What the merger means for SNPA newspapers

An important moment in history

First in a series on the merger of SNPA and Inland Press Association

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It's never been more important for our industry to speak with one voice and champion the value of local news. Combining the experience and talents of the Inland Press Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association will help ensure that voice remains loud and clear.

We will continue to serve the mission and constituents of these two longstanding organizations as we plot a new course for the traditional newspaper business. Not only will we continue to provide the networking and training opportunities both organizations are known for, we will tackle many of the biggest issues facing our members.

We will maintain a keen focus on the power and importance of local journalism and the myriad ways we serve our unique communities. We don't write and report for the pundits in Washington, D.C.; we write and report for the people who live and work in the areas we serve.  It will become increasingly important for us to widely share that message.

Here is what we all know: Newspapers are critical to a functioning democracy. We increase voter turnout. Our work ensures that government corruption is minimized. Our communities are financially healthier, and our citizens go to the polls armed with the knowledge they need. People who interact with our products are more likely to engage with their local governments, vote based on issues rather than mere partisanship and are more likely to work to hold their elected officials accountable.

As the Columbia Journalism Review recently put it, "Local newspapers are basically little machines that spit out healthier democracies."

Yet, we have to have journalists to be able to do that. The traditional financial model is deteriorating rapidly. The internet giants are monopolizing digital advertising revenue and traditional print circulation is on the decline. We have to shift our focus to an audience-based business, and that won't be easy and it won't happen overnight.

We have to start with educating the public. A Pew Research Center survey taken last year revealed a startling misperception: Fully 70 percent of U.S. adults think that their local news outlets are doing well financially. But 84 percent had not paid for local news within the past year. That represents a fundamental disconnect that we must address and correct.

This new association will provide robust leadership training to help our members not just survive in this new environment, but thrive. We will also work to bring new people and new ideas to this new group. SNPA's traditional emphasis on relationships will not only remain, we will add new members into our brotherhood and sisterhood.

The search firm hired to locate a new CEO for the combined association is seeking a leader who is not necessarily heavily identified with either SNPA or Inland, and both associations will have the same input into the selection. Together, we can choose a leader who will help us deliver on our ambitions for this organization.

Many of our members would say that SNPA has always been the kind of organization where you could pick up the phone and call anybody. You knew those individuals and that organization were going to help you, no matter what. That has remained true as SNPA's membership grew and become more diverse, including the rise of large media owners representing newspapers across the country.

But sharing best practices, a longstanding part of the SNPA mission, will continue to be an important function of the new association. Now, we will have one larger, stronger organization that will bring the best practices and the best ideas to publishers.

Ultimately, our true hope is that through our focus on relationships, information sharing, training and stronger communication and messaging we will emerge as a leading voice for local news. This is an important moment in history for our industry, and this new organization is ready to rise to the challenge.

P.J. Browning, current president of SNPA, is president and publisher of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

Jane Nicholes

Special thanks to Jane Nicholes, who contributed to this column. Nicholes is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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