'We can do this,' local newspapers tell Health and Human Services

Tonda Rush

Apr 13, 2021

More than 2,500 local newspapers today joined a letter from National Newspaper Association to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra asking to join the agency’s public education campaign to promote the COVID-19 vaccines.

The “We Can Do This” campaign was announced by HHS on April 1 as part of the Biden Administration’s quest to encourage vaccinations across America. A $10 billion outreach rollout includes TV advertising and Facebook profiles to reach communities that may be hesitant about the vaccine.

But no announcement about including local newspapers as part of the $10 billion campaign was included in the agency’s announcement. Local newspapers report that they are still waiting to participate in the advertising campaign and education outreach.

“It was just last December when Congress strongly urged HHS to do a better job of directing federal ad dollars to local media," NNA Chair Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, Cordell, Oklahoma, said.

“Now as the nation’s newspapers and the communities they serve are struggling to emerge from the pandemic economy, we are concerned that we have been overlooked," he said. "Instead, the agency so far seems more interested in investing in the large social media platforms that have played such an unfortunate role in spreading misinformation about the vaccine. We use those platforms ourselves in addition to our own print and digital publications but when we do, it is with information vetted by local journalists and our own advertising departments. This is the brand that makes us such a critical element in this campaign. People know us. They see us on the street. They have been relying on the local newspaper all year to help them understand the pandemic. We are far more trusted than remote and sometimes obscure voices in the digital spectrum."

“We want to help," Wesner said. "Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of our credibility in a moment of such urgency and national concern?”

Wesner said many local newspapers have already been working with their public health departments on reader education and vaccination advertising campaigns.

He said NNA and its partner organizations look forward to the opportunity to help HHS to make the “We Can Do This” campaign a success.

The newspaper industry letter is here.