Tour of Ohio & Pennsylvania provides adrenaline rush

I’ve spent the past couple of days with Alys Mitten, executive director of Mid Atlantic Community Papers Association, driving through Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s one of those trips where regional training events are held on college campuses for area newspaper staffs.

It’s a longer trip than usual, with a couple of days scheduled just for traveling. I normally don’t do these long trips any more, scheduling most of my travel on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but Alyss booked me three years ago for this adventure and I wasn’t about to let her down.

This gave Alyss an idea that, in my humble opinion, was quite innovative.

In addition to training events, Alyss contacted publishers along the the seven hour route between Mansfield, Ohio and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and asked if they’d like to host meals. This provided us the opportunity to meet with their staffs and discuss anything that might be on their minds.

I was surprised when, at the first stop, New Castle, Pennsylvania, Karen Hutchinson and 20 of her employees showed up at Compadres Mexican Restaurant full of excitement about the opportunity to discuss the future of our industry. It was late in the evening and I didn’t expect more than a couple of folks to show up.

Karen told me that she told her staff a few hours earlier that Kevin Slimp was coming to town and any of them were welcome to join him for dinner. I laughed. I laughed harder when Mark, the paper’s editor, handed me a magazine and asked if I would autograph the page with my column.

I’ve been asked to sign Acrobat boxes, programs, shirts and all kinds of items during my travels, but it still takes me by surprise whenever it happens.

The discussion turned to business very quickly. We spent over an hour discussing the paper’s online presence and strategizing what could be done to draw more visitors and advertisers to the site.

We held healthy discussions concerning technical issues like color settings to improve their photo quality, best ways to create PDF files and the need to upgrade some of the software and hardware being used.

At one point I turned to Karen, who was sitting next to me, and ask her to tell me how she got started in the business. We laughed when she told me about typing the stories on a typewriter and using stencils for the headlines. She beamed when she talked about their first computer: an Apple classic with a 9 inch screen. She and her late husband, Frank, couldn’t figure out how to use the computer to create pages. Luckily their 13 year old son figured it out and they were in the digital age at last.

I asked Karen how business was going and, like most publishers I visit these days, she told me they were having a good year. It’s always comforting to hear that.

Frank Jr., Karen’s son and the paper’s publisher, turned the topic to revenue. He said he’d heard that I sometimes spoke at conferences on the topic of making money on newspaper Websites. He was eager to hear my ideas.

I quickly transformed from Kevin the dinner guest to Kevin the lecturer and shared some ideas sent to me from readers of my column. I noticed several people around the long table frantically writing notes as I suggested possible ways to increase revenue on their site.

After learning how their current Website was created and maintained, I suggested moving immediately to a vendor who could greatly enhance their product in just a few days. Time was wasting and they had new online competition in their community. “Don’t spend another year or two trying to create your own perfect Website,” I told them. “Find a content management vendor that can get a better, easy to use, site online within the next few days.”

More frantic writing followed. Fortunately, all I had to do was talk.

As I write, we’re driving across central Pennsylvania on our way toward Philadelphia. Somewhere along the way, we’re meeting with another newspaper staff and leading a training event for newspaper designers.

My enthusiasm about our business is fueled when I take a trip like this. Meeting so many people who are excited about the role of newspapers in their communities and looking for ideas to move into the future provides an adrenalin rush that’s hard to match. By the way, the chili pablanos were excellent.

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