Ron Littlepage is probably the most prominent political columnist in Northeast Florida, which is made more notable by the fact that his generally liberal perspective is in the minority both in the city of Jacksonville and on his own paper's editorial page.
The aw-shucks, down-home populist news veteran spoke to PRWeek about journalism and PR in the River City.
PRWeek: How did you get into journalism?
Ron Littlepage: I majored in English at Baylor University in Waco, TX, minored in journalism, and worked on the school newspaper. After I got out of college, I ended up working for United Press International in Houston in the early '70s, then worked for a paper in Austin, and then came to Jacksonville in 1978. I was in mostly management positions here - city editor, assistant managing editor - and got tired of going to meetings.
I had a chance to get back into writing a column and jumped on it in 1989. I've been doing it ever since.
PRWeek: Over the course of your career, have you formed an opinion of the PR industry?
Littlepage: Sure. In this business, you meet a lot of PR people. Some are very good and provide very helpful information, and that's what you ask for in this business. You want the truth, you want the information, and you want answers to questions. Of course, I realize that there will be a certain amount of spin from their point of view, which is expected, but they can provide some valuable information. I have quite a few acquaintances - and some good friends - in that business.
PRWeek: How well do you think the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have sold themselves to the city?
Littlepage: They did a really poor job this summer. Right at the time when players were returning for training camp, a time when you ought to be building interest in the team, the focus was on the issue of the contract [with the city] and who gets control of the revenue from signs at the stadium. So rather than focusing on the team, the big argument was about that. That was not a very wise PR move on their part. They've been having trouble selling tickets here, and they need to be focusing on the players, [who are] what gets people excited.
PRWeek: What do you think about the future of the newspaper business at large?
Littlepage: It's changing, no question about that, and [we] have to find some ways to reinvent ourselves and take advantage of the internet. Every newspaper is examining what to do.
One issue across the board is how to attract younger readers and get them into the habit of reading the newspaper. Most of them, I think, probably rely on the internet instead of picking up the traditional newspaper. So we have to learn to incorporate our business into that.
The most vital thing a newspaper has is information, and we have to make that information valuable to readers. I think the key to the local newspaper is that it covers local issues, which you won't get from national outlets. The only way they can get that is from the local newspaper, and that's what we have to sell.