Newspaper Research: Multigenerational Readership Is Lucrative Target For Advertisers

A Special Report

Today’s newspaper readers are an advertiser’s best prospects.

That’s because Americans of all ages — not just “old people” — read newspapers.

In addition, these discerning readers collectively are educated, active consumers who are ready to shop.

Those facts are among the major conclusions from a series of statewide-market studies conducted by Coda Ventures, an independent newspaper research and consulting firm based in Nashville, TN.

Coda Ventures aggregated recent market studies it conducted for seven newspaper trade associations. They are the Iowa Newspaper Association, the Kansas Press Association, the Louisiana Press Association, the New Mexico Press Association, the North Carolina Press Association, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Tennessee Press Association.

In all, the studies involved 4,251 respondents who were asked details about themselves and their newspaper use. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.5 percent. The research “quantified the demographic profiles and buying power of both print and digital newspaper readers for each of the associations,” said Marianne Grogan, president of Coda Ventures.

The upshot:

The collective results confirm that today’s newspaper readership is a lucrative target for advertisers marketing a wide variety of products and services, Grogan added.

Coda Ventures is a collaborative partner of The Relevance Project, having supplied the research behind the “15 Calls To Action” series that documented the power of newspaper ads to motivate readers to take actions that ultimately benefit advertisers.

Coda’s latest research is the subject of a new promotional series by The Relevance Project. This Relevant Point serves to elaborate on the conclusions and provide details about the results.

WHAT THE DEMOGRAPHICS SHOW:
Newspaper readers are educated, invested in their community and active consumers ready to shop, according to Coda’s research.

Five out of 10 — 54 percent — have a household income of $50,000 or more.

Nearly 7 out of 10 — 67 percent — own a home.

Nearly 8 out of 10 — 78 percent — attended or graduated from college.

Nearly 4 out of 10 — 38 percent — have children living at home. 

Note: The respondent makeup was 51 percent women and 49 percent male.

ALL AGES READ NEWSPAPERS:
We keep hearing that “only old people read newspapers.” That’s partly correct. Readers 65 and older are loyalists.

But junk the “only.”

Coda’s research shows the two other age categories collectively covering 18 to 64 are well represented.

Here are the numbers and related commentary:

*Three out of 10 newspapers readers — 30 percent — are in the 18-to- 34  age group. It’s no surprise that this group uses smartphones to access local news from all sources, including newspapers.  Credit newspapers for strategically pushing into digital as a way to reach new audiences. Newspapers now are improving digital initiatives focused on attracting new audiences with new products —   responsive websites that adjust to various screens, social media campaigns, easy-to-use apps, emailed newsletters, video, multimedia E-editions, digital niche offerings and more. 

*A whopping 5 out of 10 — 50 percent — are 35 to 64. This group is primarily composed of Generation X (born approximately between 1965 to 1980).  

According to the US Department of Labor, Gen Xers account for 27% of all US household spending and outspend all generations on housing, clothing, dining out and entertainment.  

They access news and information across a multitude of media platforms and comprise the largest segment of newspaper readership.

*The remaining two out of 10 — 20 percent — are 65 or older.  With this group, 75 percent believe that newspaper advertising is important.

According to Nielsen, an audience data and measurement firm, Boomers control 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States, making them a dominant financial force in the marketplace.

They always have been strong print newspaper readers, but they are also accessing content digitally. To reach the people who have the time and income to spend, astute advertisers are leveraging both print and digital newspapers.

OVERALL CONCLUSION:
Newspaper readership is multi-generational.

Coda Venture’s studies show these readers “access newspaper content, local news and advertising through a host of printed newspaper offerings (special sections, niche publication, etc.) and digital platforms, including websites, social media, e-newsletters, apps and more.” For the most part, they’re homeowners, educated and ready to shop for products and services.

That makes today’s newspaper readers an advertiser’s best prospects. 

SPECIAL THANKS:
We appreciate the seven noted newspaper press associations for sponsoring and sharing these studies that demonstrate the continued strength and importance of local newspapers.

We look forward to adding other associations’ market results to The Relevance Project’s Revenue Resource.

–The Relevance Project & Coda Ventures

Note: To download the related promotional campaign, go to the Revenue Resource section of The Relevance Project.

Don’t Let Anyone Else Own YOUR Story

Part of a continuing series.

The latest round of depressing global facts about newspapers is one good reason that successful publishers should be THE Community Forum and own THEIR story.

Important as they seem to be, the annual findings of the Pew Research Center, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and analysts like the Poynter Institute mean nothing if they don’t reflect the true longterm value of a community newspaper, its strengths and how it smartly confronts challenges.

There’s a big difference between battling to prosper and perpetuating no hope. One is a moving picture, the other a snapshot.

I know the story I’d want to tell.

Dynamic community newspapers are moving pictures. They’re full of potential, promise and purpose.

Annual report cards about newspapers, especially after a pandemic, are snapshots. In 2021, the message unfortunately sticks to advertising continuing to decline, total circulation continuing to drop even though it is now the top revenue producer (yes, it’s funny math), and audience growth continuing to be online. The broken record: Minuses outweigh the meager pluses as total revenue remains a disaster.

No success stories are noted.

Rather, as a consolation, we’re forced to reminisce about the good old days. Here’s an example from a research piece headlined “The great unbundling of local news” and posted by the Nieman Journalism Lab:

“Traditional local news sources, especially local newspapers, used to bundle news and information on a whole range of local topics. Local politics comes first to mind. But they have also covered stories that help build community, featuring local people who participate in local sports and local events, in addition to providing information such as weather forecasts, traffic updates, or shop opening hours. In the last year, local news has also been tremendously important in covering the local consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This bundle of some hard news, some soft news, and other information was a major selling point in the past. Even if people didn’t care that much about local politics, they had to get the local paper if they wanted to know where to go, or what jobs were available in the area. But as this year’s Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows, audiences no longer think that the local paper is the best source for most of this.”

Ouch.

Why do we keep sharing these reports without a response?

The Relevance Project asserts the time is now for newspapers to adopt the Community Forum strategy to work like heck to engage citizens via town halls, surveys, group discussions, moderated online forums and other actions that go well beyond producing a newspaper that guesses at what people are interested in. Rebuild the business on civil, civic dialogue.

The Community Forum model is the best way to put the engage in audience engagement. It’s a great way to improve a community’s news literacy. It’s a vital route to helping a community seek solutions for a better quality of life.

Part of this strategy at the outset includes sharing all local newspaper victories to counter any and all bad news provided from a national perspective and in comparisons to other countries. It’s also important to be open about the revenue challenges the legacy businesses face in a transformation to a multimedia enterprise.

Use the Community Forum to meet with readers and discuss what you are doing to keep the local newspaper the indispensable source of news and information. Take the same approach with advertisers, sponsors and other backers.

Talk to them directly.

Let them hear from you about the local news operation.

Be creative.

Search out those who can’t attend.

How about this goal: Make it a point of talking to everyone in your community at least once a year.

Too lofty?

Then pause on this sentence in the same Nieman Lab article: “While the local newspaper used to solve problems and performed many jobs for readers, many users now find that other sources are better able to fill those roles.”

Used to solve problems.

Performed many jobs for readers.

Other sources are better able.

If you are one of those papers that never left this overall encompassing mission, then stand up and tell that story. Loudly, please.

If you’re not, it’s tempting to think the future is a matter of restoring what worked well in the past, but doing it across multimedia platforms.

Only you know.

In meantime, tell your best story that shoots down the global reports that imply — what a weasel word — newspapers are going away.

If you don’t, no one will.

Tom Silvestri

Hello? A Smart Recourse For Outdated Publishers

I have a new line for newspaper trade associations frustrated with publishers who won’t fix crappy websites.

Be smart.

Encourage community newspapers to jump over a website mess and go all in with news reports that are built for viewing on smartphones.

That’s where the audience is.

More so, since the pandemic shook up the world.

Here’s why:

The popular headline on last week’s annual global report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford was that the United States ranked last in media trust. (The Relevance Project has an answer for that: be THE Community Forum. See previous commentaries.)

But what caught my eyes in the latest survey results was the hands-down popularity of an obvious digital solution and Reuters’ matching context on how readers want to consume news and information. Even if it wasn’t breaking news, it’s an ironclad trend that publishers should call, text and email home about.

“More widely, the use of smartphone for news (73%) has grown at its fastest rate for many years, with dependence also growing through Coronavirus lockdowns,” the institute concluded. “Use of laptop and desktop computers and tablets for news is stable or falling…”

“Fastest.”

Be smart.

With innovation, it follows that if you are stuck in past or behind the times, stand up, dust yourself off and embrace a better way by jumping ahead.

“Hey, dummy, you need a better website!”

Tired of hearing that?

Go all in on the smartphone.

It’s OK to start over.

And win, this time.

“Across countries, almost three-quarters (73%) now access news via a smartphone — up from 69 percent,” Reuters Institute stated. “Part of this is a continuation of trends which have seen the mobile phone overtake the computer as the primary access point in almost all countries, but Coronavirus may have also played a part. Governments around the world have focused on these personal devices to communicate on restrictions, to get citizens to report symptoms, and to book appointments for vaccines.”

Keep reading:
“Smartphones have become critical for keeping in touch with friends or booking takeaway food and drink — but also for discovering and consuming news. Computer news access by contrast has fallen from 49% to 46% …” (You can read the report’s Executive Summary here.)

Be smart.

Make your news report as easy to read on a smartphone as it is in print. Welcome new readers.

My bet is your non-readers who use a smartphone to access news make up a much larger group than traditionalists clinging to print.

Associations, keep helping your members become Relevant with technology while attracting that huge audience glued to the smartphone.

Zero in there.

It could probably help the trust factor as well.

-Tom Silvestri

PNA Adds A 12th ‘Big Book’ To Its Solutions Library

The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association thinks big.

It also has a winning formula to do so.

Each year, PNA “identifies a topic of interest and relevance to our members,” said Jane Hungarter, the association’s director of marketing. (Special emphasis added on Relevance. )

It then builds a “Big Book” around it.

This year’s focus?

Big Book of Sales Solutions.

Credit the many unforeseen challenges created by the pandemic.

“As business begin to recover from the devastating effects of the coronavirus, PNA wanted to help our members’ advertising sales teams be prepared to assist their clients and prospects moving forward,” Hungarter said.

The resulting 112-page book offers 55 best practices or lessons that can provide instant guidance, advice and the foundation of a training program for those interested in jumpstarting staff development.

The Big Book “includes a variety of articles written by industry experts, practical sales tips to increase print and digital business, helpful ideas to improve ad design and numerous marketing flyers that demonstrate the effectiveness of newspaper advertising,” Hungarter added. “It also contains important information for sales managers, from rate card design to responding to advertising-related legal matters, along with successful revenue-generating ideas that can be replicated by other news media organizations.”

Among the headlines:
“Newspapers are the most trusted source of news and information”
“Post-COVID media sales: Are customer needs assessments dead?”

Valuable tips to sell your digital inventory”
“What the heck is branded content?”
“Helping others provides winning revenue strategy”

PNA staff wrote and designed much of the content. “We also solicited input from our members and invited industry experts to share an informative piece that would benefit advertising sales professionals,” Hungarter said.

The Relevance Project is honored to be included in the Big Book of Sales Solutions with “A Relevant Reminder: 10 Points.”

“The goal was to provide educational support to sales teams across Pennsylvania and to help them generate more revenue,” she added. “Our Big Book series works in conjunction with the other resources we provide to our members, ranging from the ongoing training delivered by our Foundation to the marketing sheets provided to sales teams across the state.”

The Big Book of Sales Solutions is PNA’s 12th publication in its annual installment series. The other titles are:
Big Book of Alternative Revenue
Big Book of Events
Big Book of Distributed News
Big Book of Generational Engagement
Big Book of Growing Audience
Big Book of Industry Promotion
Big Book of Knowledge
Big Book of Monetizing Digital
Big Book of Special Sections
Big Book of Voter Engagement
Little Book of Coronavirus Coverage

It’s an impressive list.

What’s been the reaction so far?

“The Big Book of Sales Solutions was released in conjunction with our recent PNA Advertising Symposium,” Hungarter explained. “We received tremendously positive feedback from both ad sales reps and sales managers, along with senior leaders, from Pennsylvania’s news media organizations. The Big Book is available for download in PDF format, or in hard-copy format. The majority of our members have either downloaded or requested a hard copy of the Big Book.”

Hungarter added that the Big Book is available to other press associations at no cost. PNA is open to discussing ways to customize the book for another group’s use, but keep in mind there would be costs involved for that route. For orders and options, email marketing@panewsmedia.org

PNA already knows the topic of its 2022 Big Book.

“On deck for next year,” Hungarter said, “are the Big Book of Editorial Tools and a smaller Little Book of Circulation and Production Strategy.

Cheers to PNA’s solutions library.

–Tom Silvestri

The Community Forum Is Shelter From The Storm

One in a continuing series.

Efforts to save local news are like summer storms.

The heat builds and builds to sweaty highs. Humidity soars in tandem. Dark, ominous clouds arrive. It looks like the end of the world. Winds kick up. Branches snap, debris swirls, old roofs are exposed. Concerns about damage, loss and injury rise to near panic.

And then the storm arrives.

If you survive the thunder, lightning, downpour and deluge unscathed, the bonus is clear skies, cooler temps and a rainbow.

Good times.

In 2021, local news continues to be stuck seeking shelter from the storm.

The latest round of handwringing stems from a column last week by Politico’s media correspondent that indicated there’s not enough demand for local news to make it a viable business. I’ve seen it picked up in several newsletters. My favorite quote: “Maybe the surfeit of local news of yesteryear was the product of an economic accident, a moment that cannot be reclaimed.”

Maybe.

Solutions exist.

We just keep ignoring an obvious one.

The Relevance Project’s advocacy is for newspapers to become THE Community Forum where the focus is on engaging everyone in a local market.

Note: Audience could expand to beyond a home market, depending on the news topics. For example, exploring a problem facing military veterans could be of interest to the entire universe of vets.

The Community Forum is a three-prong strategy.

Explaining the mission of the news organization, welcoming constructive advice and securing valuable insight on what to cover.

Never tire.

Deepening the news literacy of the community. It’s the important work of building a better news consumer, replacing the damage caused by divisive politics and shortsightedness by certain newspaper owners.

Never assume.

Examining community problems and exploring related solutions. Do it over and over. Add dissecting (and even celebrating) community positives and finding new ways to expand them. (Beats only writing about broken government.)

Never let down.

This is not about producing a better newspaper. Or website.

It goes beyond product.

It’s all about service.

Purpose.

Relevance.

Solve someone’s problems and you’ll be in demand. They may call you only during a crisis — at least they call! — but there’s always preventative measures to share and deeper knowledge to strengthen connections in the meantime.

I don’t understand why more newspapers don’t embrace the Community Forum model. When I press, I hear excuses.

No time.

Not enough staff.

We have a paper to put out.

We need money now to meet our budgets.

We have to check with corporate.

My favorite: Why would I want to get in front of a bunch of critics?

If that’s your attitude, you’ve made the Politico correspondent a truth teller.

A trend exists among entrepreneurs creating niche news outlets. One of the first hires they make is that of an audience engagement point person.

Media is audience.

No audience. No business or future.

Relevance is flexing meaningful connections to your community which views you as indispensable.

The Community Forum is audience engagement at its highest level.

Added thought:
To pay for a newsroom, I agree with Nancy Lane at the Local Media Association you also need a plan for community-funded journalism. She makes an excellent case in her latest commentary.

Specific projects or targeted news coverage attached to the Community Forum are winning formulas.

Time is running out on advertising and subscription revenue as the long-term play.

“Economic accident,” remember.

Future home runs are community philanthropy from partners and dollars from marketing budgets of raving fans.

Shelter from the storm, you know.

Be the Community Forum.

–Tom Silvestri

The Ingredients Of Trust In News Stories

Getting lots of shares, likes and comments on social media matter the least to adults determining how trustworthy a news story is.

Thank you, Pew Research Center.

It’s reassuring that what matters most is the Relevance and reputation of a news organization that publishes the stories Americans read, watch or listen to.

Next in importance are the sources cited in the story.

These factors are tops for Democrats and Republicans alike. Who said the parties can’t agree?

Examine for yourself the latest Pew survey that adds important perspective on what determines whether a news story is viewed as trustworthy.

The Relevant takeaway for newsrooms:

Be disciplined in sharpening the newsroom’s overall reputation and be super-careful on how stories are sourced.

Bonus action: Drill your talent on the building blocks of trust. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page.

And this:
Limit how much effort is spent wandering on social media, which finished last among the six factors Pew examined. (A readers’ gut instinct about a story, the person who shared it, and the specific journalist who reported the story were the other considerations.)

Trust matters.

It certainly does to the Americans surveyed by Pew.

–Tom Silvestri

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