The gang's all there
In a couple of weeks, newspaper people from the six New England states will convene in Boston. It's an annual thing. We celebrate and we worry over lunches, dinners, speeches, a trade show, a contest, and two long days of seminars and panel discussions. The aim is not to rest on our laurels, but instead to do better. Taking the medicine of change is easier when mixed with a weekend of hoopla.
There are dailies, big and small, and weeklies, some with large circulations like the MV Times and some with only two or three thousand readers, or fewer.
It's the 57th annual convention of the New England Press Association (NEPA), and it's a yearly focus of attention for the more than 400 member papers in the six-state region and 1,500 or so staffers of these papers. NEPA papers have a combined circulation of more than four million, which adds up to more than nine million readers, using newspaper math. Market research by NEPA finds that 90 percent of New Englanders read a newspaper every week. The market is worth $2.7 billion. Newspaper payrolls add up to $910 million, for nearly 29,000 employees.
NEPA's mission is to help the members to publish better and more profitable newspapers. Growth and excellence are the themes.
Roughly 1,500 newspaper people attend the convention, and as you might expect, they do a little whining about business and their readers before getting down to the business at hand, namely journalism. You might like to know what they talk about when they get serious.
They never talk about the Steamship Authority. They never talk about the hospital or the Martha's Vineyard Commission. They never talk about how hard it is to get a car reservation, or why gasoline is so expensive. They appear to have made their peace with their county governments, mainly by getting rid of them. One gas station is as good as another to these folks. In a way, I confess, the convention is a refreshing couple of days with people who, naturally, have their worries, but their worries are not ours.
One of the day-long sessions, over which NEPA and the American Press Institute collaborate, will be about "Strategic Leadership: Making Radical Change Happen."
(Incidentally, this is a good example of the difference between the concerns that we Island news types have and the ones that oppress our off-Island colleagues: They're all about making change, even radical change, happen. We, along with all of you, are all about keeping change of any sort from happening.)
But, the change workshop is a daylong affair for "organizations that intend to overcome major market challenges through significant changes in business models, strategies and tactics." Who doesn't want to get this done?
We are also going to talk about "Fighting for access: a legal toolkit for journalists." It's a discussion of "strategies for shining a light on the workings of government. When you're trying to open an executive session, get documents from the government or unseal court settlements - don't take 'no' for an answer." Okay, we want to flex our journalism muscles, we want to fight in the metaphoric sense, but what if the answer isn't "No", what if it's "Screw you and your newspaper too?"
There will be a workshop on newspaper design, and about "Transitions & Transformations," "Getting Younger Readers into Your Newsroom," "Creating an Online Culture at Your Newspaper," "Managing Your OpEd Section," and "Power Reporting: Newsroom Training in Computer-Assisted Reporting, Writing and Editing." And many more over two full days.
I'm afraid some of these discussions have to do with adding more sports to the news columns, and more features, and perhaps an astrology column. But we have an astrology column already - very well read, by the way - a sports section too, and there must be at least a few readers a newspaper can score with by publishing the news. That's our story, and we're sticking to it.
But, really, I'm heading to the convention this year with an open mind. I'm looking for ways to maximize the Vineyard marketplace, something my off-Island newspaper colleagues are very big on. But it's been hard to do, and it's getting harder. No malls, no chain stores, no more gas stations, no more marinas, no more liquor licenses, no more super-houses: it's hostile territory for business expansion. Maybe the panelists will offer some tips.
And, on the news side, we've also got problems that are unfamiliar to news folks off-Island: too few murders, too few big fires, no tragic chemical explosions or train wrecks. No terrorism. No stolen elections. We have to make news out of innocent everyday Island life. It's a challenge.
This whole weekend convention ordeal ends with the annual "Celebration of Excellence Awards Banquet." It will be fun this year, because we've been warned that we'll take home a truckload of awards. Plus, there's wine.