Today, I was supposed to be on a plane headed to Orlando for the annual gathering of the Association of Free Community Papers. 

I should have been sitting in an airplane seat, excited at the prospect of reuniting with the many other industry vendors who have become friends over the past year, about the prospect of introducing Modulist to other newspapers whom we could serve, and frankly just getting the opportunity to talk shop with other newspaper folks who love what they do.
“Supposed to be” and “should have” were the key words in those two previous paragraphs. … Words I’m sure have become familiar to everyone in the industry.
So, rather be on a plane headed to see good friends, enjoy exciting times and soak up some warmer weather, I am still at headquarters, working the phone and my keyboard and doing my best to stay in contact with an industry that we love, but has been devastated by the recent pandemic.
But the silver lining for me in all of this is that it reminds me from where I’ve come this past quarter century.
In the spring of 1996, I left Bemidji (Minn.) State University with my mass communications degree and one marketable skill: I could write. That’s it. … True story.
In fact, my then photography professor told me on the way out the door of my senior portfolio review that: “Brooks, it’s a damn good thing you can write, because you are terrible at radio, don’t have the face for TV and you suck at photography.” … Another true story. 
But the newspaper business was different then. And you could still easily find a job at a newspaper even with only one marketable skill. So that summer I went to work at The Pioneer in Bemidji, Minn., and 24 years later, almost to the day, here I am.
Today, most mornings you will find me on a video call with developers in Bulgaria who continue to build us a world-class portal that processes nearly all of our paid content verticals in a more efficient fashion and with a better consumer experience than any other product in the industry.
And throughout the day I find myself on the phone or in live video demos with newspaper publishers and/or owners of publications as diverse as online-only news sites in suburban Dallas, to a mom-and-pop-owned weekly in rural Pennsylvania, to the sales director for much larger publications.
Trust me, this is all some pretty heady stuff for a kid that walked out of a state university with a degree he earned because his college roommate begged him to take Mass Comm 101 with him.
My point in all of this of course is that all of us here left working in the industry did not get here without some really big adaptations and transformations, both personally and professionally.
Rather, we got here because we are an industry of really dedicated people, willing to sacrifice nights and weekends and family get-togethers to bring vital news to our communities.
We got here because we adapted through the 1990s as cheap competitors who gave nothing back to the community devoured our classifieds.
We got here because on Sept. 1, 2001, our nation turned to us to provide critical news about a once-in-a-generation terrorist attack that changed our way of life forever.
We got here because in the late 2000s, crusty, old newspaper curmudgeons such as myself learned the value of our websites during breaking news events that would forever change our communities.

 

We got here because our audiences told us that they wanted their news not just on their doorstep in the morning, but they wanted it on their computers and tablets and phones, and they wanted it now. And so we learned how to do just that.
In fact, we got so good at it that our audiences began to tell us that they preferred their news that way all of the time. … And so look where we are now.
Full confession: I miss the early days of my newspaper career. The nostalgia I feel for the people I worked with, the stories that we told and simply just seeing buildings full of people who all cared about the same thing -- tomorrow’s paper -- is so large that I can feel it in my chest. I loved the quirks and tiresome work of manually producing a newspaper. I’m sure that many of you did too, at least those of us old enough to remember those days!
But I also love what we do today. … I marvel at the work that our industry is doing to keep people informed during this pandemic. We are not missing a beat, and they are telling stories through text, video, graphics and other means that I could never have dreamed of as a reporter in 1996.
Yes, no doubt that there are fewer of us than before. But that doesn’t make the work any less critical to our communities. And by the online traffic numbers that newspapers are reporting, our communities are affirming how important that work is to them. And good for them. I pray they continue to realize this in the coming weeks and months!
In my quarter century of working in journalism, I have never once doubted the ability of my colleagues around me to rise to the occasion, to learn the new skills necessary to perform their vital missions, to adapt to the demands of our consumers and to ensure that our communities, states and even nation stay informed and educated. … Never once.
And I don’t even now, despite the mounting challenges to all of us.
I still very much believe in the industry more than I ever have before.
I believe in the perseverance, the dedication, the heart and the commitment of those of us still remaining to continue to do the work necessary to inform our communities.
And while we may be doing the vital work of our industry with different tools and with fewer people and on new platforms, I unequivocally believe that we will continue to rise, we will continue to depend on each other, and we will continue to publish the stories our communities need now more than ever.
I would bet money on it. … No, in fact, I’d bet my career on it, as I have for the past quarter century.

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