For most everybody, life has been an anxious grind these last couple of months. Our member newspapers and their dedicated staffs have risen spectacularly to the occasion by reliably keeping their communities well-informed about the COVID-19 pandemic, despite enormous challenges. I shudder at thought of going through this kind of crisis without the steady hand of our professional newsrooms reassuring folks that basic institutions continue to function and serve the public, that citizens are gamely adapting, and that we don’t have to rely on false promises and snake oil to sustain our hope for the future.
The MNA has focused much of its efforts these last few weeks on advocating for a comprehensive, statewide advertising campaign focusing on public health and economic recovery. We’ve had some success. The Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force specifically highlighted newspaper advertising among its recommended uses for CARES Act relief funds. The MNA has suggested a $5 million budget for a print and digital campaign aimed at public health and economic recovery, and the Task Force report gave us a solid foundation for several constructive follow-up conversations with senior state officials. The governor’s office has its hands full, but the people I’ve contacted, including Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, are very aware of the desperate lack of advertising revenue and the pressures on local news providers, which they recognize as vital Main Street businesses that knit Montana communities together. They also understand the need for clear, consistent communication with the public. We’ll continue pressing for swift action to utilize newspaper advertising for critical public health and economic recovery messages aimed at Montana citizens.
To get you caught up, this month’s bulletin includes a handy digest of industry news, much of it COVID-19 related. You can read up on government relief efforts and the new proposals for direct assistance to local news organizations. And be sure to take note of the free promotional campaign developed by America’s Newspapers. We’ve got good news about dividends for our statewide advertising programs. And new October dates have been set for our 135th annual convention. We can look forward to a fine celebration of our achievements this fall.
Please feel encouraged to contact the MNA office if we can be of service. Keep up your good work and be well.
Jun. 2: Montana primary election
Jun. 11: MNA/MNAS board meetings via Zoom
Jul. 1: Annual deadline to file county and municipal sworn statement of circulation
Jul. 4: Fourth of July federal holiday; MNA office closed
Sep. 4: National Newspaper Carrier Day
Sep 7: Labor Day federal holiday; MNA office closed
Oct. 1: Deadline to file USPS Statement of Ownership Form 3526
Oct. 12: Columbus Day federal holiday
Oct. 16, 17: 135th Annual MNA Convention at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell
MNAS board of directors releases dividend to statewide advertising network participants
The MNAS board agreed last month to release the dividend payment for the third quarter of 2019 for participants in the SCAN, SDAP and SOAP networks, sending an optimistic signal to MNA members. The board had decided at its January meeting to suspend the 3rd quarter dividend payment, and in an abundance of caution it approved an annual budget that called for no dividend payments during 2020. However, circumstances of have changed dramatically since then. SDAP revenues have rebounded spectacularly in the last four months, and the association is tracking to meet or exceed its budgeted revenue through the first half of the year. The dividend is a small way for the MNA to show its appreciation for the participants’ support, and although the 2020 budget calls for dividends to be withheld, the association continues to accrue them as an expense payable to the participating newspapers as quickly as circumstances allow.
135th MNA Annual Convention postponed until Oct. 16-17
The 2020 MNA Annual Convention has been postponed until Oct. 16 and 17. We’re still anticipating a great weekend in Kalispell at the Hilton Garden Inn and hope to see staff from all of our member newspapers there. The 2020 MNA Better Newspaper Contest awards banquet has been postponed until October as well. As in the past, the MNA will send out announcements to editors and publishers to let them know if their newspapers have been recognized by the BNC judges, but winners won’t be announced until the banquet. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the pubic health risks improve steadily between now and then, and we can enjoy a full program of activities, including golf, educational seminars, and the pleasure of each other’s company.
Statewide quarter-page display program off and running
Forty-five newspapers representing over 250,000 readers participated in the successful launch of the new MNAS statewide quarter-page display advertising program (SQD). The SQD program will provide advertisers with an opportunity to get broad, statewide reach with a larger display size at a very reasonable cost. Four ads have been sold so far during the initial 90-day trial period that ends June 30, and if the MNAS board continues with the program, we have takers for at least 10 additional spots during the rest of year. Those 14 SQD placements would represent $40,000 in gross sales, with more than $6,000 in dividend payments going to participating newspapers, over $16,000 in commissions for member sales, and $19,000 going to the association. The MNAS board is expected to vote on extending the SQD program at its June 11 meeting. (MNA)
Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force suggests that coordinated statewide communication utilize newspapers
MNA members and staff successfully influenced Gov. Steve Bullock’s Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force in April to get newspaper advertising mentioned in the Task Force’s final report and recommendations. The Task Force advised the governor on priorities for distributing $1.25 billion from the federal CARES Act for relief efforts in Montana, and it specifically highlighted newspaper advertising among its recommendations. The MNA has suggested a $5 million budget for a statewide newspaper advertising campaign aimed at public health and economic recovery, and the Task Force report gave us a solid foundation for several constructive follow-up conversations with senior state officials. The government has a clear interest in developing a coordinated statewide COVID-19 communication strategy, and newspapers are clearly the most essential local sources of news and information in Montana’s communities. The MNA will continue its efforts to persuade state officials to incorporate newspaper advertising into a comprehensive communication strategy and press them to move quickly to launch the campaign. (MT Gov)
Montana Fourth Estate Project relaunch of ambitious “Graying Pains” collaboration set for May 27
“Graying Pains,” the Montana Fourth Estate Project’s ambitious statewide newsroom collaboration, got sideswiped by the COVID-19 pandemic just as it was launching in early March. As the initial wave of COVID-19 and its attendant chaos ebb, the Fourth Estate Project will relaunch “Graying Pains,” giving the series a fresh start on May 27. Organized under the banner of the Montana Newspaper Foundation with the support of the Solutions Journalism Network, “Graying Pains” will take a comprehensive look at Montana’s aging population, publishing a collection of enterprising, in-depth articles over a period of several months. All the “Graying Pains” content created by the Montana Fourth Estate Project will be shared with all MNA members after a brief embargo period. (MTFP)
Missoulian series takes honorable mention in national contest
The Missoulian’s “Troubled Kids, Troubled System” series, which examined issues with private programs for troubled youth, was among the honorees announced in the national Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma. The announcement termed the Missoulian’s series “a hard-hitting investigation into residential schools for at-risk children across the state of Montana. Judges praised the “depth of reporting” and “incredible commitment on the part of a small newsroom to revisit a persistent problem concerning the on-going, unrelenting abuse of children despite claims that it had been addressed years earlier.” (Missoulian)
America’s Newspapers offers free marketing campaign to publishers
“Newspapers have your back,” reads a new marketing campaign being rolled out by America’s Newspapers. “We are grateful for those who have our back in this important time.” Newspapers can download this series of print and social media ads at no cost. The print ads include space for the name or logo of the newspaper publishing them. (America’s Newspapers)
States are suspending public records access due to COVID-19
Governors are taking emergency action in some states, ordering changes to public records compliance during the crisis. Other states and municipalities have made legislative changes to their laws. But government-transparency advocates argue that in a time of crisis, access to public records is even more important. (The Markup)
Americans support COVID-19 relief for local news
While Americans are not overly concerned about the effect of the downturn on local news in their area, they do support financial assistance for local news organizations as part of COVID-19 relief legislation. At a time when Americans are paying increased attention to local news and acknowledge its importance in providing information in a time of crisis, they are unlikely to indicate a willingness to personally pay for news if they are not currently doing so. They are also no more likely than a year ago to view local news as a public good that should be supported, even if it can’t sustain itself financially. (Knight Foundation)
Proposal for publisher bailouts will face likely opposition
An relief program suggested by Free Press Action, a media advocacy group, includes $1.5 billion in emergency grants to local news organizations, or about $50,000 for 30,000 newsroom workers, and a mix of tax credits and funding measures.. (MediaPost)
The complications of federal assistance for newsrooms
The last time Congress voted on coronavirus aid, lawmakers from both parties tried—to no avail—to expand PPP eligibility to include chain-owned local news outlets. Now they’re trying again. (CJR)
Google’s digital-ad dominance is harming marketers and publishers, research project says
Google’s dominance of the $130 billion digital advertising market is harming advertisers, publishers and consumers, according to a new paper that outlines how the U.S. could bring an antitrust case against the internet giant. (AdAge)
Havre Herald ceases publication
Herald Editor Paul Dragu writes: Shuttering our news operation is, at its core, a financial decision. There is very little to indicate this operation will become sustainable in the foreseeable future. So we’re going to rip the bandage off and move on, starting today. Idealism, a sense of purpose, lots of volunteer hours, opportune side gigs, and the backing of our wonderful supporters and advertisers got us this far. But then a pandemic hit, the world changed, and an upstart news organization’s uphill battle to sustainability became immensely steeper. We’ve made a difficult but, we believe, responsible decision. (Herald)
In this moment of multiple crises, we need strong local journalism
Whether they are national, regional or hyperlocal, big stories demonstrate how critical are local media, led by local newspapers, to ensuring vibrant communities. This is an irreplaceable, nationwide system of trusted news, information and community connection during and after times of crisis — the very foundation of our self-government democracy. (WaPo)
How local news can survive and thrive during the pandemic
In the best of times, local news publishers were challenged to shift their business models due to digital disruption and the growing online ad dominance of Google and Facebook. Now, in the worst of times during the COVID-19 pandemic, publishers must shift even harder to reach sustainability in the face of dwindling advertising revenues and an audience that is suffering economically even as they depend on vital, factual information more than ever. (Knight Foundation)