Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are Newspapers Becoming VCRs?

My dog and I have become paper trained. Call me old fashioned, but I still get the print version of the daily newspaper. Each day I engage in a trivial, but memorable tribal dance with the delivery person. Timing is everything in this archaic ritual, and simple nuances in the unseen interchange between us nag at me all morning like a food particle stuck between my molars. His/her job is to precisely toss the daily rag into a ten foot diameter invisible circle on my driveway at approximately the same time each morning. My job is to retrieve it in a sweeping motion that consumes exactly the amount of time it takes a Golden Retriever to relieve herself on the front lawn. If he fails to hit the mark I notice. If I fail to awaken at the appointed hour my dog notices and becomes an insistent telepathic alarm clock at my bedside.

Since I’m really not that fond of newspapers or reporters (along with lawyers, legislators, and radio talk show hosts) it has struck me as quite odd that when there is a disturbance in the force and my newspaper is not where it’s supposed to be I get inordinately upset. I stand there bewildered and unsettled in my gym shorts and T-shirt wondering why this 50¢ entitlement is not where it’s supposed to be! I call to complain and demand that the circulation staff makes it right.

When that happens, my dog also notices that the time-space continuum is out of balance and she decides to sniff around for a few extra minutes in a vain attempt to find my newspaper. All the while I am awkwardly hoping that my super-commuting neighbors don’t come out to witness what I might look like as a bedmate. I feel their eyes on me as the seconds tick by. How bad is my bed head hairdo? At least the newspaper provides me some cover and a credible excuse for standing half naked in my driveway at dawn. Sans newspaper, they probably can’t figure out if I’m coming or going.

This morning, I dutifully traipsed out to the driveway at sunrise, inwardly smiling with smug satisfaction that my trusty newspaper was “in the zone.” Game on.

So, with my morning coffee I'm reading in The Sacramento Bee about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buying the venerable Washington Post for $240 million. The Graham Family finally gave up the ownership ghost after 80 years in the business making Bezos a sole owner with no Board of Directors or stockholders. This follows by a week an announcement that the owner of the Boston Red Sox had purchased The Boston Globe for pennies on the dollar of what it was worth a decade ago.

Question: Are newspapers now becoming the retro playthings for the super-rich just like professional sports teams?

Answer: Probably not. Pro Sports is a multi-billion enterprise on the rise and newspapers can’t turn a profit in a collapsing industry. But maybe they make a kitschy hobby for the hipster one percent.

As I read on, it dawned on me that I already heard about everything related to the Bezos/Post affair from watching the nightly news and catching news items on Internet sources. This news story was so yesterday. Isn't it ironic that one of the people contributing to the 44% decline in Post revenue over the last five years now owns the paper he was putting out of business? That feels like a very hostile takeover to me. Amazon (Bezos) very effectively kindled the fire in people to get their news online (pun intended).

Question: How can the print media stay alive in an Era of Instantaneous Reporting by citizen journalists?

Answer: Maybe by being the master of the content and not a slave to the delivery system the press can keep its edge and relevance.

Seniors are about the only ones actually reading print newspapers anymore (remember now, 60 is the new 50).  They read the obituaries to see if they're in them.  The Pew Center reported two years ago that on any given day in America only about 34% of the adults actually read the daily newspaper. That means if you get hammered by the press, there’s a three-in-one chance nobody knows about it.

For older folks, cars on freeways seem to careen past them at break-neck speeds, so they often self-regulate traffic by locking into 65 MPH in the fast lane to gain a sense of control. It’s the geezer factor in commuting that drives us nuts. With respect to news consumption the same holds true. Seniors are trying to drive in a media market fast lane using a slow-paced device that cannot hit light speed. Newspapers don’t have the horse power to keep up with the Internet traffic. Newspapers are not even 1G in a 5G-Force world.

However, for communicators we are still in that transitional gray area where we cannot decide to drop print materials altogether in favor of e-communications. Old folks (and traditionalists like me) like to get our fingers smudged from the ink on what we read. We also turn out to vote at five times the rate of our offspring.

So if content is key, maybe Mr. Bezos can make good on his initial statement that The Washington Post will not change. It will still be a diligent sentinel for truth and accuracy in a sea of shameless hit-piece sensationalist “news reporting.” I hope that standard can stay intact when the pressure of the marketplace shakes confidence in his $240 million gamble.

Newspapers need to take a lesson from the VCR. We all had them 15 years ago. Now they are relics of a bygone era. They are unplugged gathering dust in the garage. Many of us still cling to libraries of the clunky oversized VHS tapes (mostly Disney classics for our grandkids). Soon those physical relics will become little used collectibles too. But Hollywood is still making movies and TV shows. They control the content and adapted nicely to each new generation of media that came along to show their stories (DVD, BluRay, streaming, Netflix, etc). Maybe newspapers should learn a lesson here. Be the reliable story teller. Be the trusted "wire service" for their community.

Newspapers can decide to stay as VCRs or they can become the reference point for the Internet conversations of the future by presenting an accurate, timely, credible, and objective accounting of the news. Don’t become perspective-driven tabloids to keep up with the Internet Joneses; they can’t win on speed and quantity, so win on quality. The newspaper business should be an honorable profession where getting it right matters more than getting it fast.

Maybe Jeff Bezos has the wherewithal and long range vision to transform the daily newspaper into something that people read with a sense of enthusiasm and dedication. My Golden Retriever sure hopes so because our daily ritual is important to both of us in so many ways.
© 2013 by Thomas K. DeLapp

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I am very proud and deeply honored to be recognized by my peers for my career in school communications. Some colleagues and friends have asked that I post the introduction of me by NSPRA President Joe Krumm and my acceptance speech. Enjoy!
National School Public Relations 2013 Seminar    July 8, 2013
First General Session of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego, CA    
Presentation of the President’s Award by NSPRA President Joe Krumm, APR

The NSPRA Presidents Award is the highest and most prestigious award our organization can bestow. It was established in 1979 to honor NSPRA members for outstanding professionalism and integrity throughout a career as a school public relations practitioner, and to recognize them for their contributions to the advancement of educational public relations and to our Association.

The people who receive this award are true professionals in every sense of the word. It is my privilege this morning to introduce someone who is not only a highly respected communication strategist and advisor, a wise and generous mentor, and a passionate advocate for public education, but also a great friend and colleague.

Tom DeLapp is president of his own company, Communication Resources for Schools in Rocklin, California. A  communication veteran with over 35 years of experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors, Tom is an active contributor to the body of knowledge that school communication professionals need in order to be successful practitioners of the craft.

Along with an extensive grasp of education issues and communication challenges at the national level, Tom has an impressive ability to “dial in” and focus on specific regions of the country, making him a sought-after strategic advisor and invaluable resource to NSPRA members from coast to coast. He has long been a “go to” expert when a district or NSPRA colleague has a crisis or difficult PR challenge, and is one of the first to pick up the phone and offer assistance, no matter the situation. Whether it is contentious labor negotiations, sticky personnel actions, natural disasters, school shootings and campus crime situations, attendance boundary disputes, environmental issues, bond elections, reputation management, or just your everyday solid communication planning, Tom is the one you want on your speed-dial.

As one colleague describes him, “Tom is the go-to guy when big school districts need big help getting out of big league trouble!”

Tom is adamant that every school district and educational agency needs a strategic communications professional on staff and he is dedicated to convincing school leaders of that need. This is evident in how successful he has been in influencing countless superintendents to create school PR positions, even if it meant he would lose them as a client. And once a new position is created, Tom is there to mentor and support that colleague so that their success is ensured; and I know there are a few of you here today who are a testament to his efforts.

In 2001, Tom and NSPRA Past President Bob Noyed took the seed of an idea and grew it into the NSPRA New Professionals Program, which has since helped close to 150 members find their “PR legs” and build successful careers on a sound foundation of theory and practice.

Tom received the Barry Gaskins Mentor Legacy Award in 2006, and served on the NSPRA Executive Board as Southwest Region Vice President from 1998-2001. He continues to serve NSPRA and our members, as a counselor-on-call, providing workshops and presentations, and wherever else he is needed.

An eternal optimist, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no.” He is now working to help cultivate and “grow” education foundations in California and currently serves as a vice president on the Board of Directors of the California Consortium of Education Foundations, helping them to focus on strategic planning, programs and fund development.

Throughout the course of an impressive career, Tom DeLapp has distinguished himself as a tireless professional and champion for public schools and children. He generously shares his time and expertise and continues to make a positive difference for education, our profession, and NSPRA.

Will you all please join me in recognizing our 2013 Presidents Award recipient, Tom DeLapp!

“Leaving a Legacy of Leadership”
Acceptance Speech by Tom DeLapp, Recipient of the 2013 President’s Award
At the National School Public Relations Association Seminar in San Diego, July 8, 2013
Thank you so very much Joe.
This is a one of those moments in life --- a hallmark --- that will forever be etched in my memory, so excuse me if I savor it for a moment. This is awesome!
This ranks right up there with the first glimpse of my high school sweetheart as she walked down the aisle toward me in her wedding dress 41 years ago. She turned my knees weak then and she still takes my breath away today. She holds the marker for a debt of gratitude I can never repay for her years of tolerating my ridiculously optimistic attitude, my crazy desire to work on the professional high wire without a safety net, and for getting me to the airport on time despite my best efforts to cram last minute details under a deadline before I took off. She’s probably thinking right now, “Shut it down Tom, you only have 10 minutes.” Ladies and gentlemen; my wife Jan.
Anyone who has sat through one of my workshops knows all too well how much I talk about our kids. This award ranks up there with the sheer enormity of the moment when they were first born and I held them in my arms and thought, "How the hell am I going to pay for this?”
We’ve succeeded in raising two pretty remarkable children --- a philosopher and a drama queen.  Don’t laugh; they both have tenure track jobs! Our college philosophy professor Kevin (or as we call him Doctor Smarty Pants) is here with us.  His sister Kathryn is here in spirit only because she’s starting her first day on the job as a theater teacher in the New York City public schools.
Let me also recognize Jan’s sister Audrey Patterson and my brother-in-law Mike who have taught me that family members can also be best friends. I am enriched by your friendship and honored by your presence here today.
And a special thanks to Rich Bagin and Karen Kleinz from the NSPRA staff who for over 20 years have believed in me and helped make me a better communicator.
I guess in speeches like this I’m supposed to give you some sage advice from a battle hardened veteran; encouraging words of wisdom like:
·        As I’ve grown older I’ve learned that pleasing everyone is impossible, but pissing everybody off is a piece of cake, or
·        Dance first, think later --- Dance like nobody is watching --- Don’t look down when you dance because it really won’t help much --- Just Dance (and I plan to later tonight), or
·        Keep this in mind, everybody is somebody else’s weirdo, or more seriously:
·        The quality of your character is as important as the caliber of your work.
No one succeeds in our profession alone. We try with a little help from our friends. We get by with a little help from our friends. And we annually get high with a little help from our friends. This morning is certainly a tremendous high point for me as a professional.
Let me also offer my salute to the countless volunteer NSPRA members who rushed in to aid the Moore Public Schools in the aftermath of the devastating F5 tornado that tore apart their community, schools and lives. You are heroic as true first responders who ran toward the danger and assumed great risks. People like Kelly Arnold who devoted hours and hours on the front lines in Moore only to have her own district offices ravaged by the second F5 tornado a week later. Remarkable resilience and courage demonstrated by her and her colleagues. This was a teachable moment about the power and significance of the NSPRA network to answer the call in times of great need.
I am humbled to be recognized by my peers for this prestigious honor. The list of names that have received this award is truly impressive. It includes some of the legends in our industry. I consider them my role models and my friends. I’ve been blessed, through NSPRA, to be surrounded by a cadre of some pretty remarkable people --- a whole line-up of unusual suspects that have always been there for me. There are far too many to mention all by name, but I would like to single out my home state chapter, CalSPRA, and especially Trinette Marquis Hobbs for placing my name in nomination. I would also like to thank Jim Dunn, Bob Noyed, Chris Tennill and Rick Kaufman for your kind words of support. And for the countless others, your fingerprints are all over my career. Through the years, I have tried to be there for you as well. That’s the NSPRA way. I have a reputation for never saying “no” and that’s a habit I intend to keep.
After I got the call from Joe saying I was joining this illustrious company I was also struck by two simple facts:
1.       I must be getting old. Too many gray hairs, wrinkles and scars create the benchmarks of my 40-year career in communications. I started practicing public affairs communications before many of you were born.
2.      Many of you here this morning do not know these giants except as names in a program or on a plaque. You may not even be aware that their footprints in our profession form the pathways to success in your careers.
You bright rising stars might know more than we do, but we still know some things that you haven’t learned. That reminds me of the story of the two young fish swimming in the lake. As they were darting around with enthusiasm an old fish calmly swam by and asked, “How’s the water boys?” The two fingerlings just nodded and smiled at the old cod. When the old fish was out of sight one youngster turned to the other and said, “What the hell is water?”
I believe in you. I am honored to have mentored some of you. My goal is to have every school district in America recognize, employ, and value at a high level the school communicator position. We need more of you, a lot more! You are an amazing generation of communicators with an arsenal of communication tools at your disposal.  As you harness that capability, I would encourage you to:
·        Worry more about what you communicate than about how you communicate it
·        Be as concerned with high touch as much as high tech so that we build enduring relationships of support for public education
·        Embrace the challenge of being the new thought leaders of NSPRA who are unafraid to speak the truth, debunk the myths, and challenge the loud angry voices that so want to dominate the debate about the future of America’s children and the public schools that serve them.
In my career I have tried to be an unwavering advocate for children who in our society are often the most vulnerable because they don’t have a voice and don’t have a vote. We can be that voice. I am also a passionate believer in public education as the vehicle for a brighter future for all children. We can tell that story. And I believe we are the messengers who can best mobilize a nation to make education its highest priority.
And I guess that brings me to the main point I want to leave you with this morning.
Live your professional life as a Lasting Legacy
Set down an imprint that endures by the impact of your work. Out there are future Presidents Award recipients. Will it be you?
What you do matters more than you know, and it matters now more than ever.
They say that children are our future. I disagree. We are their future by the decisions we make and the actions we take every day. Now is the time for action. Now is our moment of truth. Now we need to shape the conversation about the future of public education. It isn’t enough to simply inform people; we must convert them to advocacy.
They say you can tell a lot about what someone stands for by who they stand next to. I am proud to stand next to you. Together, through NSPRA, it is our time to stand up for children, stand up for public schools, and stand up for each other.
Thank you