Optimism ahead for the Fourth Estate


It feels good.

I Optimism about our industry, that is.

It was in the air in Galveston last weekend at the Texas Press Association’s 140th Convention and Trade Show, which I attended with my wife. It’s always good to see fellow publishers and talk shop, while learning what we can adapt from other operations. But the past few years, it has seemed there was the feeling of dread. Our industry trends have not been positive.

Some publishers are older and maybe looking to sell their operations if their children are not interested. Those folks did not seem excited about the inevitable and tidal changes faced by our industry, largely the digitization of communication.

But this year, there were more people who are juiced about what’s going on. They are adapting to changes in many ways while still taking care of their customers who prefer traditional news delivery.

And we also had some things to celebrate. I serve on both the Legislative Advisory Committee and the board of the Texas Newspaper Foundation. Both have been energized by recent efforts that face up to our challenges.

The LAC committee flags bills it views as hostile to open government, supporting those that promote it and promising to fight against those that seek to let government operate in the dark.

The TPA staff read all 7,000 bills filed in the 86th legislative session. By the end of the term, the LAC finished with a 19-2 record, not including the many bad bills that never made it out of committee.

As a friend said, “with that average, they’d be paying big money for you in pro baseball.”

Those results give us hope, especially after the amount of misinformation and outright lies that have become a routine part of our media consumption.

I also am incredibly excited about our efforts to expand the mission and fundraising efforts of the Texas Newspaper Foundation. That organization is the nonprofit wing of the Texas Press Association, and it advocates for educational efforts for publishers and their journalists on staff. We raise funds to pay for training, whether it be a new reporter at a weekly paper learning how to use Photoshop or a seasoned journalist needing training on how to be a newsroom manager.

The free press stems from our desire for self-governance dating back to our country’s founding. The press isn’t always perfect, but it’s better than being spoon fed select and incomplete information from government leaders at any level.

Right now, there are 25 counties in Texas that have no newspaper of record. We call these “news deserts” and we hope to avoid having any more. In those places, no one is covering local governments, no one is commenting on important community issues.

One person quoted in a recent story about a town that had lost its newspaper (and its website) had a woman saying, “Our town doesn’t know who it is anymore.” That’s a sad comment.

While Facebook and social media can be fun, we have all learned those mediums arenot going to be there for us in any meaningful way.

Facebook will not advocate for us or our communities and it has no personal connection to those communities we care about and serve. It has abdicated its responsibilities of being a publisher of information, taking an immature, hands-off approach that lets lies flow freely through its platform.

Our industry is improving its digital efforts because we know people won’t wait for a weekly format newspaper to deliver important news.

Locally, we are updating our website and sending out a daily email newsletter to keep citizens informed.

But the foundation wants to expand its training efforts and get publishers at all sizes of operations to learn the latest and greatest tricks of the trade.

We are working with the Texas Center for Community Journalism and the University of Texas journalism program has expressed an interest in helping us train and promote, again from new journalists to those new to the publisher’s chair who may need help with reading financial documents.

TNF will be developing a new strategy and we look forward to reaching out and getting people to recognize that we take our mission seriously and want to do it as effectively as possible.

The Fourth Estate is going through a rough time, but people’s desire for truth and objectivity will eventually win out. It’s a job we take seriously and we are glad there is some shared optimism about what we do.

I can’t wait to see what good things await.