Next week I’m heading down to Wenatchee for four days to attend the 129th annual convention of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA), which represents the state’s weekly newspapers, some smaller dailies and other journalism- or information-related organizations. As you can tell, WNPA has been around for quite a while as a staunch advocate for community journalism while also defending First Amendment rights, public records access and our members’ business interests.
This will be my sixth WNPA convention since I purchased the Methow Valley News, and I always look forward to them. This year’s meeting has special meaning for me: It’s my first as president of the WNPA, a position I’ve held since earlier this year.
It’s more than a titular role. The president has responsibilities, along with the board of directors, for overseeing the association’s operations (we have an extremely capable staff to take care of the day-to-day), determining WNPA policies and building membership. Sometimes I also represent WNPA in something like a lobbying role, supporting the interests of Washington’s community newspapers. We have a hard-working board of directors who represent newspapers from around the state.
I can do most of the president stuff from here, but several times a year I travel for board meetings or other related functions, most of them on the “west side.” It’s something of a tradition that the president hosts at least one board meeting a year, so next summer the Methow Valley may be the site of a quarterly gathering.
Our conventions are hard-core practical, heavy on journalism skills and advertising sales training, organizational management and financial strategies. We invite accomplished journalists, savvy sales professionals and other experts in their fields to help us develop better newspapers that can survive in the digital age.
That’s the work part. The fun part is socializing with colleagues in the community newspaper realm — publishers, editors, reporters, photographers, ad sales representatives and managers, and vendors who provide valuable services such as printing, legal consultation and social media advice. I like catching up and comparing notes about things we’re doing that are successful.
It’s not a homogenous group. Some of our member newspapers are very small in terms of circulation and staff. Others have circulations many times larger than the Methow Valley News (we are at about 2,800 weekly). Quite a few are owned by companies that have multiple publications, most notably Sound Publishing.
If you’ve checked out some of the state’s weeklies, you know that we are also quite varied in how we look, what we cover and how well-developed our digital presence is. That’s the beauty of community journalism — we share a common dedication to serving our readers as best we can, but we have distinct personalities that typically reflect the ownership (make of that what you will about the Methow Valley News).
In a broad sense, community journalism has fared better than larger newspapers in big suburban markets. We are closer to our readers, and we are usually the sole providers of the kind of information they want. But it’s still tough times for many smaller newspapers, as we are not immune to the marketplace pressures on print. Just a few months ago, the weekly newspaper in Othello closed for good. Some of our WNPA members are struggling. Around the country, long-time community newspaper owners who want to retire are having a difficult time selling their publications. It’s frightening to think about how many towns, counties or entire regions may be without a newspaper if community publications fade away.
These are the kinds of things we talk about at the WNPA gatherings, with confidence that we can figure out how to continue providing a vital community service while adapting to a changing world.
And we always look forward to the annual awards banquet, which recognizes the best advertising, writing, design and photography that WNPA members produce. In the aggregate, it’s an amazing body of work that makes me proud to be part of the organization and the industry, and further motivates me to give something back to it.
Oh yeah, there’s one other thing. As president I get some kind of suite at the hotel, which means I’m expected to throw a party after the awards banquet. We may get a little loud, but I don’t think we’ll be throwing anyone into the pool.