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Chamber makes misstep in serving valley business

By Todd Franko (Contact)


Published March 22, 2008

There’s a shiny new magazine called “Valley” that is a publication of our Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

The new product is actually a reformatting of the chamber’s “Valley Business” magazine that was circulated to members for several years.

The debut issue last month strikes all the right Mahoning Valley notes: Kelly Pavlik is on the cover, stories on donor extraordinaire Tony Lariccia and First Place Bank are inside, as are photos from various valley parties.

It also contains plenty of local advertising, with approximately 25 local businesses spending local money to publicize their wares.

It’s a product that would give much heartache to media competitors such as us or others that do business in the valley.

But the slap of new competition, in this situation, grows to a smack of disgust and disillusion.

The chamber partnered with a Cleveland publishing company which employs Cleveland-based production folks to produce a product about valley businesses. Many of the writers hired to write the stories on our local companies and leaders are writers who would not likely know Mahoning Avenue from Mahoning Township, Pa. At least one writer lives near Toledo. Many others are Cleveland-based.

The money those writers and editors earned will not be spent at the businesses that helped fund their work.

The chamber’s aim is to serve and bolster the valley and valley businesses. That is the reason it exists.

Here’s its “About Us” statement on its web site: The Youngstown/Warren, Ohio Regional Chamber is a private, not-for-profit business membership association. It is an action organization designed to meet business and community needs. Whether it's through business development and networking opportunities, access to up-to-date economic and market data, or free advertising opportunities, member companies capitalize on contacts and resources provided by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Us and other valley media companies are part of the Chamber’s 2,600 members, and seemingly that above value statement.

I talked with Tom Humphries, chamber president, about the situation. I was glad to hear that he doesn’t hate us, or the other valley media businesses he serves.  

And I believe him when he says that years ago, when he was looking to expand his reach to his membership, he didn’t find any local takers in creating a better communications vehicle.  

Newspapers employ different rules through the years. Newspapers are attempting to employ different rules now — here and across our industry.

We have to. It seems everybody is a publisher these days. In addition to the chamber’s effort, one local business group floated an ad-based web site of business news and info; a video company is pushing its own TV show with ads; and a nonprofit wants to publish its own community newspaper.

One message in all of this is that the existing media, us included, need to measure how we’re serving the local market. If these groups feel the need to generate new products, then one message is that the current offerings are lacking in some way.

We are re-examining our role. It’s not a quick process. But it’s a process.

The rules in media are changing. It’s creating new roles for groups like us. It’s also creating new competitors as shown above.

But the one rule that I’m confident to know and proud to share is that no media does the hard, detailed, dirty work like a daily newspaper.

The chamber’s magazine is unlikely to report on the college degree flaps of Carmen Conglose or David Aey. A new nonprofit newspaper is unlikely to report on volunteers misspending nonprofit dollars. And a new business web site is unlikely to detail the back and forth of a new Wal-Mart proposal.

But all of these sites will pull in advertising dollars and put those dollars into places that won’t serve the role that a daily newspaper serves.

Why should you care?  

When a newspaper’s service is diminished, a community suffers; a sense of identity is lost.

This is generally our burden to bear. I’m not looking for a Vindicator or Todd Franko pity party.

We battle this against national radio companies, other newspapers, direct mailing outfits, free weekly coupon clippers, etc. — any outfit looking to grab advertising dollars.

It just stings a bit more when an organization designed to make valley business succeed adds to the challenge of valley businesses surviving.


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