IAPA 71st General Assembly, Charleston, SC, Oct. 6, 2015
Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends and Colleagues ...
I would first like to offer my appreciation to my predecessor Gustavo Mohme, who – especially in the year of his presidency – has been a strong leader of the Inter American Press Association and a powerful voice for the defense of press freedom in the Americas. His administration has been the catalyst for some significant progress in his, as he put it, "short-lived but intense" year-long term. Including successfully overseeing the sale of the Miami real estate, some tangible advances by the Strategic Development Committee under Maria Elvira Dominguez, the addition of 27 new members into IAPA, and of course, he – with Claudio Paolillo and the Committee on Freedom of the Press by his side – have added strength and volume to IAPA's "War Cry," as Gustavo put it, on behalf of freedom of expression throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Gustavo, on behalf of IAPA and the journalists whom you've served so well, I deeply thank you for your dedication to furthering our mission. BUEN TRABAJO MI AMIGO. BIEN HECHO. GRACIAS!
I would also be greatly amiss to not thank those that have made this 71st General Assembly not only a possibility, but a success. I quickly learned that the simple act of offering to host such an event is vastly easier than actually doing it. Without the Herculean efforts of a few remarkable people at Evening Post Industries, specifically Post and Courier Publisher P.J. Browning, Becky Baulch, Robi Scott, and, of course, my executive assistant Heidi Herrington, who saves me on a daily basis, this assembly would never have happened. Along with IAPA Executive Director Ricardo Trotti, Martha Estrada and Paola Dirube's hard work, support and direction, they managed to put together a program beyond my hopes. I want to thank Melba, Horacio and Emilio for all of their hard work. I am eternally grateful to them all, as I am to the tremendous generosity of the sponsors who have made this all possible. Naturally, we all thought that the planning committee's real work would be over as of last Friday ... about the same time the rains began. With great grace and good humor, they adapted to every inevitable adjustment and cancellation to keep things going as smoothly as possible. I would like to also thank the terrific staff of the Francis Marion Hotel, who despite being short-handed and no doubt worried about their own lives, homes and families, managed to take such good care of us. And finally, I give thanks you to all of you, my friends and colleagues, for your good-spirited participation despite the endless cancellations and changes to our program. We had hoped to show off to you some of the great cultural, historic and natural beauty of our old city. We had hoped to provide an interesting and informative program of panels and discussions. We had hoped that this 71st General Assembly would be memorable. Perhaps not for the reasons we had hoped, but I am certain this will be one of the most memorable meetings of all time.
And now let me finally say what a tremendous honor it is to accept the presidency of The Inter American Press Association, and it is only made more special because I am able to do so in my home town and in the presence of my family.
As a young boy growing up here in Charleston, I remember listening with limited understanding at the time, to my parents' conversations about trouble in Argentina and how our newspaper, the Buenos Aires Herald, and its editor were in danger for telling the truth. I remember my parents' frequent trips to IAPA meetings in various Latin American countries, which for me, admittedly, was most memorable because of the gift that I knew they would bring back for me from the host city. As I grew older and learned more about them, IAPA and The Herald began to take on near legendary status for me, as I might add, did The Herald's soft-spoken lion-of-an-editor who, by standing up to tyrants and publishing the truth, saved countless lives. Eventually, when I returned home to Charleston after a stint on The Washington Post, I had the good fortune to spend several years writing Post and Courier editorials alongside Bob Cox, and I was honored when, retiring as Assistant Editor of the newspaper, he recruited me into IAPA as his successor. I am humbled now to be standing here before him, and before you all, as the incoming president of this amazing organization with its long, grand and courageous history defending freedom of expression. I am moved by your faith in me, and I assume this honor with enthusiasm and dedication. Mostly, however, I accept it with determination and the goal to help move IAPA forward.
Contemplating how to make a lasting mark within such a highly esteemed 71-year-old organization, at this or any point in its history, is admittedly a bit overwhelming. Today, IAPA, like newspapers themselves, faces many challenges. However, perhaps none is more concerning to me than the state of our organization's membership. Quite simply, it is the most basic element of our foundation. Without our members – without the caring, support, energy, generosity and determination of committed people – IAPA is little more than a chapter in the history books. To remain vital and capable of best fulfilling our mission, we must strengthen our numbers and the reach of our alliance. If we are to maintain our authority as the hemisphere's preeminent, respected guardians of freedom of expression, than we must position ourselves as the leading resource for media advancement from ocean-to-ocean and from pole-to-pole.
If you go to www.sipiapa.org, you will read this:
"The IAPA currently has approximately 1,400 member publications with a combined circulation of over 43 million plus a comparable — and growing — online readership."
Again ... 1,400 member publications with a combined circulation of over 43 million.
That is an impressive alliance with true strength in numbers ... a force to be reckoned with ... an organization one would want to join.
Sadly, however, those figures are outdated and inaccurate.
The reality? On the eve of this General Assembly, we had 522 "member publications," only 37 percent of the 1,400 we claim on our website. Of those, 257 are part of 16 corporate memberships; 228 are individual publication members, and 37 are associates or individual people. What IAPA really consists of are 281 members, representing 522 "member publications." The "combined circulation" is unclear, but I doubt it's close to 43 million.
I am unsure of when membership peaked at the 1,400 figure, but there has been a substantial decline since the late 1990s when records show we were last in the 1,000 member range. Certainly the recession took a toll, as no doubt have the many other evolutionary problems facing print media in the wake of the digital Big Bang. The real trouble is to be found in a rapidly changing world where information sources are prolific and news is cheap ... one in which our industry faces the greatest shakeup in its history. Print ad revenues in the United States are down more than 50 percent in less than a decade and are now at the lowest levels since 1950; Newspaper circulation continues its steady decline. Meanwhile digital advertising and circulation growth lag behind. The level of threat and rate of decline in the United States may be ahead of Latin America now, but one can't imagine it will remain this way for long. While profitable U.S. newspapers are becoming rare, and independent newspapers even more rare, while a Constitutionally guaranteed free press is largely taken for granted, and while the spirit of Pan-Americanism under which IAPA was founded fades, I think it is unrealistic to believe that U.S. media owners will continue to consider IAPA relevant enough to join, let alone financially support, without some real effort from us to convince them otherwise. Traditionally, a significant portion of IAPA funding has come from the United States. But now the days of huge multi-year supporting grants from American foundations are gone.
Today we have only six U.S. corporate members, representing 81 individual newspapers. If we lose any one of these six members, we lose a significant percentage of our U.S. publications, anywhere from a dozen to 30. I'd venture to say that in several of these companies, frankly mine included, there is just one person who is engaged and caring enough to keep the IAPA membership current. We have stalwart members, such as The Washington Post, that have sold to new owners whom I will go introduce to IAPA and must be able convince of our value. Likewise, we have former U.S. members with whom I will need your help need to re-engage. But how does an organization dedicated primarily to freedom of expression remain relevant in the United States where the 1st Amendment guarantees it? We need to be able remind media owners, many of them new to our business, that a threat to freedom of expression anywhere in the Americas is a threat to us all. We need to remind them that U.S. business, economic and political interests extend throughout the hemisphere. We need to foster the opportunity to rekindle the spirit of Pan-Americanism being offered by our first New-World Pope and the imminent rebirth of one of our greatest violators of human rights, Cuba. And, we need to be able to honestly show them that we are the largest, most advanced alliance of media companies in the hemisphere dedicated to the successful evolution of this essential industry. As Bob Cox so clearly reminded us last night, "we must never forget" what can happen in the vacuum of silence. We must remember that democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression and a free media.
Like our industry challenges, our membership concerns reach outside of the United States. We no longer have a single member in Canada. We have disengaged members in Brazil and elsewhere who I will ask you to help me reengage. We need to strengthen our numbers throughout the Caribbean, and I will need your help with that too.
Aside from the other issues I've mentioned, our membership dues are expensive, and the cost of travel and to participate in meetings is high. President Mohme and Ricardo Trotti have recently begun to look closely at our outdated business model as it pertains to membership and fundraising with the goal of giving it an overhaul. Every Board Committee is now successfully working in its own way toward the goal of advancing a strong and sustainable organization. That's why I have asked each Committee Chairman who served this past year with President Mohme if they will commit to another term. I believe that offering continuity and time are essential to their success. As each of has accepted, I know that they agree. My challenge – to them and myself – is to set as our focus and our goal a strong, vibrant, enduring, compelling new message, rooted in the past but looking to the future that will allow us to present IAPA to all forms of legitimate New World media as the essential, relevant and indispensable organization we all know it to be.
This week, the Executive Committee created an ad hoc committee to carefully review our Bylaws and determine how we might best streamline our now burdensome membership review process. This is the kind of thinking we need. If we are to advance, we are going to have to be willing to challenge the way we have been doing some things for a long time. It doesn't mean we throw out the past; it just means we adapt to the present.
Finally, I am honored to be heading a family company that has been printing newspapers in Charleston since 1803. The Post and Courier is the second oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the United States (since I'm sure you're wondering, the oldest is the New York Post, by two years).
History has shown that The Post and Courier has survived through more than 200 years of changes and challenges. It has weathered prosperity and despair, Civil War, enemy occupation, earthquake, Reconstruction, ownership change, the Great Depression, the advent of both radio and television, hurricanes, and ... it will survive the internet – and even this weekend's record-setting rainfall and floods – by adapting and evolving on every level to the realities of the world around it.
If, as Bob Cox said last night, IAPA is really just like a big family, then we are obligated as our elders age, to take their wisdom and lessons, along with those of our own, and educate a new generation to carry on the family's business.
This strategic planning process has already begun with real momentum. It is my goal to provide it the focus, the time, the effort and the resources necessary to reach completion and successful implementation. The end goal is simple and remains the same: For IAPA to maintain its rightful place as the premier defender of freedom of expression in the Americas.
I ask for your cooperation and open-mindedness in helping allow our venerable Inter American Press Association to evolve as it needs in order to most effectively carry out its mission in a world that needs it more than ever.
Thank you ...