When Observer-Reporter publisher Tom Northrop assumed the chairmanship of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association last week, he continued a longtime family tradition of leading a statewide trade organization that had its origins in his own offices.
In fact, Northrop's great-grandfather, Observer Publishing Co. founder John L. Stewart, founded PNA when it was called the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association with several other newspaper publishers from across the state, serving as its first president in 1925 and 1926.
The organization's name was later changed to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, and recently decided to change its name again to reflect the changing nature of the industry.
“The first office of PNA was right here in this building,” Northrop said last week in the newspaper's offices at 122 S. Main St.
Not long after its founding, PNA was moved to Harrisburg, where it has its offices today.
But the organization has always had strong leadership ties to the Observer-Reporter.
In addition to his great-grandfather, Northrop's father, former O-R co-publisher John L.S. Northrop, served as PNA chairman from 1981 to 1982, and his uncle, former O-R co-publisher William Northrop, chaired the organization from 1995 to 1996.
In 1953, longtime OPC general manager James Lyon also served as PNA chairman.
“I'm proud to be the incoming chairman,” Northrop said last week. “The first time I went to a PNA conference, I was 10, and it's been a part of my life ever since.”
Northrop, 56, takes the reins of an organization that is at the forefront of keeping up with the rapidly changing newspaper industry in the Keystone State.
He noted that the number of family-owned newspapers across the country has dwindled over the past four decades.
“In 1970, there were roughly 1,200 family-owned newspapers in the United States, and today there are about 150,” he said, adding that Pennsylvania ranks first in the number of family-owned newspapers.
But the industry is moving rapidly from print to digital, with most papers offering a combination of both media to distribute the news.
In fact, he noted that the PNA board recently approved a name change to the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.
“While it's still being called PNA, we did that to better reflect the reality of the newspaper industry today,” he said. “People have websites and other products in addition to newspapers. We also have publishers of legal journals as members, so we're not strictly a newspaper publishing organization, although it is the trade organization that represents daily newspapers in Pennsylvania.”
That representation, according to Northrop, is some of the best in the country, with PNA's legal staff advising member newspapers, their reporters and editors on First Amendment issues. It also provides classes and webinars for members and their employees, and its annual “America East” trade show in Hershey draws interest from newspapers and vendors throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.
The organization also operates the PNA Foundation, which raises money to offset the cost of its member education programs.
“I think PNA is the best newspaper association in the country,” said Northrop, who has previously served two terms as chairman of America East and a term on the foundation's board. He also served on PNA's executive committee for five years.
The biggest issues he'll work on during his two-year term, Northrop said, will be dealing with the rapidly changing dynamics of the newspaper industry.
“Something we have to deal with is the ongoing change from print to digital,” he said.
While at least one daily newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot News, is moving to printing a paper only three days a week and placing the rest of its content on its online site, Northrop said the change doesn't necessarily reflect what's happening at other dailies in the state.
“There are 79 dailies in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We have to promote the idea that we're not a dying industry. We are still the major providers of information that's also supplying news to other organizations' websites.”
The other major initiative will be to maintain a presence with state legislators, he said.
“Lobbying is becoming more and more a part of every organization,” he said.