Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Making NIE Work

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Making NIE Work

Article excerpt

It's not hard to find Newspapers in Education (NIE) horror stories. There was the Catholic diocese that called the publishers association in its state, trying to find someone who could stop a newspaper from delivering unordered bundles to a school that had closed the year before. The newspaper was ignoring their pleas and neighbors were complaining about the buildup of "paid circulation" in the parking lot.

There was the circulation manager in another state who ordered his NIE coordinator to place several thousand more copies by month's end, despite her protests that the schools were taking

final exams and the year was over. "I don't care," he said. "I need the numbers."

And in yet another market, there was the artist who wanted to sponsor his daughter's classroom for an NIE project he had worked on, only to be told her principal would not allow the newspaper on school grounds: it had taken him three years to get them to stop dumping unwanted bundles there previously.

NIE is in deep trouble -- not because it won't improve education and build new readers but because, over the past decade, it has become a tool for cynical middle management to make short-term numbers, whatever the effect on the paper's reputation and credibility and whatever the effect on the long-term health of the industry.

It doesn't have to be that way.

I've put a dozen years of my life into NIE, and it wasn't to prop up sagging numbers in a failing enterprise. It was because I like kids, and this is a great way to make their lives better while doing some solid business with the community.

Newspapers are a business that relies upon the loyalty and economic health of the local community. There is no better way to build either than by supporting education.

My past life as a business writer makes me believe in the tortoise, not the hare. I've seen people who don't have the patience for long-term marketing efforts, preferring to make giant strides in a short time. They give great breakfast speeches and they earn a lot of plaques, but most crash and burn, or leave town in a blaze of glory just before the house of cards they've built collapses behind them.

I think it is time for our industry to decide which approach we want: Short-term numbers to prop up a hurting industry, or long-term investment in a medium that can remain vital and prosperous?

If it's the latter, then NIE must get its act together before it falls entirely apart. After all, how many unwanted, unused bundles of newspapers can be scattered around our schools before the businesses who pay for them begin to notice? …

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