Monday, October 07, 2019

After tariff win, NNA fixes finances but needs members; outgoing chief calls for look at newspaper business models

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

MILWAUKEE – The National Newspaper Association, which represents more U.S. newspapers than any other group, and is the main lobby for rural and community papers, has turned around its finances despite a net loss of members in the last fiscal year.

NNA will resume monthly printing of its newspaper, Publisher's Auxilary, in January, and resume its annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., expanding it to include "bureaucracies," incoming President Matt Adelman of Wyoming's Douglas Budget announced to applause at the closing session of the group's convention in Milwaukee on Saturday: "We at NNA have stepped back from a financial cliff."

NNA scored a big victory last summer at one of those bureaucracies, the International Trade Commission, which overturned new tariffs on Canadian newsprint that supplies most of the U.S. market, levies that threatened many community newspapers with closure, outgoing NNA President Andrew Johnson of Wisconsin's Dodge County Pionier said before handing over the gavel.

Johnson said he got angry with pro-tariff arguments at the commission's hearing, where a friendly expert gave NNA a 30 percent chance of winning and its chief lawyer said Johnson's testimony was crucial. He said he told the commission, "This is not just a few cents," contrary to what "Wall Street lawyers" on the other side argued. "This is five dollars and 50 cents a page. This is going to take us out."

"Now our battles are different: our business models," Johnson said. "We can survive; we can thrive."

Adelman said NNA will create a new dues and membership structure to attract more participation. "We need members," he said. "When we go to D.C., we have to be able to say we have numbers. . . . It is critically important."

The latest monthly issue of "Pub Aux" (which has been printed quarterly this year) reports, "During the last fiscal year, NNA lost a net of 635 members," mainly because of the loss of 455 memberships from GateHouse Media, the largest owner of U.S. newspapers. "As of June 30, there were 1,806 members, as compared to 2,329 last year. We added 141 members this year."

A membership loss in the 2017-18 fiscal year led to an operating loss of $166,366. Treasurer Mike Fishman of the Citizen Tribune in Morristown, Tennessee, said NNA had an overall profit of $5,230 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, thanks to "a lot of hard work by NNA board and staff." He said the association retains about $380,000 in investments.

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