Sharing (and Caring) in Iowa
Aug. 8, 2020
This week we're going to hand over the keys to the Alliance newsletter to one of our esteemed NewStart fellows -- Tony Baranowski, who is the Director of Local Media for Times Citizen Communications in Iowa Falls, a small but diverse multimedia company in the north central part of the Hawkeye State.
Tony manages all aspects of operations for the Iowa Falls Times Citizen (which is a 3,000-circulation twice weekly) another weekly called the Ackley World Journal, a shopper, the in-house radio station called KIFG, and a press release distribution service that works with clients nationwide, The Link.
He recently told me about this interesting collaboration he developed with other newspaper operators across the state, and it's an idea that others should know about and emulate.
So Alliance, meet Tony.
Tony, take it away...
When I started the NewStart program a little more than a month ago, in the thick of a global pandemic, trying to help lead from within my own media organization, working from home most days with twin 9-year-olds to care for, it felt a little insane.
But it was also a huge relief.
Yes, adding hours of readings and weekly assignments to my schedule has been a challenge. But I was also adding a cohort of smart, thoughtful and understanding people to my circle who I knew would help as we all traverse our way through this insanity together. I knew because it was the second time I had sought out such a group in recent months.
Back in March, before COVID had really ripped into Iowa, at Times Citizen Communications, we were still recovering from another kind of virus. We’d been hit by a ransomware attack the previous summer and were just beginning to get back to business as usual after massive hardware, software and policy overhauls. We have an incredible leadership team and great journalistic staff, but it felt prudent to reach out to other publishers in the state to compare notes on our plans.
I reached out to four similar sized operations -- four of the smartest folks I know in Iowa newspapering and people I’ve leaned on as mentors for years; Jeff and Myrna Wagner of Iowa Information, Alan and Steve Mores of Harlan Newspapers, Mary Ungs-Sogaard of Woodward Communications, and Doug Burns of Herald Publishing. Word spread, we added other publishers and editors from around the state, as well as Susan Patterson Plank, Executive Director of the Iowa Newspaper Association.
What developed was a weekly/bi-weekly Zoom session in which we hash over strategies to deal with the inevitable revenue shortfalls of the pandemic, share links to grant opportunities, flesh out ideas for ways to better serve our communities and customers, talk about office distancing and masking policies and, sometimes, we just vent or laugh together.
“Jeff and I have appreciated our weekly Zoom meetings as something of a support group during these unusual times. No other business in our trade area can relate to the challenges of this industry in the same way that our peers from across the state can,” Myrna Wager said. “Our business locations are distant enough that we aren’t competitors, so we’ve been able to share revenue ideas, news stories, sensitive topics and work-from-home strategies. I believe there are positives to be found in every tough situation, and during this COVID-19 crisis, our Zoom meetings hover near the top of the list.”
It’s been cathartic, to be sure, but the topics we’ve discussed have both saved us money and generated thousands in revenue as we shared ideas, at least one of which was previously featured here in the NewStart newsletter. Likewise, Patterson Plank has latched onto discussion topics to share with the larger network of Iowa publishers via the INA’s Bulletin.
“The sessions are part therapy, part brainstorming and part networking,” said Patterson Plank. “Most people in upper management in the publishing business are in many ways a singular person in their community. They are engaged with local business movers and shakers and the community at large. These meetings frankly provide a safe space, a no judgement zone. It’s a reminder that no one is alone and sometimes you get a good idea on how to generate revenue. Either way it’s an hour well spent.”
We’ve all missed out on opportunities to gather in person, including the inspiration often produced by conventions and conferences. While some of those larger gatherings have found ways to resume virtually, most community publishers have rightly focused on how to keep their staff both safe and productive.
Sometimes, though, the benefit of a coffee (or beer!) with a small group of allies pays the bigger dividends.
Thanks to Tony for taking time out of his super-busy schedule to share some knowledge with us. He's doing great things in Iowa.
If you would like to be like Tony, you may want to consider becoming a media entrepreneur via our NewStart program and taking over a rural publication somewhere in the country. Email me at [email protected] and we can set up a phone call or Zoom meeting and chat.
And here's something to consider: If you're an owner or publisher who is grooming someone in your newsroom to eventually take over, why not consider enrolling them in our one-year, online master's degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from West Virginia University? It would make a worthwhile investment in your publication's future.