Layne Bruce, the new executive director of the Mississippi Press Association (MPA), understands the lives of his members because he’s walked the walk and talked the talk.
The 34-year old comes from a newspaper family and has been a reporter and editor at several state newspapers, including the Daily Times Leader in West Point, the Starkville Daily News, The Star-Herald in Kosciusko, and the DeSoto Tribune in Olive Branch. In 2006 he joined MPA as marketing director. He attended his first MPA convention as a child and has loved the association ever since.
“In many ways, the members are extended family and I count many of them as personal friends,” he says. “I also believe in newspapers and their future and working with MPA gives me a way to work on their behalf.”
Bruce has heard the doom and gloom predicted for newspapers but says it’s not true, especially in the small towns of Mississippi, which is most of the state.
“Newspapers provide lots of services in those towns, and I want to help spread that word. It’s a good opportunity for me,” he said. “I have learned the importance of the newspaper to the community it serves, and I developed a passion for the business.”
The majority of the state’s newspapers are privately owned, which allows a lot of autonomy. “We have a tradition of privately owned newspapers here. We’re very fortunate in that,” he said. “That’s not to say corporate owned newspapers are not important to us too; they are.”
Bruce sees an exciting future for newspapers in Mississippi, and finds the mood positive among members. “Technological advances can either be terrifying or exhilarating,” he said. “The Press Association has to play a role in making those changes manageable for members. We think the nature of how we provide news and interact with customers will continue to change, but the importance of what we do for our communities will not.
“Whether it’s printed on the page or transmitted via computer, local newspapers are still the single-most important source of information for any community.”
A recent survey reveals that 60% of members have online Web sites with the majority providing up-to-date news. That compares favorably to other states. The study also shows that 58% of newspaper readers have access to home computers and 48% have access to newspapers on the Internet.
The MPA found greater computer use than expected. Bruce says the Internet poses the greatest opportunity and biggest risk. “Newspapers who actively engage readers online with content and customer service are paving their way to retain those readers in the future,” he said. “But, ignoring the Internet is also ignoring the biggest story of the last 50 years. It’s changing the way business is conducted and impacts even the most ordinary tasks of our daily lives.”
The new director feels the association has an obligation to help members prepare and facilitate this technological advance. “We’re trying to stay on top of things so we can help them and be forward thinking,” he said. “Our members are tied up in the day-to-day and week-to-week business of publishing their papers. We have to think about online business models and new sources of revenue.”
At the same time, we have to redouble our efforts at promoting the relevance of the Fourth Estate to the lives of citizens. We champion transparency and accountability in government and that mission won’t change.”
Another major goal of the association and its Education Foundation is to help cultivate the next generation of journalists. “We are concerned that not enough young people are going into journalism, and that’s very important,” Bruce said. “The world is complex, and the newspaper business may not be as enticing or cutting edge as some other things.”
Print still strong, viable
Although the Internet is a new challenge, newspapers have faced other challenges in the past — radio and television.
“We must acknowledge it, but I’ll be clear: print editions are not going anywhere,” he said. “In the vast majority of communities, print editions provide information people will not or cannot find anywhere else — not just news stories of local significance but little league scores, school honor rolls and birth announcements too.”<p.
The annual Mississippi Press Association summer convention will be held June 21-23 at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi. The program lineup includes debates by the gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates, a presentation from the American Press Institute on its Newspaper Next research program and an update on changes in technology by tech guru Kevin Flint. Additional details are online at www.mspress.org.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.