STEVE BOUSER: For a Better Paper, We Need Your Input
Let's see. There are those of us who put the paper together, those who distribute it, those we write about in it, those who advertise in it.
Am I leaving anybody out?
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot the most important part, Dear Reader. You.
Actually, we try hard not to forget you around here. Newsroom staffers can testify that we talk about you all the time at our weekly meetings. "We exist to serve our readers," goes the mantra. Keeping that in the back -- or preferably front -- of our minds is a real and present help when it comes to making coverage and content decisions.
Never mind what the people we write about want us to say. Never mind what our advertisers, as important as they are to our well-being, would prefer that we say about them in our news columns. Never mind what we want. Is this of interest or importance to our readers? That should be the bottom line in this business of community journalism. Heck, it should be the top line.
But that raises an important corollary question: Just who are these readers of whom we speak? And are we giving them what they want?
The Pilot has conducted a couple of surveys on that topic over the 13 years since Publisher David Woronoff and the other new owners took over, and they have been helpful. And because we place great importance on accessibility and on individual involvement in local events and affairs, we also receive a steady flow of anecdotal input from individual readers spontaneously voicing opinions. So it's not as if we're flying blind.
Still, I have long felt a need to establish some kind of forum, with minimum structure and maximum informality, in which a representative group of subscribers -- with perhaps a nonsubscriber or two thrown in for a broader perspective -- could feel free to speak their minds in offering us needed advice, criticism and feedback.
All this has become more urgent than ever in this time of challenge when news media outlets everywhere feel a need to re-examine what they're doing and explore ways to keep themselves relevant.
Accordingly, I'm now laying the groundwork for this fall's launch of a new entity tentatively called our Reader Advisory Council.
We're still working out the details and may come up with a jazzier title. But the idea is to select a group of 10 or 12 members, refreshed through frequent turnover. They will get together with me and others from The Pilot every couple of months in our conference room, perhaps over sandwiches, and tell us how we're doing. We will aim for the greatest possible diversity in age, race, demographic, gender, geography and political leaning.
Among other things, council members will be asked to:
-- Keep notes between meetings on their likes and dislikes about what they see in the paper. Let us know when we strike out or hit a foul ball as well as when we knock one out of the park.
-- Keep their eyes and ears open to comments from others. Take notes on remarks they might hear about our sins of commission and omission and share them at the next meeting, keeping the sources confidential if they choose.
-- Offer new story ideas.
-- Provide us with a focus group on which to try out new concepts.
So far this year, we've initiated several major changes designed to help us economize: We converted to a narrower page, reorganized sections with an idea toward using space more efficiently, went to paid obituaries, and changed to a more compact TV Week. I'm pleased with the way all those have gone, but we would have benefited from having a group like this to run the changes by first.
Looking to the future, we're about due for another typographical redesign and a retooling of our Web site. It will be great to be able to bounce prototypes off an impartial body.
Over the months, I've already talked about serving on this body with several members of the community who I know take a strong interest in The Pilot. We'll be seeking volunteers for some other spots.
If you'd like to be considered, please e-mail me at the address below. Put "Reader Council" in the subject line.
Thanks for your interest.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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