Protecting the Interests of Newspapers
By William L. Plante Jr.
Executive Director, 1984 to 2004
The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association was formed in late 1972 at a meeting of all daily newspaper publishers in Auburn, Mass, at the request of the Massachusetts Newspaper Information Service (MNIS). It has held, and continues to hold, quarterly meetings in addition to an annual meeting in December.
I was then MNIS chairman, and asked the late Richard Steele, publisher of the Worcester Telegram & Evening Gazette, to arrange the meeting because problems faced by MNIS, created as a committee in the 1950s to protect newspaper interests on Beacon Hill. Issues were becoming increasingly complex for the committee to address. The publishers agreed, and voted unanimously to adopt the by-laws for MNPA.
Presidents serve for two, consecutive, one-year terms. There have been four executive directors: The late John Herbert, who had been editor of The Patriot Ledger and The Boston Herald, was first. He resigned to enter another profession, and was followed by the late Joseph Doherty, former assistant managing editor of The Boston Globe. When Doherty resigned because of health reasons in 1984, I assumed the position by stepping down as MNPA president. In 2004, I retired and was succeeded by the current executive director, Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer and former newspaper editor and publisher.
Through the years, MNPA has focused on two general areas of vital interests: matters relating to the business of publishing and editorial interests, particularly as they related to constitutional issues. For more than three decades, we have successfully confronted initiatives impacting on newspaper publishing, and those which would erode public access to information and personnel related to town, city and state government activities.
We do it with a modest budget. Membership is open to all daily and weekly newspapers in Massachusetts. Virtually all the dailies and more than half the weeklies are members. Dues are based on circulation. MNPA involves itself without resorting to the typical lobbying practices of other enterprises. We buy no tickets, and expend no money directly on lobbying in the kinds of practices, however legitimate, which are common with many enterprises dealing with government. We do, however, represent the principles embodied in the First Amendment vigorously, and make every effort to bring understanding on the part of lawmakers as to our function and the problems created by others that would impede it.
These have included tax legislation, advertising regulations, newspaper carrier and independent contractor laws, newsrack restrictions, overly restrictive VDT legislation, route tube emplacement concerns of Dig Safe, and newsprint recycling laws. In the latter instance, it was our initiative that established a decade-long agreement with the state that has been described as a national model by those involved in government agencies dealing with the issue.
We confronted the Criminal Offender Records Information Act from its origin and hounded it for 17 years before winning its massive overhaul. On the day the reform law was signed, MNPA’s executive director was invited to the signing as the only, non-governmental, participant.
MNPA is responsible for the present, so-called, “Police Blotter”, law, resulting from a consideration by the Criminal History Systems Board to pass a secret arrest law in Massachusetts. When MNPA strongly protested, a public debate resulted in a reversal of position by the CHSB, and blotters officially became public records. Prior to that, they were regarded as being private memoranda between police shifts, making access dependent on the relationships of police reporters and department personnel.
Besides monitoring the legislature and the courts for developments of concern to publishers and editors, the MNPA serves as a resource for editors and reporters who seek guidance on public access issues, and for advertising and circulation personnel who seek advice pertaining to issues with which they have had limited experience.
Our legal activities, customarily in the area of appeals, have produced new law in some instances, and reinforced older laws in others. MNPA, through its counsel, is a highly respected entity in our courts. It is a working newspaper organization with a narrow focus. We aim at those who attempt to place fetters upon what newspapers do and how they do it. We seek to benefit society by remaining free and solvent to do what we were designed to do, to prosper in order that we may enjoy the resources essential to keeping the press, and America, free. We do it without bells and whistles, without complicated bureaucracy, and usually with a fair amount of success.