Will press associations survive when local papers need them more than ever?

By Peter Wagner

“By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall,” wrote Pennsylvanian activist John Dickinson in 1768.

Those words held true for the American colonies then and hold true for our free and paid paper industry today.

The newspaper and shopper business is often difficult today. One out-of-state publisher friend sent me a discouraging Christmas message this year. He wrote “with the economy hovering near a depression, and our farmers saved only by a bumper crop two years in a row, business has been tough. We’ve downsized our operation again and again and both my wife and I have taken outside jobs part of the time.”

But if times are tough with press associations, how would our business be without them?

Trade groups have always banded together to create a bigger voice in Washington and provide better opportunities at home. Our state and national press associations have lobbied for better postal rates, a greater understanding of the need for legal notices, more transparent open meetings, improved independent contractor laws and most importantly, among many other issues, “Freedom of the Press.”

Many state associations, and at least one national press association, have regularly made an expert available to offer specific advice on how to handle problems with local postal officials.

Others in that same national association have time and again traveled to Washington to testify before post office hearings in regard to mailing costs on-time delivery and difficult, sometime unnecessary, postal regulations.

Additionally, paid and free paper press associations have helped both young and experienced editors and publishers find needed staff members, connect with professors and administrators at nearby journalism schools and obtain unbiased information regarding new ideas in management and changes in publishing equipment.

Without press associations, many papers would find it difficult to purchase libel insurance, afford a reliable attorney who understands newspaper issues, embark on industry-organized international tours or benefit from organizational sales of regional, state or national advertising sales.’

Most importantly, without press associations, many current and future independent publishers would find themselves without the value of volunteer one-on-one peer mentoring, the sharing of much-needed new revenue ideas, the joy of receiving publishing profession awards and recognition and the enduring social and professional relationships so important to us all.

Unfortunately, press associations are an endangered species. The nation’s large publishing chains are often no longer joining state and even national press associations. Others, when they do join, are requiring membership fees at greatly reduced per-publication rates.

“We have our own training, legal and lobbying departments,” the large groups say. “We can’t justify paying for the same services twice. Besides, we want our people at home, at work, and not off at some convention or conference.”

Smaller papers, too, are also not renewing their membership in local associations. “We just can’t afford it,” they claim.

But the truth is, “You cannot save yourself into success.” Publishers, like all businesses, need to invest in their knowledge and expand their connections to grow and profit. Press associations still provide solid roads to exceptional profit.

Having worked with almost all the press associations in America and Canada over the last two decades, I am worried about the future of press associations. I often tell participants at my seminars “when I make any paper better, I increase the value and longevity of my publications.”

In a time when so many metro papers are declining and even disappearing, I see a good future for smaller, home-owned papers. Those publications, with a continued investment in providing local, credible information not available anywhere else, will still be desired and needed for a long time.

And with the growth of local digital publishing, combined with traditional printed papers, that positive future can extend far beyond anyone’s speculation or expectation.

Even the strongest independent publisher cannot stand alone. We need, and will continue to need, our press associations to be the united “grassroots” voice in our communities, state legislatures and in Washington, DC.

Encourage your friends and neighboring publishers currently wavering on the sidelines to join in and support the future of the “free press.” Let’s keep our press associations healthy and effective.

 

Want more information and motivation to help you tell your publication’s story? Experience more GET REAL straight talk from one of America’s leading newspaper and shopper publishers and sales trainers. Ask your group or Press Association to schedule one or more of Peter W Wagner’s seminars on selling, producing and growing your community paper. Contact him at pww@iowainformation.com or CELL 712-348-3550.  Or contact Peter direct for proven sales training for your staff.

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