To be sure, that question is top of mind with some TPA members and staff. TPA’s Legislative Advisory Committee is busy monitoring the current special session of the Legislature to fight any bill that harms the interests of Texas newspapers.
The political climate is becoming increasingly hostile toward Texas newspapers. TPA Executive Vice President Donnis Baggett will tell you that the regular session of the Legislature that ended in May was the nastiest and toughest in recent memory. Sure, there are state lawmakers who support us and work with us. But there are a growing number of legislators who openly disdain what we do, and myriad lobbying interests that share the feeling.
With each legislative session, we see increased attacks from different directions and in sometimes very subtle ways, all aimed at making it more difficult for newspapers to succeed not only as businesses but also as institutions protecting the public’s right to know. But we can always count on the likes of Baggett, TPA Member Services Director Ed Sterling and members of TPA’s Legislative Advisory Committee, led by Denton Record-Chronicle Publisher Bill Patterson, to fight these attacks. It’s a grueling job, especially when the Legislature is in session. Donnis and his team work night and day to wrangle lawmakers to either help pass beneficial bills or short-circuit bad ones.
Which brings me back to my original point: If TPA weren’t around to fight for our industry in Austin, who else would be there to do it?
The simple answer is NO ONE.
No one newspaper – or newspaper company, for that matter – could afford the time and expense for this type of vigil. But because we pool our resources and our energy, TPA can. Our dues go, in part, to fund the lobbying effort. That’s certainly an important part of the equation. But there are also dedicated publishers and editors who make the time amid their busy schedules to lobby lawmakers by either telephone or email. And there are some who even make it a point to travel to Austin to either testify at hearings or personally meet with lawmakers and other state officials.
They do that on behalf of every one of us publishing a newspaper in Texas; even those of us who don’t engage in the process and just assume all of this just happens – no blood, sweat and tears required.
I raise this point because as newspapers become increasingly challenged with budget issues and precarious profit margins, some may be tempted to question the value proposition of TPA. Preoccupied with cutting costs, some publishers and other newspaper executives may wonder whether involvement in TPA conferences is a luxury of time and money they can ill afford. Some may even take a closer look at their TPA dues and wonder whether those should be added to the latest round of expense cuts.
TPA offers its members a robust menu of services, and that is wonderful. But if all the association offered were its lobbying efforts, I would argue that service alone makes TPA indispensable to us all. Just a few examples:
Texas reporters now enjoy protection under a state shield law. The anti-SLAPP law passed a few years ago helps newspapers get nuisance libel suits tossed out of court more easily. Open meetings and records laws are constantly under attack, but lawmakers and public officials are still held accountable because of TPA and other organizations’ tireless efforts to protect access to the inner workings of government. Despite an onslaught of anti-newspaper legislation, Texas papers still enjoy considerable and critical revenue from public notices, and our readers benefit immensely from the “sunlight” provided by these notices.
Without TPA, none of the above would be so. And our industry and the communities we serve would be the worse for it.
The dedicated members and staff of TPA deserve our thanks for all they have done. But more importantly, we should be willing to redouble our commitment of financial support and personal involvement to help in the cause – no matter how tight our budgets become.
It’s an investment we can’t afford not to make.
In recent years our industry has yelled loudly and often about the ills of digital and social media sites that aggregate or pirate our work and disseminate it for free. Or the “fake news” that too many readers think passes for the real deal.
We argue that all of this undercuts the true value of our newspapers as trusted sources of news. We say someone has to willing to pay for what we do, lest the day come when there are no newspapers or legitimate reporters out there to ply their trade. “Then who else will keep society informed?” we ask.
Well, we need to apply the same logic and argument to TPA and the support and involvement of its member papers. As tough as the climate is in Austin, our industry has more than a fighting chance because of this 135-year-old organization.
And here’s where I sign off with a Facebook twist: If you agree with all of this, “like” it and share with someone else in our industry.