The annual Pennsylvania Press Conference can be a humbling experience.

The event draws hundreds of writers, editors and publishers who come from Erie, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Johnstown, Altoona and all points in between. The conference provides a great opportunity to compare notes and network with others in the field. It's always an opportunity to learn.

This year's event took place two weeks ago in State College.

The TIMES NEWS and Pencor, Inc., were topics of discussion among those in attendance, owing to a strong record of success in writing and photography awards won by Pencor papers. Attendees had questions about the daily newspaper situated "somewhere up in the mountains."

An editor from Pittsburgh thought he'd figured out why TIMES NEWS stories always seem to receive recognition at the state level. He suggested it's all about location.

"Tell me about these towns in your coverage area," he said, inquiring about Lehighton, Tamaqua, Jim Thorpe, Palmerton and the Panther Valley.

"Are these small towns located along some kind of port or waterway, giving your paper an advantage to generate award-winning stories?"

"No," I said. "Not at all." It was the easiest question anyone had asked.

Our rivers and streams are important for fishing, kayaking ... basically all kinds of recreation and tourism. But they don't qualify us as a major port of call. I can't imagine Carnival Cruise Lines dropping anchor on the Lehigh, or the Queen Mary sailing on the Little Schuylkill.

Our area doesn't have a nautical location, I said. The TIMES NEWS is about relationships. The paper fills an important need serving readers and advertisers. They rely on the newspaper to be relevant and timely. In our area, the daily paper and tnonline.com help to keep people in the know.

Advertisers recognize the TIMES NEWS as a primary vehicle to reach their target audience. Loyal readers scour the TIMES NEWS every day for news, commentary and ads.

And in small towns, newspapers have a personal touch, too. It might not be the same in big metropolitan areas where the personal touch is often de-emphasized. But in small towns, familiarity goes a long way. It's a fact that newspaper readers in small towns care about their neighbors. They also care about their newspaper. They sometimes call or email the paper to suggest stories. They also provide information on a daily basis.

And sometimes, they give of themselves in special ways. The TIMES NEWS is about relationships, and readers can become the subject of stories. When that happens, they often reveal details of their private lives, especially when they feel the information will be of value to others. Newspaper readers are generous that way.

In many ways, a small-town daily newspaper reflects the identity of its readership, especially when the paper prints stories that need to be told. That's the primary mission and the ultimate measure of success. It's the reason why the newspaper located "somewhere up in the mountains" receives recognition at the state level.

It's all about relationships.

It's not the rivers. And it's not imaginary ships sailing by. It's the good, honest, hardworking people who live there and the special stories they have to tell.