Public Notices: The Fight That Keeps On Ticking

Retaining Public Notices is the newspaper battle that never quits.

Throughout NAM, major fights in state legislatures continue. The update: Some victories (phew), lots of worries (ugh).

When I ask what are “the issues that keep you up at night,” Public Notices fall in the Top 3. Often, it is the No. 1 concern.

We all the know the reasons well: They still represent valued revenue, but they also remain an important anchor to transparent government.

No one has total confidence in local and state/provincial officials being the beacons of informing the public in a trusted medium. (Ask me how long it took my city to change the address for my property tax bill and how many times I had to visit City Hall to explain the problem.)

At the same time, have you asked yourself this:

What else do I need to do to keep Public Notices? Is there something new to change the discussion?

In Virginia, committing to putting all Public Notices on a statewide web site helped beat back opposition. Many of you have taken that route.

What’s the 2020 win?

In my Relevance Project discussions with executive directors, I encountered only a handful who acknowledged an annual effort to collect data about the use of Public Notices.

This might be the year to conduct thorough reader and member surveys on the public need, interest and use of government notices.

Your value propositions is linked to whether government is doing a great job of informing the public.
If they’re not, there’s your thunder.

If they are and they don’t cite you, you’re going to stay awake at night for sure. Start digging into the reasons.

Getting fresh data or public-survey results could be the ticket to new victories. It might also open your eyes to fresh opportunities.

Good luck. We want you to win.


What’s A Publisher? Consider This Updated Definition

Publishers are an endangered species these days.

It used to be a given that the top officer was called a publisher.

No longer.

The role has been crushed by digital focuses, changing business conditions, consolidations, new missions at companies, and cost-saving.

That’s why an updated definition caught my attention.

The new America’s Newspapers, a valued NAM member, pinpointed the term “publisher” when assisting the lobbying of Congress for stimulus aid for the newspaper industry.

The organization’s legislative affairs committee listed four points that frame today’s under-sieged publisher:

  • Whose primary business is the publication of news and information about current events.
  • Employ professional journalists and pay them market rates of compensation.
  • 52% of whose readers (print and digital) live within a single Designated Market Area.
  • Have met the conditions above for at least two (2) consecutive years immediately prior to the enactment of the legislative act.

Cheers to those newspapers that still have publishers.

Applause to America’s Newspapers for putting the updated definition in strong terms.

We might want to keep these points handy.

You never know when a student will ask you:

“What’s a publisher?”


Support From NAM Members Is Vital To The Relevance Project

One in a series of updates on The Relevance Project

NAM members want The Relevance Project to succeed.

That’s clear from talking with nearly 40 executive directors since I started as executive director on May 1.

The support is much appreciated.

Awareness about The Relevance Project’s mission falls into three buckets:

  • Very knowledgeable.
  • Somewhat in-the-know, but fuzzy on details or lost track of the project.
  • Unaware.

The very knowledgeable include those NAM members on the Steering Committee that helped create The Relevance Project and those that started to install the strategic initiative called the Community Forum (more of that action in future updates). They also include skeptics of the project who have doubts while hoping for the best.

The fuzzy folks acknowledge that their own priorities could have taken their eye of The Relevance Project. But periods of starts and stops as the project develop also were cited. And skeptics in this camp want more convincing before embracing any actions.

The Unaware are mostly those new to NAM, a comparatively larger than normal group given the association’s long history and stable membership. It was helpful to hear about their plans as they move their organizations forward.

In my discussions with NAM members, I asked a core of seven questions:

What do you know about The Relevance Project?

What did you like most about it and the Community Forum?

What did you like least?

What would you change?

In your association, what are your to strengthens and best services?

Top weaknesses or an issue that keeps you up at night?


What advice would you offer to advance The Relevance Project?

You have an initial overview of The Relevance Project in my introductory column distributed in May.

Future Relevant Points will summarize the answers I collected. Your time spent with me on the phone and in follow-up emails further guide the project.

My focus now is to take what I heard, add it to the work already done and reshape the project given today’s challenges. It’s already a far different world in June 2020 than when The Relevance Project started to develop in 2018.

The pandemic and its destruction of economies have stamped URGENT on relevance.

I heard that over and over again.

A key point indeed.


Here’s A Newspaper Quote Worth Framing

A follow-up point to the last posting about the Freeman Courier in Freeman, SD. I forget to include an inspirational quote from the Waltners, Jeremy and Tim. It captures the never, never, never give up spirit of newspapering:

This is new and this is challenging, but our objective is clear:

We have to survive.

And we’re prepared to do just that — whatever that looks like!



Nothing Like A Crisis To Shift Your Newspaper Strategies

One of the treats of The Relevance Project is reading NAM-member newsletters that tell success stories.

They inspire me to get out an underliner and notebook to capture the embedded strategies that won the day.

A good recent example is the story of a weekly newspaper in South Dakota that used the pandemic to speed up its digital transformation. The article appeared in the May newsletter of The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Jeremy Waltner, and his father, Tim Waltner, of the Freeman Courier described how the immediate need for vital health-care information caused them to quickly become a daily news provider.

They had been moving in that direction over a couple of decades, they added. But then BAM, COVID-19 hit and the Waltners went all in.

“As a weekly publication, the speed of reactions and responses from the health care and business community that followed — as well as the schools in our community — far exceeded our Thursday publication schedule,” they wrote.

Rather then stick with the routine, the Waltners met the challenge and changed.

“A once a week print product would have been reflective rather than dynamic,” they wrote. “No other news organization provides this comprehensive information to our community.”

The paper’s web site and its social-media channels formed an update machine, embracing the impact of COVID-19 as “increasingly local.”

The strategy:

Online: Offer immediate updates, daily.

Social: “Enhance that component of our role as an information portal for our community.”

The Freeman Courier’s daily COVID-19 report zeroed in on local impact — number of cases, health-care insights, announcements from schools and organizations, events status and other details.

It was translating the state and county information into local terms that hooked print readers into following the daily updates online.

“Readers could get that information on their own, but they are relying on us to deliver it to them,” the Waltners wrote.
I would add it’s because the community trusted the newspaper, even if it was a new experience for some readers to keep going online for the updates.

The Waltners also were mindful of not abandoning print. They made sure it shifted its strategy as well.

Print’s role was “broader coverage of both the impact of the pandemic on community life as well as information from our health-care community.”

I’m sure strategic shifts are occurring throughout NAM-land during the 2020 shutdown. But let’s tip our thinking caps to the Waltners for telling a great story.

NAM members, please keep sharing success stories. Can’t get enough of them. Better than aspirin.


You Can Thank 2020 For Why We All Could Be ‘Dailies’

Is it time to redefine what a “daily” is in a multimedia world?

Change in our industry is happening so fast that it’s getting difficult for press/newspaper associations to answer a simple question: How many daily newspapers do you have as members?

At least one press association recently ran a scorecard on the front of its newsletter to explain all of the many ways its member newspapers were shifting days of print publication.

The pandemic-caused rush to eliminate print days makes any once-a-year update inaccurate the day it’s distributed.

Heck, last week’s total may need to be adjusted today.

This difficulty also surfaced when I was helping Michelle Rea in New York this month update descriptive data about NAM members. (Note: We’re still missing numbers from several groups.)

An association wanted to know how NAM was defining a daily. 


For this purpose, the answer was: “More frequently than weekly.”

This issue isn’t going away.

Weekly and daily definitions are baked into laws and circulation rules that worked well in the past.

Long term (whatever that means these days), we could benefit from a different concept, one that’s forward-looking Isn’t a weekly a “daily” news outlet if its web site or newsletter is updated every day, or at least four or five or six times a week?

The argument arrow points to yes.

Add in how weeklies are doing more online to answer the urgent need in their communities for immediate news and information throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.  

They’re not looking to go back to just a weekly newspaper. 

Changing the frequency definition to match what you do online, rather than only print, would help our industry turn an important page. Imagine if we were all dailies. 

Pause there. 

(We’ll save the quality of online updating for another day.) 


3 Marketing Questions That Cut Both Ways

Here are three simple questions to ask an advertiser eager to better market itself — ideally, with your expertise:

• Why should a prospective client hire you rather than a competitor?

• Is there a segment of the market that values the thing that makes you different, and is that segment large enough to support your business?

• How will you reach the segment you have targeted with your marketing message?

The answers will help you shape a solution to pitch.

These questions came from Richmond, VA, business consultants Polly and Doug White, who have a large ownership stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds, and operates collaborative workspaces. Smart people.

After you use the questions in your sales efforts, take one more step:

Ask them to improve your newspaper.

Consider it a daily conversation. 

Have A Nice Day: Winning Back Advertisers

The quickest way to ruin a publisher’s or advertising director’s day — or budget — is for a major advertiser to quit. As a former longtime publisher, I know that pain. A NAM colleague called me this month wondering if I could recommend steps to help a member newspaper convince a major advertiser to return. I’m no expert, but here are a few suggestions:

• Be thorough in constructing both sides of the departure: put yourself in the shoes of the advertiser and list its known reasons; then, hear out your ad team, especially the sales representative assigned to the account. Facts, not feelings.

• Analyze the lists for strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and further challenges. Here, you can speculate in pursuit of more facts.

• Get to the decision-maker and secure a meeting ASAP to learn more about the reasons.

• One of my colleagues at the Richmond Times-Dispatch would dig into the advertiser’s key performance indicators. And then, Advertising VP Jim Miller would rank them by importance. Was the advertiser, for example, focused on driving traffic to its store, or was it more interested in getting email addresses or text numbers for a digital campaign? Match your follow-up conversation and pitches to these customer-desired metrics.

• If it’s a chain with outside-your-market ownership, strengthen the newspaper’s relationship with local managers who know your market. Are they good advocates for you? If so, strengthen. If not, work here.

• Secure research and data that support your value. Local market research is the best.

• If local market statistics don’t exist, tap the research that regional and national organizations have compiled to show newspaper effectiveness.   *Know your competition, especially if they’ve gained your advertiser. Where can you show you’re better? Use discretion here, as merely badmouthing a competitor may backfire. Make it about your strengths knowing a noted point can be compared to a competition’s shortcoming.

• Save all reader reaction when it’s discovered the advertiser decided to leave you. Ask readers how they used the ads to make shopping decisions. Compile and share with the advertiser to press your point further.

• Refrain from blasting the advertiser in public. Others will note that for future reference.

• Get creative. I was always amazed just how many advertisers were surprised by our strong digital products. Repackage your advertising solutions with a multi-media approach to offer different solutions.

• Come up with a new campaign for the advertiser. Surprise them.

• Consider finding a middle ground apart from, say, a store’s sale ads. Many businesses support local charitable efforts. Offer to partner there in terms of a sponsorship where you are hired to help inform what the non-profit group is doing. (Label this sponsored content to distinguish from news coverage.)

• Invite them in to your office (works best when there isn’t a pandemic shutdown) to meet your staff. Suggest they watch a news decision meeting in action. (In Richmond, readers could sit in on the

• Page One Meeting” that’s held in the afternoon.) Let the advertiser see the local residents working at the newspaper, which depends on ads to pay salaries and other bills. Keep at it. It could take multiple pitches. Walk a fine line between being a pain in the neck and professionally persistent. But each time you knock, you could pick up added insight.

This is far from a definitive list. If Team NAM has a success story on this score, please share it. And feel free to send your favorite suggestions.

Winning back an advertiser makes for a great victory. Here’s to more happy days.


Looking For A Few Good Community Forum Sites

As your point person for The Relevance Project, I inherited the framework of an initiative called the “Community Forum.” With the help of a consultant, a new mission for NAM members was proposed: “To define the new Community Forum for a better democracy and as a platform for local print advertising.”

That was presented in early 2019.

Zoom —no pun, intended — to today. 

Both are urgent actions. 

Few could argue that America and its states are in need of civil, civic discourse to guide positive change. 

Many newspapers, cut off from revenue in the COVID-19 shutdown, also face cutbacks or closing. I’ve heard this over and over in my chats with executive directors of our associations. 

But there’s this reality:  

It’s impossible to approach the Community Forum strategy as a one-size fits throughout NAM. For starters, a consensus doesn’t exist. 

So, I’m asking for help from you, our associations:

Who would work with me on exploring how newspapers can best lead their communities by being the forum for civil discourse that can lead to solutions?

I’d like to start there. And once a strategy is crafted, we can then focus on how to support it financially — that’s the “platform” for revenue mentioned in the mission above.

Do that quickly, I know, I know.

As publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I worked with a talented staff to organize 78 Public Squares — civil civic conversations about issues of importance to RTD readers and our communities in general — over 15 years. 

Civil conversations are inspiring. 

When backed with trusted journalism, they can make a difference.

They’re also needed now more than ever.

I just need one volunteer to get going.

Thanks in advance. 


‘Support Local News’ Boosts Us, Our Industry

The Support Local News initiative has a relevant connection to NAM. It will maintain a directory of newspapers as a resource where interested parties can link to our members’ web sites for information about subscriptions and advertising, and even stick around to read local news.

With one provision: NAM members need to ensure their newspapers are on the site.

The NAM site itself has an efficient directory of each press/newspaper association that’s a member.

But to build an all-encompassing site with information about each association’s newspapers would be a massive project. 

Thanks to the Support Local News site and NAM member LocalMedia Association, we don’t have to do that. Cheers to the NAM newspapers that are on the new site for the world to see — and better yet, connect. Collaboration is a part of The Relevance Project. So is supporting local news.