by Dan Salter, Student News Bureau, 2013 ONA Convention

A number of current and future initiatives, ranging from constitutional changes and smart phone apps, to lobbying groups and covering public notices, were covered at the Ohio Newspaper Association Conference annual meeting.

Board President David Dix addressed the conference last Thursday with a list of changes and proposals aimed at positioning the organization for the future of news media.

Among them was a plan, approved by the ONA board, to retain the services of a professional lobbying group to help analyze legislation and speak on the organization’s behalf.

Dix said the prospective cost of the plan would be high, but was needed to, “protect and defend the industry.”

“It won’t be inexpensive,” Dix said. “We anticipate this is going to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 – $70,000 a year.”

Since that money is not currently in the ONA’s budget, Dix said that member newspapers might be approached to help offset the cost. If the cost was spread evenly among the group’s approximately 200 members, it would amount to about $350 per organization.”

ONA Executive Director Dennis Hetzel backed up the need for lobbying. In his remarks at the luncheon he stated that ONA’s first priority, “will be to make sure our voice is heard in Columbus and increasingly in Washington, and that we aren’t just heard but effective and maybe even feared a little bit.”

Hetzel is also working on ONA’s website.

“The goal is for this site to be the one step, comprehensive and easy to use place on the internet for Ohio’s public notices,” he said.

However, Hetzel’s goals for the site don’t end there. Ultimately the ONA wants to become the state’s official website for all public notices.

He believes that privatizing the site will result in higher numbers of unique visitors.

Dix also believes it is important for the private sector to maintain the duty of publishing public notices as the transition is made from print publishing to online.

“If we want to preserve our edge in this game we really need to persuade the state government that we’re a better alternative than a state run public notices website,” Dix said.

Both Dix and Hetzel stressed that the taxpayer cost associated with a publicly run site could be eliminated by making the official site for notices.

Much of the initial start up capital for ONA’s website is being provided by Cox Media Group in exchange for time limited marketing rights. Future costs would likely be covered by more conventional advertising sales.

Currently the site has more than 100 Ohio newspapers participating and uploaded approximately 10,000 public notices in its first three weeks of operation.

The handling of public notices seems to be a microcosm of the print media’s adaptation to a burgeoning digital age.

Nobody is entirely sure of the results or consequences.

“I think what we’re doing with is one of those things that we’re going to be glad we did for reasons we can’t even fully predict or appreciate,” Hetzel said.

Constitutional Changes

The conference also voted to approve new eligibility criteria for membership in the ONA.

Enacted changes mirror alterations made to state laws that determine a newspaper’s ability to publish legal notices under the Ohio revised code. Those rules were amended by the state two years ago with input from the ONA.

The changes made it easier for weekly newspapers and digital only outfits to qualify by removing the requirement that the organization have a primarily paid circulation.

“The board of trustees believes that it makes sense to expand our tent with newspapers that share our core values, legal requirements and approach to journalism,” Dix said before a vote to accept the constitutional changes.

Alterations made concerning digital only publications were made not only to expand membership roles, but to prepare for a future where some newspapers may become digital only operations.

Also announced at the conference was a possible new smart phone app.

Hetzel and Jason Sanford are currently working on securing funding to develop an Ohio Sunshine laws app to support ONA’s open government efforts.


New ONA membership requirements

Print outlets must:

  • have substantial news content
  • have been in business at least 3 years
  • publish at least 16 pages weekly
  • have independent audited proof of circulation
  • the ability to ad subscribers into their distribution lists..

Digital only outlets must:

  • generate substantial original content
  • be updated often
  • have to have a physical business address
  • have been in business at least 3 years
  • and not exist substantially to be an advocate for political or other causes


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