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Preparing for problems

By Kevin Slimp
CEO, newspaperacademy.com

Limiting issues that pose threats to our deadlines

Assuming COVID-19 doesn’t rear its ugly head over the next few weeks in such a way that groups curtail travel and in-person meetings, I will be making my first trip to speak at a newspaper convention since March 2020. Interestingly, I will be returning to the place where I last appeared at a live conference just days before last year’s lockdown began. Frankly, I’m excited.

The big question on my mind is, “What should I speak about in Des Moines?” While the pandemic effectively shut down speaking opportunities for a few months, by late fall 2020, groups were assembling online, virtual conferences. Negating the necessity to travel, I found myself speaking at sometimes four or five newspaper conventions in a week. Sometimes, I would speak at two on the same day. Having appeared virtually to so many groups, there’s a danger that folks have heard my most popular topics at one of these virtual meetings.

Again, I ask myself, “What should I speak about in Des Moines.” Thankfully, coming up with new topics is a skill I perfected long ago. After considerable thought, I suggested a list of topics to cover during my two days in Des Moines. My favorite is, “Help! I Don’t Know What to Do About this Problem!”

I’m not sure if it’s a series of coincidences or if newspapers are just a lot busier than they’ve been for a while. Whatever the reason, I’ve fielded considerably more calls about deadline-defying problems at papers over the past few weeks. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill issues. It seems that almost daily, a publisher has called with an issue that was going to force their paper to miss deadline. Some have even worried about – heaven forbid – running a day late.

So, I will be speaking – at least for an hour – about fixing problems, which brings me to my bit of advice for this column. While most recent calls about problems have forced me to scratch my head before coming up with a solution, we can limit issues that pose threats to our deadlines. Here are a few:

  • Take advantage of training opportunities: Whether in-person or online, be aware of seminars, classes, and webinars offered by associations and other groups. Even the smallest papers will benefit from regular training. Before the pandemic, dozens of small community papers throughout the U.S. and Canada would invite me to work with their staff every two or three years. During the pandemic, this number increased as folks realized it was easier and less expensive to get training designed specifically for their needs.
  • Keep hardware and software up to date: With the advent of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software, it has become more common for newspapers and other designers to have the latest version of productions software. In addition, we must make certain other software applications not related to production haven’t become outdated. I’ve noticed newspapers have gotten better at keeping hardware up to date. I can remember a time not too long ago when it was common to visit newspapers using computers that had been in use ten years or more. It’s obvious we’ve learned that “time is money.” Not only will updated software and hardware speed production, but I’ll be receiving fewer frantic calls from papers in fear of missing deadlines.
  • Stay on top of news related to technology: Who knows what new program or gadget will improve our ability to get our papers out? Hold regular conversations at staff meetings about technology. What needs updating? What isn’t working? What have you heard about that could help our paper?

I received an email today from a former student who has attended dozens of my classes over the years. She wanted me to know that something she learned in my class a few years ago kept her paper from a “near-death experience” this week. Information is a powerful thing. Be aware of what is working well – and what isn’t working well – at your operation and take steps now that might just save your paper in the future.
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In Memory of Max Heath

Most readers have heard by now of the passing of Max Heath. Max and I became quick friends when I entered the speaking world, and very few folks in the newspaper and magazine worlds are unfamiliar with his work. I got to know the humorous side of Max, whose dry wit often left me in stitches.

My favorite Max Heath quote happened five or six years ago, as we stood in the vendors’ area of a convention in Denver while a famous speaker was in the next room giving a keynote. I asked Max if he was going in to hear the speaker. His response: “Kevin, I’ve heard the wind blow before.” I cracked up because Max was so right.

Every time you mail your publication at a discounted rate, be sure to thank Max Heath.

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Kevin Slimp is founder of newspaperacademy.com and The University of Tennessee Newspaper Institute. In 2017, he founded Market Square Publishing. Kevin has been a popular speaker and consultant in the newspaper industry since developing the PDF remote printing method in the mid 1990s. Catch Kevin’s upcoming webinar schedule at newspaperacademy.com. You can reach Kevin at kevin@kevinslimp.com.