A community leader from Preston praised a newspaper and editor of our Bluff Country Newspaper Group during a session he was leading with community leaders from Spring Valley. I felt a little embarrassed at the focus of attention on me at the time, but took away a feeling of gratitude. The acknowledgement was more gratifying than winning awards from the Minnesota Newspaper Association, which you may have read about elsewhere in this paper.

His expression of appreciation was a real, heartfelt emotion from someone who reads our newspaper. Sure, the awards are real plaques, but they are determined by anonymous judges from somewhere else based on objective comparisons of quality.

I don't feel comfortable writing about praise and awards and they aren't a regular part of my column. My staff often tells me I need to do more of it because they see others that do it all the time. I previously resisted because I always felt that people are smart enough to know that bragging doesn't make something real.

Then, at the newspaper convention I attended last week where the awards were made, a session on the future of newspapers pointed out that one real weakness of newspapers is that they don't promote themselves enough.

The speaker pointed out that if you want to know what is wrong with newspapers, just read a newspaper. We are very good about telling the truth about our problems. I have done it myself in this column. Most of us aren't so good at telling people what is right about newspapers.

The speaker from an opinion research firm pointed out that despite all the fears of the demise of newspapers, they are still a major force because they are a very valuable source of unique information, yet people don't always realize it. They often forget where so much of the information they use in their daily lives comes from.

Despite the strength in newspapers, the reality is that there have been some that have failed in recent years and their demise was well reported in the press. However, there have been very few lately. Also, we've learned that their failure wasn't a condition of being a newspaper. For example, many had been purchased at too high of a price, much like homes in which buyers assumed the value would keep going up, leading to unsustainable debt in a tight economy.

The newspapers that failed didn't indicate a trend one could point to for a reason for their demise. They were large dailies and small weeklies, free and paid publications, urban and rural, owned by a chain and independent. However, when measured against the total number of newspapers in the country, the total of failed newspapers is quite small. I can think of more restaurants or retail businesses that have closed just in this region than all the newspapers in the nation that have folded.

So, even though my opinions of newspapers is more an analysis than a boast, you are probably wondering if bragging is going to become a trend in my columns. The answer is no. I'd get bored. You'd get bored. Even now, I'm having a hard time keeping on track.

However, the session I had last week did inspire me to become more conscientious about promoting our newspapers - the value we provide and the quality that we emphasize. Still, promotion isn't effective if you don't have something to back it up so we are continuing our goal of providing quality in-depth community news coverage.

Other newspapers can talk up their numbers or all the products they sell, but they don't mean anything if they don't have a connection to readers and the larger community. That's why I was so taken by the comment from the Preston area resident.

That connection to readers is vital to the future of our newspapers. My feeling is that many of those newspapers that went out of business a few years ago failed in that mission of connecting to the community.

We are going to continue to emphasize that goal individually and collectively. It helps that we have such a talented and cooperative staff, which does get recognized at times, even when it is by people outside the community.

The judges in the newspaper association contest often mentioned when explaining how they picked the top choices that our staff members worked together. For example, the layout of a human interest story helped present it powerfully and led to an award in writing for one of our newspapers. For another award, not only did staff from four newspapers work together, citizens even helped us to bring readers all the details of the breaking news coverage on President Obama's visit to the area.

That shows a strong connection to the community, one that we want to continue to develop.

Continuing to learn is also a priority and two of us attended numerous sessions at the newspaper convention that provided information we will share with the rest of the staff. Technology provides many tools that we can use to provide information to our audience.

Some publishers get enamored with the technology, but our guiding light is to use it to provide a deeper connection with readers - to provide information that is truly useful. We're going to take what we learned and apply it within our operations.

You may not always realize the reasons why or how, but we hope you will appreciate our efforts as much as that Preston area resident who was so generous with his praise.