Talking about us
A month from now, newspaper people from the six New England states will convene in Boston. It's an annual thing. There are lunches, dinners, speeches, a trade show, a contest, and two long days of seminars and panel discussions.
There are dailies, big and small, and weeklies, some with large circulations like the Martha's Vineyard Times and some with only two or three thousand readers.
Past conventions have been headlined with a theme. This convention hasn't an official theme, but if it did it would be "The State of the Business." That's the title of a talk by Jim Conaghan, vice president for business analysis and research at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). It's also the constant theme of conversations among newspaper types nationwide.
It's the 58th annual convention of the New England Press Association (NEPA), and it's a yearly focus of attention for the 430 member papers in the six-state region. These papers have a combined circulation of more than 4.7 million, which adds up to more than 10 million readers, using newspaper math, which is like ordinary math, but with the encouragement of a generous multiplier. NEPA's mission is to help the members to publish better and more profitable newspapers.
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 trophy houses or the Martha's Vineyard Commission. They appear to have made their peace with county government, though one is thunderstruck at the thought. One gas station is as good as another to these folks. Affordable housing is relatively low on the agenda, because, for most of these people, if houses are too expensive here, they can drive a few minutes away and find a less expensive one there. In a way, I confess, the convention is a refreshing couple of days because none of these topics comes up.
One of the daylong sessions, over which NEPA and the NAA collaborate, is a small newspaper workshop. On the agenda: "Innovation in Action;" "Political Advertising" (newspapers hate how television and now the web have siphoned off political ad revenues that in a year like this would have been significant); "Big Ideas for Smaller-market Newspapers;" and "Interactive Multi-media Marketing - Netting a Better Bottom Line" (making the web pay off for newspapers is a very big challenge).
That's why "Rebooting Your Newsroom: Adding Blogs, Podcasts, Citizens, and the Web" is the title of another daylong workshop.
Here's the irresistible come-on: "Looking for innovative ideas for moving your news passion and practice onto the Web? This workshop will feature demonstrations, tutorials, and idea-sharing sessions that will focus on how to promote web integration with blogs, podcasts, videos, and the public."
Do you remember the 1990s, when "synergy" in business development was all the rage. Well, now it's "integration." And, the truth is that most older newspaper types hate bloggers, podcasters, intrusive reader/citizens who want to horn in on the newsgathering, and for that matter the whole web thing. But, there's no way around it, so we've got to eat the spinach and learn to like it. Or, at least, use it.
Then there is another daylong workshop all about ad sales, which is hard and constant work for newspapers everywhere. And there's Headline Writing, Power Reporting, Copyediting, Compelling Storytelling Techniques for Print and Online. (I always thought the most compelling stories told themselves. Wrong.)
Most of the seminars and workshops that aren't narrowly aimed at, say, headlines or writing a powerful beginning sentence are about leadership. That sounds good, but a little fuzzy. After all, it isn't as if newspaper editors are unaware of the need for leadership. No, indeed. Rather, what's confounding is the knowledge that all those people who so badly need leading stubbornly resist their roles as followers. Maybe changing their minds is what these gatherings are all about.
Oh, and there's a trade show. Here, vendors offer the latest in information management technology, web technology, content management technology, business software, digital this and digital that. It's all wonderful, and expensive. I'm sure we'll want all of it.
And, finally, there's the panel discussion titled "Cocktail Reception." Actually, it's not a panel discussion, but it is annually one of the better-attended gatherings. Won't miss that one.