What I learned in Ohio

Visit with news­pa­pers in Buck­eye State cures my winter "funk"

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Industry - ▶By Kevin SLimp colum­nist Kevin Slimp is CEO of news­pa­per­a­cademy.com and di­rec­tor of The News­pa­per In­sti­tute. Con­tact Kevin at kevin@news­pa­per­a­cademy.com.

Con­ven­tion sea­son is an in­ter­est­ing time in the life of a speaker. Most years, I’ll travel di­rectly from one con­ven­tion to the next be­tween late Jan­uary and June. Some years, the travel doesn’t slow un­til July or Au­gust.

I’ve pur­posely cut my travel this year, to make time for a cou­ple of new projects I’ve be­gun. That’s a pri­mary rea­son I’m en­joy­ing con­ven­tion ap­pear­ances so much this year.

I just re­turned from Colum­bus, Ohio, where I spoke to the Ohio News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion. Ac­tu­ally, I be­lieve they of­fi­cially changed their name a few min­utes be­fore I came to the stage. Ei­ther way, they are still “ONA.”

Af­ter more than 20 years of speak­ing, you would think I would be past be­ing suprised by au­di­ences. It’s be­come the norm for groups to add seats at the last minute when I’m speak­ing about the state of news­pa­pers, but it still sur­prises me for some rea­son.

A steady stream of at­ten­dees lined up to ask for a few mo­ments to visit fol­low­ing my speech. With five hours to kill be­fore my flight home, I of­fered to find a place near the regis­tra­tion ta­ble to meet with folks for a few min­utes each.

I at­tempted to spend as much time as pos­si­ble answering the ques­tions of each per­son, while cog­nizant oth­ers were wait­ing in line for their turns.

I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to meet with pub­lish­ers and oth­ers who see a real fu­ture for their news­pa­pers and at­tend con­fer­ences, classes, read jour­nals and even stand in line to gain in­sight into ways to im­prove their op­er­a­tions and prod­ucts.

What was on the mind of Ohio’s news­pa­per lead­ers? The dis­cus­sions var­ied, but most cen­tered around ways to im­prove their news­pa­pers and the meth­ods used to get them out.

“Should we outsource our ad de­sign?”

This came up more than once. At one point, a group of us gath­ered around a ta­ble and dis­cussed op­tions to get the best re­sults for their small com­mu­nity pa­pers. The pos­si­bil­ity of a joint “co-op,” where small news­pa­pers in ad­join­ing com­mu­ni­ties might work to­gether, giv­ing them more con­trol over the cre­ative process while shar­ing in the ex­penses came up.

We dis­cussed the best op­tions for outsourcing, for pa­pers who feel this is the best op­tion for them. Should they use de­sign­ers who are part of a huge na­tional group, a com­pany out­side the coun­try, or a smaller group who might of­fer more per­son­al­ized at­ten­tion?

Should we keep ev­ery­thing “in house,” find­ing ways to com­bine dif­fer­ent ar­eas of pre-press pro­duc­tion that ben­e­fit our pa­pers?

Like most im­por­tant ques­tions in life, the quick­est an­swer is of­ten not the best. I re­minded pub­lish­ers to con­sider long-term ef­fects of their de­ci­sions. Are we risk­ing long-term suc­cess for the sake of short­term sav­ings?

A new pub­lisher asked ad­vice about sev­eral ar­eas, in­clud­ing the de­sign of the pa­per it­self. I sug­gested tak­ing ad­van­tage of as much read­ing, on­line train­ing and lo­cal train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as pos­si­ble. The pub­lisher of a com­mu­nity news­pa­per wears many hats and it’s easy to be­come over­whelmed by the sheer amount of added work when the job ti­tle changes from ed­i­tor, or ad man­ager, to pub­lisher.

Sev­eral ed­i­tors and pub­lish­ers asked me to look over their pa­pers and make sug­ges­tions. I laughed when one said, “Wow! You’re re­ally good at this.”

I told her it was like any­thing else. Af­ter you’ve done it a few thou­sand times, you get pretty good at it.

What did I take away from my day in Colum­bus?

Ohio is an in­ter­est­ing place to be in the news­pa­per busi­ness. There are sev­eral big cities, mean­ing there are more metro pa­pers than in most states.

Like most places I visit, large pa­pers are try­ing to find new ways to at­tract ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars and read­ers. When asked, my ad­vice was to re­mem­ber what read­ers want, be­cause read­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers go hand in hand.

Smaller pa­pers have their own set of is­sues. For the past cen­tury or more, news­pa­pers in smaller com­mu­ni­ties have dealt with many of the same is­sues as their larger coun­ter­parts. In ad­di­tion, com­pe­ti­tion from nearby met­ros look­ing for new read­ers is in­creas­ingly cre­at­ing more com­pe­ti­tion be­tween met­ros and nearby com­mu­nity pa­pers.

I was glad to see fire in the belly of Ohio’s news­pa­per com­mu­nity. I vis­ited with re­porters who are pas­sion­ate about their call­ing, ed­i­tors and ad man­agers se­ri­ous about im­prov­ing their prod­ucts and ser­vice, and pub­lish­ers who still feel con­fi­dent about the fu­ture.

Con­ven­tion sea­son al­ways seems to come at the right time. Af­ter spend­ing a cou­ple of months work­ing from my of­fice, con­ven­tion sea­son re­minds me our in­dus­try is alive and well, and will be for decades to come.

That’s one rea­son I love my job so much.

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