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If we take care of our members, the members will take care of us, director says

Mississippi Press Association builds on 166-year history

One of the first things that jumps out about the Mississippi Press Association (MPA) in Jackson is its longevity. A 166-year history for the association, which serves as the voice of its member newspapers all over Mississippi as well as a provider of a myriad of services, is an eye-catcher. Yet, a strong argument can be made that over the last 10 years or so, the MPA has added more services and value to its members and associate members (non-newspaper members) than any other period in its past.

“Our philosophy has always been that if we take care of our members, the members will take care of us,” said Carolyn Wilson, executive director of MPA. “We believe in what we do here, that it’s important. Every time I go out and meet with a member, I come back rejuvenated.”

MPA was established just one year after conclusion of the Civil War in 1866 in Jackson. It is the sixth-oldest press association in the U.S. In addition to governmental affairs, MPA also developed such services as educational programs, conferences and conventions, a legal hotline, a job bank for professionals seeking employment in print media, a lending library of training manuals, newspaper contests and awards programs, and even assistance with libel insurance, health insurance and collections.

In 1978, MPA established its affiliate organization — Mississippi Press Services (MPS). MPS offers advertisers multiple market newspaper advertising buys and handles all the details such as space reservation, insertion orders and payment processing. MPS also houses the Mississippi 2×2 Display Ad Network and the Mississippi Classified Network (MCAN), offering advertising opportunities for those businesses and groups which find larger display ads out of their price range.

All of these services are geared toward weekly and small daily papers which have limited resources. This is not surprising considering that about two-thirds of MPA’s 110 members fall into one of these two categories.

With that in mind, MPA is working to meet members’ future needs, especially in the area of computers. In the early 1990s, MPA purchased telephone modems, offered them to its members, and even installed them and provided training in their use. It also established a bulletin board service offering toll-free dial-up access for downloading advertisements, distributing press releases and a general conduit for information and electronic opportunities.

In January 1999, MPA closed the bulletin board and established the MPA Web site (www.mspress.org). The Web site offers not only information on the association, the job bank and other data, it also designed a page for each member giving the papers a Web presence which previously had none.

“We’re in the discussion phase of perhaps hosting sites for our members, serving as a kind of Internet service provider for our members,” Wilson said. “We’re also determined to help our members with other computer-related issues, such as electronic transmission of ads, something that some advertising agencies now insist on if you want to do business with them. So, we have upgraded our own computing capability, and hired someone to provide technical support and expertise.”

With these added services has come more work and, thus, more employees. When Wilson arrived at MPA in 1982 as office manager (she was named executive director in 1985), the MPA had only two employees. It now has 10 on its payroll and is in a definite growth mode.

Still looking to the future, MPA is heavily involved in educating future journalists. It uses proceeds from the for-profit MPS to fund internships and other assistance to prospective journalists, grants to college journalism departments, training through the state’s community/junior college system, student newspaper membership and contests and continued seminars, workshops and conferences.

“The association and Mississippi newspapers are doing very well today,” Wilson said. “We’re dedicated to helping our members stay on the cutting edge of technology, and to continue to be successful and profitable.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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