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Sharing (and Caring) in Iowa

This week we're going to hand over the keys to the Alliance newsletter to one of our esteemed NewStart fellows -- Tony Baranowski, who is the Director of Local Media for Times Citizen Communications in Iowa Falls, a small but diverse multimedia company in the north central part of the Hawkeye State.

Tony manages all aspects of operations for the Iowa Falls Times Citizen (which is a 3,000-circulation twice weekly) another weekly called the Ackley World Journal, a shopper, the in-house radio station called KIFG, and a press release distribution service that works with clients nationwide, The Link.
Tony Baranowski
Tony Baranowski

He recently told me about this interesting collaboration he developed with other newspaper operators across the state, and it's an idea that others should know about and emulate.

So Alliance, meet Tony.

Tony, take it away...

--

When I started the NewStart program a little more than a month ago, in the thick of a global pandemic, trying to help lead from within my own media organization, working from home most days with twin 9-year-olds to care for, it felt a little insane.

But it was also a huge relief.

Yes, adding hours of readings and weekly assignments to my schedule has been a challenge. But I was also adding a cohort of smart, thoughtful and understanding people to my circle who I knew would help as we all traverse our way through this insanity together. I knew because it was the second time I had sought out such a group in recent months.

Back in March, before COVID had really ripped into Iowa, at Times Citizen Communications, we were still recovering from another kind of virus. We’d been hit by a ransomware attack the previous summer and were just beginning to get back to business as usual after massive hardware, software and policy overhauls. We have an incredible leadership team and great journalistic staff, but it felt prudent to reach out to other publishers in the state to compare notes on our plans.

I reached out to four similar sized operations -- four of the smartest folks I know in Iowa newspapering and people I’ve leaned on as mentors for years; Jeff and Myrna Wagner of Iowa Information, Alan and Steve Mores of Harlan Newspapers, Mary Ungs-Sogaard of Woodward Communications, and Doug Burns of Herald Publishing. Word spread, we added other publishers and editors from around the state, as well as Susan Patterson Plank, Executive Director of the Iowa Newspaper Association.

What developed was a weekly/bi-weekly Zoom session in which we hash over strategies to deal with the inevitable revenue shortfalls of the pandemic, share links to grant opportunities, flesh out ideas for ways to better serve our communities and customers, talk about office distancing and masking policies and, sometimes, we just vent or laugh together.

“Jeff and I have appreciated our weekly Zoom meetings as something of a support group during these unusual times. No other business in our trade area can relate to the challenges of this industry in the same way that our peers from across the state can,” Myrna Wager said. “Our business locations are distant enough that we aren’t competitors, so we’ve been able to share revenue ideas, news stories, sensitive topics and work-from-home strategies. I believe there are positives to be found in every tough situation, and during this COVID-19 crisis, our Zoom meetings hover near the top of the list.”

It’s been cathartic, to be sure, but the topics we’ve discussed have both saved us money and generated thousands in revenue as we shared ideas, at least one of which was previously featured here in the NewStart newsletter. Likewise, Patterson Plank has latched onto discussion topics to share with the larger network of Iowa publishers via the INA’s Bulletin.

“The sessions are part therapy, part brainstorming and part networking,” said Patterson Plank. “Most people in upper management in the publishing business are in many ways a singular person in their community. They are engaged with local business movers and shakers and the community at large. These meetings frankly provide a safe space, a no judgement zone. It’s a reminder that no one is alone and sometimes you get a good idea on how to generate revenue. Either way it’s an hour well spent.”

We’ve all missed out on opportunities to gather in person, including the inspiration often produced by conventions and conferences. While some of those larger gatherings have found ways to resume virtually, most community publishers have rightly focused on how to keep their staff both safe and productive.

Sometimes, though, the benefit of a coffee (or beer!) with a small group of allies pays the bigger dividends.

--

Thanks to Tony for taking time out of his super-busy schedule to share some knowledge with us. He's doing great things in Iowa. 

If you would like to be like Tony, you may want to consider becoming a media entrepreneur via our NewStart program and taking over a rural publication somewhere in the country. Email me at jim.iovino@mail.wvu.edu and we can set up a phone call or Zoom meeting and chat.

And here's something to consider: If you're an owner or publisher who is grooming someone in your newsroom to eventually take over, why not consider enrolling them in our one-year, online master's degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from West Virginia University? It would make a worthwhile investment in your publication's future.

Think Piece Alley

There have been a ton of think pieces published in the last week or so pondering, as always, the future of the journalism industry. In case you missed any of them, here's a rundown:

Why Media Executives Keep Failing, by Joe Ragazzo
"I’ve long thought it peculiar that news outlets had executives who were not journalists themselves. Journalism is a trade. When I look around at the carpenters or stone workers or lawyers I knew growing up, the tradesmen ran their own companies. They didn’t hire MBAs to come in and run their plumbing operation. I could understand how newspapers and other media had become so large it would require specially trained journalists to manage operations and finance and those sorts of things. But there is really nothing about running a media company that is brain surgery. (I know this from running a media company and also having had brain surgery.) That’s not to say it’s not challenging — it is, but to the degree it is difficult, there is nobody better suited to solve the problems than journalists themselves."

Next up: 

Redefining local journalism: What is news?, by Yvonne Leow
"I’ve spent more than a decade working in journalism. So when Caswell asks if we are still needed, my heart wants to respond with a resounding 'YES!!' Many former journalists, foundations, politicians, and subscribers believe that a free press, and synonymously local journalism, is essential to ensuring a thriving, vibrant democracy. What we cannot ignore is how the reality has fallen short of the ideals. As our information ecosystem continues to rapidly evolve, the local newspaper industry’s dismal numbers reveals how we have failed to adapt."
Then there's this:

An open letter to the new CEO of The New York Times, by Nieman Lab
The relative sense of calm and stability at the Times is held at approximately zero local newspapers. Even the smart ones, with relatively successful digital subscription models and locally engaged ownership — Boston, Minneapolis, Charleston — don’t have the Times’ confidence that future ad declines can be managed without a loss to the journalism and to the product.
And finally:

It is possible to compete with the New York Times. Here’s how., by Tony Haile
"The logic of the single slot requires us to unlearn the lessons of the open internet. With print, we had non-overlapping audiences divided by geography. There was little risk of a Minneapolis Star Tribune reader switching to the Sacramento Bee. Publisher value was built on a combination of shared wire service content providing breadth, augmented by homegrown reporting providing differentiation. With the open internet, we had overlapping audiences where it was as easy for a Californian to read the Boston Globe as the LA Times. Publishers lost the value of shared wire content and value became restricted to homegrown differentiation."

The Power of Local Media

Local news outlets are still relevant, example No. 87:

Quick Hits


Now on to the latest news and notes from around the world of local journalism:

Learn: "I’ve compiled 231 hyperlinked ideas cutting across areas such as: Advertising and Sponsorship, Content, Business Models, Philanthropy and Memberships, as well as Partnerships and eCommerce." "The landmark poll of 20,000 people found that Americans’ hope for an objective media is all but lost. Instead, they see an increasing partisan slant in the news, and a media eager to push an agenda. As a result, the media’s ability to hold leaders accountable is diminished in the public’s eye." The buzz around micropayments comes and goes in the news industry, but we have yet to see a micropayment model truly succeed. On face value the idea is interesting: pay just for what you read. But when you dig into the concept further, you find that there is actually limited benefit for both readers and publishers.  “What we found is that if we ask, some part of the community is happy to support us,” said David Hulen, editor of the Anchorage Daily News. “All you have to do is ask. What we found here with our own experience is that there’s lots of potential for that.”  "When you share a piece of content — albeit under criticism — you are giving it extra life. And low-quality content does not deserve that."
  "In December 2019, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism reported on an intricately linked network of 450 sites purporting to be local or business news publications. New research from the Tow Center shows the size of that network has increased almost threefold over the course of 2020, to over 1,200 sites." "For this analysis, our Data Science team reviewed more than 175 billion pageviews from the beginning of the year across 56 million articles, about 7 million of which were about Covid-19. Here’s what we found." "The first plank of this initiative is an in-depth case study of one particularly successful nonprofit newsroom — San Antonio’s Rivard Report — which has bucked the typical reliance on grants and individual donations by managing to generate about one-third of its revenue from sponsorships and what it calls 'business memberships.'" "The Lab is exploring how publishers can provide audiences more targeted news and information about their neighborhoods by leveraging technology and in collaboration with local community organizations. These types of customized products can build loyalty in a community, which is critical for the long-term sustainability of local news." "The Record-Journal, a daily newspaper in Connecticut, recognized the interest and decided to dedicate a significant resource toward the topic for a few months. The results were promising." "The results were so strong that as of January 2020, NPO simply got rid of advertising cookies altogether. And rather than decline, its digital revenue is dramatically up, even after the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic."

Gather: "NNA's 134th Annual Convention and Trade Show will address pressing business objectives of community newspaper owners, publishers and senior staff with educational sessions and peer sharing activities."

Buy:
This An' 'At: "Keeping news publishers strong is in the interest not only of the press, but of our greater democracy. When they lack a steady flow of information, communities suffer a slew of ailments, from declining citizen engagement to increased corruption and declining government performance. Fewer people run for office and fewer people vote." Interested Philadelphians can now access “a more complete story of American history.” "If the powerful can consolidate their control of information, what chance will the disadvantaged have to reverse structural inequality? If the journalists and the public are not regularly exercising their Right to Know and their power under the Freedom of Information Act, that muscle will atrophy, and eventually be ignored and become useless." "E&P publisher Mike Blinder interviews Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator publisher, Charles Jarvis, to learn how they were able to save the Vindicator in such a short period of time and how they are doing today serving both counties with their dual products."

See Something, Share Something


That's all for this week. As always, thanks for reading.

A reminder: If you have a success story, or know someone else doing something great, I want to hear about it, and share it in this newsletter. So reach out to me and we'll chat. You can reply to this email, or hit up NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino.

If you, your organization, or anyone else you know would like to fund a NewStart fellowship position or would want to offer a scholarship in Year 2, feel free to reach out to me. I'd be happy to talk! Seriously, I would love to offer more fellowships and scholarships, and you can help.

And don't forget, you can find NewStart online at newstart.media

If someone forwarded this newsletter to you and you want to subscribe, just hit the Subscribe Me button below:
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Thanks again, stay safe, and we'll talk next week.
Jim.
 
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