RPD: The Aha To Fund Local News

72nd in a Series*

The impressive program that’s been placing journalists in needed locations thinks it has found the secret sauce to pay for local journalism — “community foundations and newsrooms partnering on a local level to create what we call Community News Funds (CNF) for sustained service to local news.” I recommend reading Report for America’s 49-page report, Community News Funds: Local foundations lead the way with a pivotal new strategy for community journalism. The report makes the case to collaborate with community foundations to “create a single permanent fund or destination to support local news in the community and then recruit multiple funders, ideally for multiple years.” Case studies from seven markets explain different routes to the prize. After reading the crisp report and participating an explanatory webinar last week, I offer two conclusions: Local newsrooms need to rely on local funders to keep journalism alive and well. And, when asking for financial support, stop thumping save local journalism. It’s all about improving a community with trusted journalism as a game-changing catalyst. Be THE Community Forum.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

RPD: Did You Receive The April Update?

71st in a 2022 Series*

The Relevance Project’s April newsletter went out this morning. If you did not receive it, please let me know (tas@relevanceproject.net). Happy to directly email it to you. One of my favorite principles of leading change is this Relevant Point: Repetition makes communication effective. Let me say it again: Repetition makes communication effective. That’s why the newsletter repeats some of the Relevant Points. Have a good day.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

RPD: The Universal Newspaper Challenge

70th in a 2022 Series*

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com


“As the Times looks to expand its business, it needs to figure out how to attract a more diverse set of subscribers without alienating its mostly older, progressive audience.” — From an Axios Alert today on The New York Times naming a new executive editor. Ah, correct me if I’m wrong: But isn’t that the challenge and goal for all newspapers? (Go ahead and eliminate “progressive” to firm up the universal point.) Nonetheless, we’ll update our transformation notes for 2022 now that The Times is aboard. Onward, local news.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

April Q and A: A Fond Farewell To Steve Key

Part Of A Monthly Series

Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Steve Key addressed attendees at the NAM Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, last December.


It took some doing to persuade Steve Key to participate in this month’s Director Q&A.

His priorities were understandably elsewhere, namely guiding the latest tough round of legislative lobbying, advancing the Hoosier State Press Association‘s leadership transition, and checking off all of the many duties that go into serving member newspapers. Plus, even though he had planned his retirement as an orderly process, the approaching end was bittersweet.

Out of the blue, after one more request following the conclusion of the legislative session, he provided his insightful answers.

We are glad he did.

Steve Key, a journalist and attorney, remains one of the most respected and accomplished newspaper association leaders. His counsel is wise, his passion for the industry is vibrant, his questions are smart and focused, and his humble collegiality is second to none.

There’s a particular purposefulness in his answer to the question put to every executive director participating in the monthly Relevance Project feature. The question is: What would be your best career advice to a newspaper newcomer? To a veteran with 10 to 15 years remaining until retirement?

Key’s answer is packed with sage counsel:

For newcomers: Present yourself as a professional and maintain your integrity/credibility. Without that, you need to find another profession. Stay humble and remember how your stories impact those you are writing about. I think it’s easier for journalists in smaller communities to do this because those publishers/editors/reporters are more likely to run into their story subjects in the grocery store or at a ballgame.

For veterans: Hang in there and remember the value you bring to your community. You’ve surely made enough people mad over the years because you told the truth about the good and bad in your county, but you’ve also had a positive influence on your community if you’ve done your job. It may be in small ways, such as sharing the plight of a family which leads to the community rallying around and supporting that family in need. Or, it can be in big ways, like The Indianapolis Star breaking the story of Dr. Larry Nasser’s abuse of hundreds of young gymnasts, including Olympians, that was allowed to occur for years. As a journalist you never know when a story will arise that will have a significant impact – all you can do is follow the story to seek the truth.

Vintage Steve Key.

For the rest of the “Key Points,” a label borrowed from his monthly update to his association members, read on. Thank you, Steve, and we wish you all the best in the next chapters.

Can you capture your longtime experience running the press association in Indiana?
It’s been an honor to represent Indiana’s newspapers before the Indiana General Assembly for 30 years and serve our members. I often tell people that I have a job that I enjoy, that I believe is important particularly to preserve government accountability, and the Board of Directors pays me to do.

What makes your association different from others?
We are one of the few press associations that has an attorney as part of the staff. This allows HSPA to react quickly to legal questions that pop up from our members, be it Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act, Fair Housing Act, postal regulations, public notice advertising requirements, etc. Publishers who have moved to Indiana from other states express how nice it is to get quick responses to their questions in comparison to the states where legal questions are routed through a law firm. Our members are our only “legal clients,” so there is no delay of several days to answer a question.

Masked, Steve Key used hallway lobbying to make a point during this year’s General Assembly session.

What went into your decision to retire?
A combination of factors – age (67 in July), two grandchildren ( 4 and 2 years old), wear-and-tear of fighting nearly 100 anti-public notice bills over just the last 22 legislative sessions, desire to enjoy more time with my wife, Gayle. I also think it’s a good time to turn the reins over to someone younger who better reflects those who are consuming local news. As for my tech-savvy, I sometimes feel I’m becoming a dinosaur. 

You’re sticking around to help your successor so there’s a smooth transition. What has been your advice to her?
Probably not anything she didn’t already know because I believe Amelia McClure will be a terrific executive director and general counsel for HSPA. I always stress the importance of credibility when it comes to working with the legislature, the board, or members of the association. If people can’t trust you and believe what you’re saying, then you bring no value to the table.
Stay humble because there’s always new things to learn or new perspectives to bring to a problem. Be a leader because today’s publishers are so busy being asked to do more with less resources that the need for the press association to determine ways it can help its members be successful is greater now than it ever has been.

NAM President Beth Bennett thanked Steve Key for his many contributions. At NAM’s Washington meeting, she presented Key with the organization’s lifetime membership award.

At its Legislative Conference in Washington, NAM (Newspaper Association Managers) awarded you in December a lifetime membership in recognition of your service and many contributions. What was your reaction?
A little surprised because I wasn’t expecting it at that event, but also a little sad. From the very beginning, I found the NAM members to be caring people who will go out of their way to make new members feel welcome and to offer advice and support no matter what one asks.
Press association executive directors are a small and unique group of individuals who are tasked with serving an industry that, beyond the need to make money, fill an important role in the success of our democratic experiment. Our members are the eyes and ears of their community, often the only person attending the county commissioners, city council, and school board meetings, and telling their readers what elected public officials are contemplating that will impact their lives.
We all have our battle scars from dealing with hostile legislatures and feeling the pressure of what a major defeat would do to the viability of members of our associations. We all know the loss of a local newspaper leaves a hole in the fabric of that community that may not be filled.

Looking back, what’s been your career path?
I graduated with a journalism degree from Butler University and embarked on a 13-year career in newspapers. I started out as a sports reporter at the Quincy (IL) Herald-Whig – getting paid to watch ballgames. What could be better than that? I then switched to the news side with stops at the Kentucky Post (Covington), the Daily Journal (Franklin, IN) sandwiched by two stints at the Noblesville (IN) Daily Ledger where I finished my newsroom career as managing editor.
When I left newspapers, I moved into a public relations role at Hoosier Energy, the rural electric power-producing co-op headquartered in Bloomington. It was a great place to work, but public relations didn’t give me the satisfaction I needed. Gayle convinced me to see a career counselor who suggested law. God bless her, Gayle said if I could get accepted in law school, we’d figure out how to make it financially.
I’ll never know if she said that figuring it wouldn’t happen, but I fooled her and did get accepted into Indiana University’s law school located in Indianapolis. While in law school and trying to figure out how I could help pay the household bills, I reached out to Dick Cardwell, general counsel and executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, to see if he might need some help during the legislative session. I was familiar with HSPA from my newspaper work. I even had won four awards from HSPA through its Better Newspaper Contest. He hired me for the 1993 legislative session.
I was able to stick around after that session and was hired upon my law school graduation in 1994 as legislative counsel. I became executive director and general counsel in 2010.

Public notices often required Steve Key to testify at the State Capitol.


What did you like best about your job?
Working with people who understand the importance of newspapers and want to do the right thing – that includes legislators, judges, publishers, editors, reporters and photographers. It’s a great feeling when you’ve helped advance a bill that will make government more transparent or helped a newspaper with a story that’s going to make a positive change in their city.

Least?
Dealing with people who don’t appreciate the role of newspapers in America. This crops up most often in legislative fights over public notice advertising. Unfortunately, that number seems to be increasing in the current political polarization.

What is your proudest career moment?
It’s hard to pick one, but perhaps the most impactful was successfully lobbying for the permanent creation of Indiana’s Public Access Counselor’s office. This position serves as an educator and mediator on questions of the state’s right to know what its government is doing through use of the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act. The office has reduced the number of lawsuits required by the public to file to two categories – questions of how the law should be interpreted and situations where state or local public officials have decided to ignore the law.


If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?The effort would go toward the search for the new business model or models for local journalism.  The pandemic has shown that the need and desire for local news has not diminished, but the struggle for a plan to monetize the news seems to still be in the air.
I wish I had the answer, but constantly cutting newsrooms in an effort to stay in the black is an unsustainable path. Will the future be totally digital, I don’t know? Will the efforts to get Google and Facebook to fairly compensate our members for the news content that those platforms use to generate advertising value bear fruit, I don’t know?
What I do know is we need local journalism.


What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to read (usually about history), listen to music (most anything except rap and heavy metal), travel (there’s a lot of world to see), and sit around a table with family or friends and play games (so much better than video-gaming). That doesn’t even include playing with a 4- and a 2-year-old. There’s nothing better than being on the receiving end of a smile of unbridled and innocent joy.


What’s ahead for you?
I don’t know and plan to take some time to determine where I might focus my energies.
I know I’ll enjoy having more time to spend with family. For those who haven’t experienced it yet, grandchildren change your life.
You’ll have to check back with me in 12 months to see if I have a better answer.

–As told to Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

Steve Key updated his association members in the HSPA monthly newspaper, The Indiana Publisher.

Past Q&A interviews are parked on the Relevant Point blog, which is part of www.relevanceproject.net

RPD: We ‘Fight For You’

69th in a 2022 Series*

A two-part newspaper-advocacy series joins The Relevance Project’s Support Local Journalism section. “Newspapers Fight For You” features quotes spotted during this year’s Sunshine Week. Kelley Shannon, executive director of Freedom of Information of Texas, stresses the important battles to remove blocks to public information. Dan Cuillier, a professor who is also with the National Freedom Information Coalition, confirms access to government information improves the health and well-being of citizens. Associations and their members are free to use both messages as part of newspaper advocacy campaigns or add them to commentaries published by local newspapers. Feel free to convert the messages into posters as well. Finally, The Relevance Project welcomes your nominations to expand the We Trust Newspapers series.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

RPD: Print, Done Well, Remains A Winner

68th in a 2022 Series*


A time-saver tip for busy staffers at local newspapers: Pass on any industry story explaining some purported change or trend being advanced by the big corporations. Especially if the story comes from a big daily in New York or Washington. I didn’t take my own advice in reading this week’s once again printed-newspapers-are-dying angle from The Washington Post. It was headlined, “Newspapers keep eliminating print days. They say it’s for the best.” Really? What newspapers? Oh, that inspiration named “Gannett, the largest chain in the country.” The cited examples are chain newspapers, with the exception of the Tampa Bay Times, another large city newspaper. If you are a Washington Post reader, you are left with the broad-brush that the printed newspaper is toast. For an alternative view, however, the Post story includes two paragraphs, which are repeated here to amply the attempted balance: “Yet some publishing executives insist there’s still money to be made from physical papers. John Garrett, whose company Community Impact prints more than 40 free monthly local newspapers and provides daily online reporting, said the key is to produce a product that is attractive to both readers and local advertisers. He said his newsrooms are adding journalists. ‘Print, well done, serves a really important purpose and can be successful,’ he said.” Note to The Washington Post: You buried the lead. Newspapers are not monolithic. The 2022 news is what publishers like Mr. Garrett (no relation to Gannett) are doing to succeed, despite the odds. Enough with the darkness.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project (Disclosure: I got my start in daily newspapers with Gannett in Westchester County, NY)

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

RPD: Steady Describes NCPA Support

67th in a 2022 Series*


The Relevance Project salutes the North Carolina Press Association for its steady support. The association is unusual in this best practice — NCPA keeps track of the project’s free resources and daily Relevant Points by displaying links on its website and in its monthly newsletter (above snapshot). By doing so, the presentations confirm member newspapers can benefit from North Carolina’s Relevance Project. Thank you, NCPA, for that Relevant Point and embracing the initiative.

Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

RPD: What Would Dear Abby Say?

66th in a 2022 Series*


Seek all good advice. Just ask the “local newspaper” that sought subscription strategy help from the
“Ask Ariely” column in last weekend’s The Wall Street Journal. Dan Ariely each week welcomes hearing about “a dilemma” and newspapers seeking revenue solutions probably have an inbox full of them. But it is the first time I’ve noticed this reader feature being used by a local newspaper. At issue was a disappointing campaign to generate subscriptions through referrals that awarded a “a $30 cash bonus” for each new signup. Based on research studying a videogame subscription company, Ariely replied the most successful campaigns “were those that offered the incentive to the new customer rather than the existing customer. The new customer is the one who needs to go to the effort to get signed up, and an incentive can help make jumping through those hoops more attractive.” You can always find a way to thank and appreciate subscribers who refer others to join them in supporting local news operations. Ariely called it a “warm glow.” The advice sage couldn’t resist opening his answer with, “It takes some effort to recommend a newspaper to someone.” (Sigh.) The “Dear Dan” letter was signed “Lee.” As in Lee Enterprises? Seek all Relevant advice.

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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

RPD: Whatchamacallit Challenge

65th in a 2022 Series*


Editor/media analyst/entrepreneur Ken Doctor suggests a new term to shuck the baggage of newspapers and explain a digital news company. In a March 28 Nieman Lab article, which is a good read, the startup owner writes let’s try “newspub.” It’s worth considering as we live in a literal vs figurative world where word debates can confuse and consume many hours of energy. But still: Why don’t we get away from the product angle and just stick with News Publisher to describe the people, the process AND the products we produce? Besides, it’s a great pushback to today’s corporate decisions to eliminate the term (and job) to cover up cost-cutting and centralization. Publisher conveys local responsibility — there’s someone accountable for the news coverage and there’s a decision-maker accessible to explain the sourcing and purpose of a story. (Ever try reaching someone at a publication without a publisher?) It also confirms you’re dealing with an edited medium. I get new words like newspub suggest a fresh perspective, especially in the digital-only world. And, I admit I’m biased over keeping publisher, since I was one. But new doesn’t necessarily suggest better and long-time usage doesn’t convey outdated — especially since change in the newspaper business is a cliche. Don’t throw out decades of accomplishment. A News Publisher spans the years that introduced many innovations and confirms there’s plenty of work ahead to create a Relevant future. Maybe Mr. Doctor can put a period after pub for Newspub. to keep the old and new. I’d drink to that, too.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Projecct

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

RPD: Sell Well, Have Fun

64th in a 2022 Series*

The latest Revenue Resource advice-sheet (see below) comes from a newspaper association agency on the front lines. Thanks to Mike Casey, advertising director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, for allowing The Relevance Project to convert his recent commentary into a sales resource. Casey explains successful selling during turbulent times in six actions, starting with “staying positive” and ending with “have fun.” What’s in between is the meaty stuff. Each month, The Relevance Project adds to the advice sections for revenue-generating and journalism. If you come across winning tips, feel free to share. We’ll find a home for them at www.relevanceproject.net

Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

P.S. Thanks to Metro Creative Graphics for the design work.

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