By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Group was started by researchers who wanted a more informal, intimate forum to discuss issues one-on-one sp.
WHEN THE NEWSPAPER Research Council was absorbed into the amalgam of industry associations, many of its members wondered whether their contacts and networks would hold. Although research is one arm of the Newspaper Association of America, a group of researchers has begun the Newspaper Research Roundtable for more informal and intimate exchanges. The group was started in 1992 by three researchers who wanted a private forum in which to discuss research issues one-on-one. The first meeting had about 11 participants, while the most recent gathering had 23, said Glenn Roberts, former executive director of the NRC, who has a research company in Des Moines. Roberts also is a former vice president/director of research at the Des Moines Register. "We're really not competing with the NAA," he said. "We're sort of a niche ourselves . . . . There's no sense we want to expand into a full-blown organization. "The word 'roundtable' is accurate. NRC was a council. It started with 65 members. The goal then was to expand to get more papers. This is more focused on trying to meet the needs of participants. We do have an agenda, but it is more open. If anything, we ran out of time." Roberts said future roundtables likely would include no more than 25 invited participants, allowing for more detailed discussions. "That's harder in a large group, even with the NRC," he added. The roundtable has no formal organization in the sense of dues or an executive structure. "It just goes through my office because I have the records and because of all the people I know," Roberts said. Participants were asked to pay a small fee to help cover overhead costs for the gathering. Everyone paid for his own dinner, and the $25 registration fee went toward lunch, an overhead projector and coffee. That didn't cover all the costs, so participants chipped in, allowing the group to break even. "We'll have to raise it [the registration fee] $10 next year," Roberts said. Participants strove to keep the meeting all research ? no promotion ? and all business. Only an overhead projector and notepads were allowed. There were no "fancy presentations." "People are very enthused about the format," Roberts continued. "It's a chance to get together and talk to each other again." But rather than being an NRC reunion, he said, the meeting attracted some people who were attending such a gathering for the first time. "Some people came because they're not allowed to go to the big meetings because their bosses go," Roberts said. "Some researchers can't even go to research meetings. They're now called promotion and marketing development." Rather than a separate meeting ? NRC used to have two a year ? the NAA research meeting was folded in with the promotion meeting. Those invited to participate in the roundtable were chosen in an unscientific manner, mostly based on who organizers thought might be able to attend. One reason for the doubling of attendance is that the atmosphere changed from the year before, "when people were afraid to come," Roberts said. "This is not a duplication to what the NAA is doing, it's an addition," he said, adding that after an E&P article about NRC resistance to the merger that quoted Roberts, one researcher was told that he couldn't go to the roundtable and another was told that if his publisher had known, he wouldn't have approved the trip. "I sympathize with these people," Roberts said. "It's a sad situation when we in the newspaper business try to stifle comment." Since then, however, "the situation has changed considerably, in terms of the climate." Roberts stressed that the roundtable is "not a protest meeting at all. I still think they made a mistake merging research. We could be more effective as an independent arm."