I get elected via Zoom — which was okay, but different and king of weird.

“Then, in February, Texas gets hit by the worst snowstorm in a decade and for the first time in my 45-year career the presses don’t roll and I don’t get any of my three newspapers out. A printed paper, that is. We still got digital versions out, like a lot of you did.”

Jim Bardwell, publisher of the Gladewater Mirror, Lindale News & Times, and the White Oak Independent, gave no indication in the Texas Press Messenger of any resignation despite the unusual start. Rather, he spent the rest of his “As I Was Saying…” column noting how Texas publishers met the “unusual climatology calamity” and how the Texas Press Association’s Legislative Advisory Committee was confronting challenges at the statehouse to remove legal ads and public notices from newspapers.

Wearing his new president hat, Bardwell closed with encouragement: “Thank you to all of you who, as Lynette Sowell put it, ‘keep on keepin’ on.'”

Let’s all wish Bardwell a smooth rest of the year.

–Tom Silvestri

Author note: The Relevance Project thanks the Texas Press Association for including our new “Local Like You” promotion in the March edition of its monthly publication.

WNPA Updates Contest’s Winning Formula

Press associations spend a lot of time and effort ensuring their annual contests reflect the best of local newspapers.

But sometimes, the spirited competition needs to make an exception, or two.

That’s certainly the case in Washington where the Newspaper Publishers Association will showcase reporting and storytelling about COVID-19 with a special new category for 2021.

The Pacific Northwest association also added a category devoted to stories about history as well as one that rewards good tales about, well, tails.

Cheers to Washington for making its Better Newspaper Contest more Relevant.

Executive Director Fred Obee said the pandemic is such a big story that it deserved its own spotlight when celebrating the best in local journalism.

“There really was a lot of excellent coverage, from struggling business owners, to overworked hospitals, to nursing homes on high alert, to people struggling with mental health and more,” Obee said. “Mixed in were debates about the governor’s authority and the mask versus no mask debate. Really, the coverage was pretty extraordinary.”

Obee said this isn’t the first time his association installed a one-time category, but the COVID reporting is in a class by itself. “This really is head and shoulders above what we have done before,” he added.

Entrants will be judged in four circulation groups to allow papers of the same size to compete against each other. The association’s contest site opened April 1 and members have until May 3 to submit “regular entries.” A category on Tourism special section allows submissions up to June 1.

The new history-feature category confirms the local reality that the topic is a reader favorite among newspapers that cover small towns. “It seems almost every small town has someone devoted to preserving its history,” Obee said.

Also, the change “was just another attempt to break up the feature story logjam, and they often are great stories that provide context or reflections on current events (race relations, economy, environment, etc.) or sometimes they are just entertainment accompanied by old photos,” Obee added.

And that brings us to the arrival of a category devoted to animals. Was that a pet project of Obee?

Perhaps, but it was again an effort to make the feature categories more manageable for judges.

“Many aren’t thrilled when they find out they have 42 lengthy features to read and judge!” Obee wrote in an email response. “We have general feature categories, short and long, we have feature categories on lifestyles, business, arts, and personality, short and long, and now animals and history. Our contest committee chose those two to add because we were getting quite a few in that realm.”

The early bet is a dog or horse story will win. But don’t be count out a surprise.

“Dogs are pretty common. Heroic dogs, service dogs, hunting dogs, dogs who do amazing tricks,” Obee said. “But others do well. Horses are popular. And then we have the odd pet stories: boa constrictors, iguanas, and birds of every feather.”

Winners will be announced at WNPA’s convention in Bellingham on Oct. 9.

Obee hopes the event will be in person. No doubt, it will be pet friendly, too.

–Tom Silvestri