We’re looking for members of the community to join The Leader’s Reader Advisory Board. Members will be asked to meet once every other month to share ideas about ways this newspaper can better serve our readers, offer story ideas, give us critiques on coverage of stories, and tell us ways we can be more involved in this area of Houston. If interested, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve had this encounter: You’re at a gathering, and you meet someone new. Pleasantries are exchanged, little nuggets of information are shared. Then, after a moment of quiet awkwardness, you dig into your bag of conversation pieces and ask old faithful: “So what do you do for a living?”
The reason we ask that question is because we want to find some commonality with the other person, and in Houston, it’s not hard.
You’re always two degrees of separation from someone who supplies something to an oilfield.
Whether at an event with my wife, or on a golf course somewhere, I seem to get that question a lot these days. “What do you do for a living?”
“I publish community newspapers,” I answer. “But, but, but…”
It’s too late. If you’ve ever seen a young girl who lost her favorite doll, that’s about the same look I get from people when I tell them I work in the newspaper business. On the tips of their tongues, I have no doubt they want to immediately say, “I’m so sorry.”
As their faces turn to gloom, I interject with something positive: “But we’re in community newspapers, and things aren’t nearly as bad as they are for some of the bigger papers.”
It doesn’t matter how I try to spin the descriptors, these new-found acquaintances are always nice to change the subject.
For nearly six years now, I’ve written a weekly column to our readers, offering perspectives on everything from bad laws to bad parenting. Writing these columns is a lot like opening the doors to my home and letting anyone and everyone look inside. And like living in glass house, I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with our readers.
It’s in that sense that I’m writing today to tell you that the answer to that old, faithful question is getting harder and harder to answer. Newspapers – even ones like The Leader that focus on very specific neighborhoods – are getting harder and harder to publish.
The reasons are as many as you have time to hear, and obviously it started more than a decade ago when we bought our first versions of a smart phone, which allowed us to search for news whenever we felt the need.
In more recent years, and especially this year, for some reason, newspapers like The Leader have faced a head-wind like we’ve never seen before. Businesses in our community have all sorts of shiny, new toys to spread their marketing message. They load up a social media account, or spend a few dollars here and there on the internet, and they’ve done all the marketing they need.
Then, last month, we got the biggest whammy of them all. You’ve probably heard about the tariffs President Trump’s administration has threatened to levy on China. What you may not know is another tariff has been placed on paper that comes to the United States from Canada.
I’m not going to get into the politics of it, because we all get price increases in our businesses, and we have to figure out a way to make up for them. There’s word that this specific tariff may be lifted (both Democratic and Republican lawmakers see the trouble it has caused folks like us), but if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that words out of Washington, D.C., don’t mean much until something gets put on paper.
The result of this tariff is that our newsprint prices increased 19 percent at the beginning of May, and when you print more than 30,000 copies of a newspaper every week, you can imagine how costs like that add up quickly.
The purpose of today’s column isn’t to beg for sympathy. It certainly isn’t to hope things get better, because, as someone once told me, “Hope isn’t a very good strategy.” But I would like to ask for help.
You see, I believe this age of untrustworthy news gives organizations like The Leader a wonderful chance to be something special for a community as special as ours. Not once have you ever opened this newspaper and questioned the validity of anything we’ve written.
It’s hard to write “fake news” if you don’t cover national politics or get into the game of blaming political parties for national ills.
Instead, newspapers like The Leader are the last bastions for news that only cover our neighbors, our schools and our businesses. There’s something very real about those things in each of our lives, and no matter what you find on social media, there’s not a single group of local journalists better than the staff at The Leader.
I’ve worked in newspapers for 22 years, and I’m certainly not ready to hang it up yet. And that’s where I’d like to ask for your help.
One of things I’ve never done at The Leader is formed what our industry calls a “Reader Advisory Board.” What I’d love to find are 10-12 people in our community, from all walks of life, who care about having a strong source of community news and information, and I’d like to ask those people to meet with me every couple of months.
So many of our readers are moms or dads who don’t have time to do something like this, but maybe you know someone who does.
My request for finding a dozen interested readers doesn’t come with a punch list of requirements. There are no homework assignments, and you certainly don’t need to give us money. But if there are folks out there who would be interested in helping shape the direction of this community newspaper for the next decade, I’d be honored to have you join our Reader Advisory Board.
I’ve always believed newspapers belong to the people who read them. If you’d like to be part of a board that keeps our community informed, please email me at the address below.