If you stick around in a profession for a few decades, you may get meaningful personal satisfaction out of the longevity. That may come, as it did for me last week, at the annual convention of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA), in the form of treasured friendships, collegial support and the knowledge that people you once mentored have gone on to do impressive things.
I was chairman of this year’s convention, where people who represent the state’s weekly newspapers and a few of its smaller dailies gathered for seminars, training and the chance to reconnect.
Scattered and strapped for time as they are, the publishers, editors and sales reps of newspapers like this one seldom have the time or opportunity to talk about common challenges or explore opportunities. So the convention is as much social as professional. It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone in trying to figure out how to survive in the newspaper business these days.
Because I was planning much of the agenda, I reached out to former colleagues and friends in the newspaper industry. I asked them to sit in on a variety of panels covering topics important to all working journalists, but especially to small-town newspaper staffers trying to do the best they can to serve their communities with limited resources.
It was, I modestly note, an impressive lineup — the editors or former editors of several of the state’s largest newspapers, a couple of the state’s top investigative reporters, a nationally renowned media lawyer who represents WNPA papers, the editors of two of the best weekly newspapers in Washington, and a veteran newspaper photographer whose work is widely admired. The gratifying thing for me was that I asked, and they came — on their own time, for no money, without hesitation — to share their experience, expertise and hard-earned wisdom. Journalists will do that. They are extraordinarily generous about giving back to the industry.
Two of the panelists were people I hired many years ago who have steadily risen to leadership roles in their profession. Out in the audience were several other people I hired or supervised at other newspapers, all of them making great contributions to their respective publications. I admire them for their accomplishments and perseverance along a career path that can be discouragingly rocky.
So what do we discuss? In the news-oriented sessions, we talked about maximizing our resources, building our print and online audiences, developing stories based on investigative reporting techniques, and adapting to the digital age of communication. The advertising and marketing sessions focused on changing sales strategies, sales staff management and — also — adapting to the digital age of communications.
All of which was enlightening, but for me the fun part was chatting with smart, friendly people I typically only get to see once a year. For me, the rewarding aspect of this business has always been the people I have had the privilege to work with.
Speaking of which, I want to say a few words about our long-time proofreader, reporter and photographer, Laurelle Walsh, who recently left the paper to pursue a new round of adventures.
Laurelle’s background was, in part, teaching English, which helped make her a great proofreader. She is as tenacious, exacting, knowledgeable and indefatigable as you could hope for in a proofreader, not afraid to stand her ground in a discussion over usage, syntax, style or preferred spelling. I wish she was (were?) reading this column to hold me accountable to such things.
More than that, Laurelle is one of the most natural journalists I’ve known in more than 40 years in the business. She’s not a journalist by schooling or training, but her instincts for thorough reporting and effective writing are remarkable, and she is a relentless gatherer of information. She’s also an accomplished photographer.
Laurelle’s value to us went way beyond her Tuesdays hunched over page proofs, and we’ll miss not only her contributions but also her sunny personality and whimsical wit.