Thursday, April 5, 2012


Quite often I speak to large groups – like Leadership Niagara or students at SUNY Brockport – about leadership skills. When discussing some of the more important tools for leading their organization – be it a business, a non-profit, a government agency, or even their household – I always mention that they need to read a newspaper (or a few newspapers) every day.

Their eyes always perk up with curiosity when I say that. It could be because the topic of acquired knowledge is rarely discussed as a leadership trait. Or, it may be that a good many people have a rather disdainful view of newspapers and don’t read them once a day, let alone once a month, a feeling that seems to have grown immensely in this age of the Internet and the accessibility of immediate – albeit abbreviated and even suspect – information.

To allay their curiosity and warm them up to the daily read, I always lay out just how crucial a newspaper is for good management and good citizenship. Every leader, head of household, and engaged citizen must be a Renaissance Man, knowing a little bit (or a lot) about a wide variety of subjects. To effectively do your job and make the appropriate decisions in business (finances, capital investment, product development, and marketing) and in your personal life (savings, investment, buying, and the American concept of self-governance) you have to be aware of what’s happening all around our world, from your neighborhood to some far-flung foreign land.

Why? The global economy and modern technology have made the world a smaller place and we’re all interconnected. What happens elsewhere will set off a domino effect that affects you personally and professionally in the short-term or long-term, even halfway around the world.

And, it should be noted that everything can affect you. A flood in Australia can drive up wheat prices, doing the same to prices at the grocery store in Niagara Falls. A tsunami in Japan can ultimately shut down production lines here in the States, harming your job. The town council’s vote on infrastructure might make your water bill go up. Changing consumer beliefs might have a major impact on your employer’s operations. The list is endless.

By being in the know regarding these matters – the major and the minor - you can adjust your operations and your expenditures accordingly, well in advance of your competitors and neighbors. Knowledge is power.

I always tell the crowd that they can’t use television news and the Internet as shortcuts. Broadcast news is flawed in that you spend a half–to-one hour in front of the tube and a good portion of that is commercials, while, at the same time local stations compete with the latest gimmicks (which adversely affects news quality) and the national news stations (like CNN and Fox News) are agenda driven and over-kill some of the most unimportant stories while putting issues of actual importance on the back-burner. Likewise, the Internet does the same, promoting really inane garbage. The problem with the Internet, too, is that its users use it as a filter and scan the headlines, focusing only on cute, horrific or popularized topics.

The newspaper, on the other hand, in its printed form puts the entire world, from a variety of perspectives, in your hand. Local and world news, business, sports and culture are all right there. In the same amount of time you would have spent watching the TV, you can ingest a whole newspaper (or a few) and know so much more than you would have learned elsewhere.

You don’t need a degree to be educated. You just need a newspaper like this one. Newspapers can - and do – make you healthy, wealthy and wise. Chances are that you’re reading this column in ink so you know that mantra quite well. But, you should share that belief with your friends and coworkers and get your kids started on it at a young age. We’ll all be better off for it, for an educated people are a strong people.

There’s a reason why the press was recognized in our Constitution; it’s that important of a tool.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 09 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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