I spent much of a recent weekend in Topeka attending the annual meeting of the Kansas Press Association. It was the 150th anniversary of this organization.
Things have changed substantially since the association was founded. And there has been much change in the past several years because of the influence of the Internet. Some of those changes have been good; others have hurt the newspaper industry. Today most newspapers have Internet sites and can get information to their readers very quickly. That same Internet has given rise to such services as Craig’s List that provides classified advertising for free. That has hurt the newspapers’ bottom lines.
The Press Association was founded in 1863 after a meeting of editors in Leavenworth. One of the prime organizers was Richard Baxter Taylor who owned various Wyandotte County newspapers including the Register and the Gazette. Fellow editors elected him association president in 1866.
During the association’s history, only two other editors from Wyandotte County would head the association—W.A. Bailey of The Kansas City Kansan in 1932 and myself in 1986-1987. This past year Ben Marshall, the owner of the Sterling Bulletin, and the grandson of W.A. Bailey, served as association president. Ben and I have been friends since undergraduate days in the early 1960s at the University of Kansas in Lawrence when we were journalism students.
When I was association president and the organization met in Kansas City, the convention program booklet was some 24 pages; the 2013 edition was a scant one-sided page. Convention attendance was about 200-- half from what it was in 1987 with about 400.
When Kansas editors get together, regardless of the date, there usually are discussions about two subjects—the U.S. Postal Service and the state politics. Last weekend editors had numerous complaints about the Postal Service; chief among those was having to ship their out-of-county newspapers to a huge mail processing building over town where they often get delayed or lost.
Editors that I talked to aren’t happy with Gov. Sam Brownback or many of the “Tea Party” legislators. One veteran lobbyist said he had no idea how the governor and Legislature are going to balance the budget with major financial issues left again to a wrap-up session that was scheduled to start Wednesday, May 8.
“In past years, the Legislature and the governor had their differences; however, in the end they understood the greater good for the state. I don’t see that spirit of cooperation today,” the lobbyist said.
I am not certain what the future of the newspaper business is in Kansas or in any other part of the United States. Maybe publishers will move exclusively to the Internet to serve readers—although I have yet to see much evidence that such sites are truly profitable.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.