Your newspaper and your schools: Your absence is someone else’s opportunity

Jay Dickerson

Aug 1, 2022

Dickerson

What’s your relationship with the schools your paper covers? Could it use a check-up?

A couple of years ago, we got a wake-up call. The new athletic director informed us that our paper didn’t need to publish a sports program anymore; they would handle it.

What.

Over the next several days, we addressed the athletic director, reviewed our relationship with the school and ended up with an arrangement that still works today.

THE SPORTS PROGRAMS

Our paper publishes two sports programs each year, in August (with a focus on football and volleyball) and in early December (with a focus on basketball). We weren’t as concerned with a spring publication, as softball and baseball games are often canceled due to weather. (We live in the upper midwest, after all.)
In 2000, we worked out an arrangement with the then-athletic director. Ten percent of our income from the programs would go back to the athletic booster club. This arrangement worked for years. We had photographers at every home game anyway, which meant we had presence. We built a strong photo library for the district; parents would order photo reprints, while school yearbook advisors would call us at the last minute, needing pictures to fill their pages.

This arrangement worked well for 17 years. We never got the arrangement in writing, as the next two athletic directors simply understood: publishing the school’s sports program was not something they needed to concern themselves with.

Then the school got a new athletic director.

In 2017, our paper received a letter from the new AD, instructing us to submit a bid for publishing the program.

What.

I had a quick conversation with a couple members of the athletic booster board. They shared that a company from a little more than an hour away was offering the school district a larger cut of program. Every single booster board member was against sending the program to an outside company that had no links to the community; this was all being driven by the new AD.

OUR RESPONSE

I attended the next athletic booster club meeting, and informed them our bid would remain the same: 10%. I also let them know that our newspaper is invested in the community. We donate to:

  • the school’s trivia night
  • the annual golf outing
  • football fundraiser events
  • the drama club
  • the yearbook
  • the After Prom activity
  • the music boosters

I also reminded them of the middle school subscription drive, where we’ve consistently donated at least $1,400 a year for the past few years. Our newspaper constantly gives back to the schools. In all, it was more than $2,400 in 2016.

While I saw quite a few heads nodding in agreement, the AD had the lone verbal response. “Are you threatening to stop donating to the school if we go with another company?”

The AD’s words shocked a couple of the booster members, many who’d known me for 15 years at that point. “No,” I said. “That’s not how we do business. I’m telling you this to show you how invested we are in this community, and how committed our paper is to the schools.”

At that point, the athletic boosters had enough. The board voted not to pursue any outside bids. In fact, the booster club voted that all proceeds from the program go directly to the school district. The newspaper would continue to publish the sports programs, and I thought that would be the end of it.

THAT WASN'T THE END OF IT

In 2019, the AD informed us through email that our newspaper would no longer need to publish programs, as the journalism department would handle the programs in-house, to provide educational opportunities for the students.

What.

We needed to address this in a permanent way. We weren’t willing to keep dealing with this issue every couple of years.

The editor and I met, one-on-one, with every school board member. We presented our case logically.

OUR RESPONSE

As this point, we knew we needed to present our case to the school board. The editor and I shared the background of this situation. We also observed that the superintendent was not included in the email, nor were any school board members. Was the AD deciding policy for the school district?

Our message was clear: Our newspaper wants the school’s athletic department to be successful, and this seems far afield of what an AD ought to be doing.
We met with every single school board member in the span of an afternoon. The conversation was positive, and each board member was receptive. We recommended a five-year contract between the newspaper and the school district. The board agreed, and the superintendent signed the contract at the next school board meeting.

THE BOTTOM LINE

We continue to donate back to the school district proceeds from the sports program. We also make sure the check passing photo runs in the paper.

WE LEARNED A FEW THINGS

  • It helped to have, in writing, all our newspaper had financially donated to the school. This helped our case, and made it clear we were invested in this community, unlike some company an hour away.
  • There was still room for compromise. The school’s journalism department now produces the spring sports program, providing educational opportunities for the students. Our newspaper even assists the students on occasion.
  • Getting a contract with the school board was the way to go. It gets everyone on the same page, and reduces the chance that any new AD might try something down the road.
  • Addressing the issue with the decision makers was also the way to go. We acted quickly to protect our territory and our interests.
  • Take the time now to review your relationships with your school districts. Remember what you tell your advertising clients: Your absence is someone else’s opportunity.

Jay Dickerson is the advertising manager of The Galena Gazette. His daughter designed the cover for the school’s spring sports program — with photos that she got from the local newspaper. jdickerson@galgazette.com