By: Don Heinzman
It’s interesting that” Power of the Press” is the theme of National Newspaper Week because I contend many weekly community newspaper editors either do not recognize the power or are reluctant to use it.
I’ve been on both sides of the use of this power, as an editor and as a public relations adviser.
I recall a high school principal who agonized over a story about a drug raid of his school published on page 1 of a major metropolitan daily. I advised him to hope that next day the story will disappear from the pages of that newspaper.
Sure enough, the next day it was gone, and in ensuing days there was no follow-up, not even a letter to the editor. In that case and probably for good reason, the editor had decided not to use the power of the press, which is a planned constant stream of opinions, stories and letters to accomplish a common objective.
I recall working for a major corporation that called a summit meeting the day the newspaper editorialized on the dangers of putting too much salt on the highways. Once again, there was no follow-up and the corporate brass breathed a sigh of relief.
Why don’t more newspapers use the power of the written and digital word?
Perhaps it’s because they’ve never experienced it.
Let me give you a personal example. We had a dangerous highway that needed to be widened and after some editorial arm twisting, leaders in the town organized and decided to get the highway widened, when it wasn’t even on the Department of Transportation’s radar.
Our newspaper staff decided use this power by putting a report of every accident, particularly fatalities, on page 1 with photos. Next on the opinion page, we urged people to get involved and write their legislators.
Our mayor wrote a guest opinion on the horror he felt when he saw a dead body lying on that highway. We published every letter on the subject.
We invited the governor to look at one of the most dangerous intersections in the state. He finally viewed this highway from a Helicopter, and the upshot was that widening that highway was pushed up four years in the process.
Community leaders commended the role of the paper in this campaign – the power of the press.
It’s up to the editor to use this power, after careful research. Don Smith, one of the best community editors I’ve ever known, involved his staff in an annual planning meeting where they planned an editorial agenda. The process included planning the coverage with appropriate check points to be sure it was carried out. At every weekly staff meeting, how that editorial campaign was progressing was on the agenda.
If that’s too difficult, editors should meet with their staff to determine just one campaign to make the community better. It could be the need to correct a dangerous intersection, the need for a park in a growing subdivision, the need to secure the school buildings, the need for a YMCA.
Editors can team up with the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary and Lions clubs to use the power of the local press to help them achieve their top objectives to better the community.
There will be some stumbling blocks and criticism from opponents, but I guarantee you, most people will admire this use of the local Power of the Press and editors and their staffs will feel good about using it to make the community a better and safer place to live.
Don Heinzman is a weekly community newspaper consultant and is the author of a manual on how to manage a weekly newspaper. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.