Once a year it seems to happen, a Valley group gathers various media folk for a how-to on this industry.
More times than not, I count on seeing WKBN’s Gerry Ricciutti, sans the fedora, at the gatherings. And there we were again Friday for a huddle of the Mahoning/Shenango Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Other media friends joined us, but Gerry’s always fun in that he gives a good poke, and takes one as well, and it makes for fun gatherings.
Anyway, this gathering came at a unique time for our two industries, and my company specifically.
The Vindy has made news in the last couple of weeks with a plan to sell our vintage Vindicator building to our neighbors at the Youngstown Business Incubator. It’s a very logical business move for us in that we’re not the bulky business we once were. We’re less bulky by two measures:
Technology has made publishing a much less labor-intensive process. Computers produce pages, stories, advertisements and photos at a rate unfathomable to Vindicator presidents of the past. We have fewer bodies due to that, and thus, vacant floor space.
And competing advertising options have grown at a rate equally unfathomable. A business in the 1970s (and even into the 1980s) used to rely on one newspaper and three television stations and some radio options to promote itself. Now, that business has hundreds of ways to reach their customers. Traditional media — the old newspaper and the classic major TV stations — have a smaller share of the local advertising market due to these options, and thus, smaller operations.
If I had to guess the shift in local advertising dollars from traditional media to all these other options, all combined, I would say it easily gets into the high seven-figure range in the Valley.
The reality of that is: less local journalism, reporting and faces for us as citizens to know, share and promote.
The salt in this wound are the smart, digital-minded folks in the world who seem to gloat on the demise of traditional media. I don’t want to stereotype, but they tend to skew younger and hipper and enrich the world in bitcoins.
There’s often an attitude of “life is better as we blaze new paths past these media dinosaurs.”
It exists locally, too. You can’t go an hour on Twitter and Facebook without finding some undercutting of local media, and advising folks to just find the news on “this site” or “that page.”
To many who grew up in a world without good local journalism in their hands, Facebook and Twitter seem to fix everything.
So with a gathering of engaged fundraisers, I wanted to reverse the program and ask them a question.
Before I get to my question, note for a second what fundraising professionals do:
When you are at today’s Mahoning Valley Pizza Cook-Off or next month’s Memorable Meals event, that fun was conceived by a fundraising professional.
When you partake in some of the 300 or so charitable golf outings in the Valley — same person. When your kid earns a scholarship to a local college paid for by an organization — ditto.
Even the cool, trendy, techy TEDx Youngstown event that will become a cool new standard for our city has that kind of person.
You can spot them at any of the above events: They are usually the one not smiling when everyone else is. They likely just fixed something that went wrong or are learning of something about to go wrong.
They are panicking about a late speaker or if the rain will hold off. They worry that the CEO looks good, as well as the 5-year-old special-needs child. They make sure volunteers are in the right place and all guests are in the left place.
In short, they sweat for a year over something they hope generates our laughter and donations over four or so hours.
Valley fun and charity enjoyed by all walks of life — kids, boomers, twentysomethings and more — is often on the backs of about 150 or so talented organizers.
So my question to them was driven by the constant drumbeat from some that life will be fine when traditional media finally dies off like stagecoaches. After all, there’s Twitter and Facebook and websites and Pinterest and smartphones and ... all these sites where all of us can generate our news and publish to our friends.
Pointing to our row of six traditional-media folks, I asked the 40 or so professionals:
“Do any of your events succeed without us? With your own websites and social-media friends and followers and databases, can all the events you do achieve what they do regardless of traditional media?”
The answer was pretty overwhelming as best I could tell.
Social media survives on the backs of traditional media — the super social media.
But the future confronting our community based on the current investment trend is one with smaller, benign traditional media.
I like the trend in local food growing, buying and eating. It’s wholesome, healthy and homegrown.
I envision a day when we’ll realize the same about our local media.
Hopefully it’s while we still have guys rolling up on scenes in a fedora.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.