The recession is impacting many industries, but none more than newspapers. Fortunately, Layne Bruce is executive director of the Mississippi Press Association (MPA). Bruce was born with “ink in his blood,” and has enjoyed a long career in the industry. The Mississippi Business Journal recently caught up with Bruce and asked him how the state’s newspapers are faring, what the MPA is doing to help and other issues.
Q — The economy is taking its toll on the state’s newspapers. What is the MPA doing to try and help?
A — Our core membership remains quite strong and is weathering these difficult economic times. The challenges we face are not significantly different from what others are facing in this recession.
MPA operates a for-profit subsidiary – Mississippi Press Services – the mission of which is to act as an advertising representative to member newspapers and promote them as a medium of first choice for existing and potential. Through our network of sister associations across the country, MPA is able to place advertising papers on behalf of clients in any Mississippi newspaper or any other paper from coast to coast. This is all done at no charge to the advertising client.
Additionally, the association regularly hosts seminars and programs that address the changes in our industry. We believe the continued education of our membership is the most critical tool we can lend as they adapt to a changing media landscape.
Q — How is the digital age helping/hurting this industry
A — It is leveling the playing field for those who are embracing it. Newspapers are adapting with webcasts and online ad sales, plunging into territory once reserved for broadcasters.
Q — What can newspaper staffs in Mississippi do to stay viable in the slumping economy?
A — On the news side, they must continue to be trusted information providers for readers, offering them useful content not found in other media. They must also continue to pay close attention to clients as we all work our way through to a healthier economy.
Q — Explain a little about the history of MPA.
A — MPA was founded in 1866 and is the sixth oldest association of its kind in the United States. In 1978, MPS was created to serve as a marketing agency for newspapers. Five years later, our membership formed the MPA Education Foundation, which exists to provide internships and scholarships for in-state journalism students. MPAEF also awards annual grants to universities and colleges for journalism programs and instructions at in-state institutions.
Q — Who are your role models/heroes in the newspaper industry, nationally or locally.
A — Foremost, my father, Roy “Spanky” Bruce. He was a 25-year newspaperman who was publisher and editor of the Daily Times Leader in West Point. Whatever I have learned about fairness, objectivity and the importance of community newspapers, I learned from him. I also greatly admire newspapermen like W.C. Shoemaker in Kosciusko and the late Gale Denley of Bruce and the late Henry Harris of West Point for their leadership and the examples they set in their respective communities. There are scores of other men and women I have been fortunate to know through the Association family for whom I hold much respect and admiration.
Q — Is it more fun to be a publisher or editor of a newspaper or to be in charge of the Mississippi Press Association?
A — There is nothing quite like being the editor of a newspaper. Most days, it is a truly rewarding job, although it is also frequently thankless. As executive director of the Press Association, I have come to appreciate my relationship with a great family of members and sharing good times even during difficult periods. But I don’t miss one bit the phone call on Sunday morning that someone’s newspaper wasn’t delivered.
Q — What does social media mean for the newspaper industry?
A — It’s another avenue for developing an even closer relationship with readers. It is still brand new to many of our members, but I am also surprised how some small newspapers in the state have fully embraced it, offering news alerts and an opportunity for interaction to a connected circle of readers through sites such as Facebook.
Q — Your family has a rich history in journalism. Compare your family’s history in the newspaper business to what the future holds for Mississippi newspapers?
A — I think the biggest change if we were looking from the point when I started in the business in 1988 to present day is that the deadline is no longer “fixed.” It’s a constantly moving target due to technological innovation. My dad would be amazed. I am, for that matter.
Q — Do you think Mississippi newspapers in general, and community newspapers specifically, are built better for the long haul in this industry?
A — I do. But I also firmly believe smaller papers – whether they are daily or weekly in frequency – cannot simply expect to remain unchanged. Newspapers must carefully consider their roles as sources of information and what readers will expect not just in the next edition but years down the road.
Newspapers will have to become more enterprising in the future and offer content readers aren’t finding from other sources. Simply reporting the headlines from yesterday or the last seven days isn’t going to sell newspapers in the future.
Q — How did MPA-supported bills, if any, fare during the past legislative session?
A — The most recent legislation we successfully championed was in the 2008 session and it dealt with clarifying police incident reports as open records. I cannot tell you how much of an issue this has been in some communities across the state. Having the law clarified while working with the law enforcement agencies in the state to do so was a tremendous strengthening of our sunshine laws in Mississippi.
This past session we began working toward having emergency 911 audio recordings declared to open to the public. We are in the initial stages of this process, but it will be an important issue for us in the 2010 session.
— Interviewed by Leslie Galloway
Layne Bruce, Mississippi Press Association
Hometown: West Point
Hobbies/Interests: President-elect, Mississippi Society of Association Executives; Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary International; United Way
Current Position: Executive Director, Mississippi Press Association