2003.12.10 Culture of my newsroom

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I know what you want, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give it to you. Maybe I’ll just stumble along as I have over the years.

I’ve been reading about newspapers lately, and it’s always entertaining to find out what the Big Guys do and what we’re all supposed to be doing and how I probably fail so miserably.

In a report about readership issues, I saw people mentioned with titles such as  “readership editor.” Another person served as readership editor for a year and then she was promoted to “director of innovations.”

So many titles; so few people to assign the chores.

The challenge for these titled people is to come up with the answer to the old question: What makes people read newspapers?

Newspaper circulation is dropping nationwide and publishers are worried. Not all publishers. I’m not worried. The Observer’s circulation fluctuates from year to year, but there’s no significant change. We’re doing OK.

A national newspaper group really looked into the challenges of readership. They surveyed 37,000 readers who responded to 450 questions. Can you imagine that? Spending the time to answer 450 questions? What kind of a person would put up with all of that? This casts a shadow of doubt on the survey.

POURING through the data (21 million pieces of data), researchers came up with eight solutions to address shrinking readership, such as:

• Customer service. In a summary report, mention was made of a paper in Florida that has people answering the phone who could take an ad, deal with a missed paper, take a report on the birth of a child, etc. And, even more flabbergasting, this same person could be found at the front desk when a reader walked into the newspaper office.

We already have a couple of those people on staff, so we’re doing OK there.

• Content. They measured 30 news topics and readers put the most importance on news about the community and ordinary people. At some papers, news means bad news, but crime reporting was way down on the list, just ahead of sports.

Higher up on the list are stories about science. That’s good news to me. Science stories are my favorite, and better yet, readers said it’s OK if they’re long. It’s a complicated science topic, after all.

• Brand. I’ve always been somewhat confused about this word. I think of cattle in the old west. I think of steers screaming in pain as a hot iron is applied to a buttock. So how does that transfer to a newspaper?

Apparently, it has something to do with readers’ perceptions of your newspaper. Do readers see your paper as dull? As negative? As a little stupid? Or, as the example in the study points out, intelligent, successful and experienced?

I’m not sure that I want to ask the question. It’s easier to just keep on doing what I’m doing.

• Culture. They’re talking about the newspaper’s culture and how it might need to be reformed. Editors and writers get these ideas in their heads about what a newspaper should contain and it becomes the culture of the newsroom. I don’t take pictures of people passing checks or shaking hands over a plaque. I try to avoid photos of people in the firing squad position staring at the camera. I know there are people out there who want check passing photos, but it’s not part of my culture.

In response to the study, several papers are adding more of what is known as “chicken-dinner news”: weddings, obituaries, stories about ordinary people. In other words, they’re adding what we Little Guys have done for years.

I’ll take additional obituaries, too, but I’m not going to go out of my way to create them. I’ll always remember the reader survey at a Hillsdale County paper: Give us more obituaries.

From what I’ve read, it appears that, overall, publishers have responded to the readership study by scheduling a lot more staff meetings. That sounds like an important first step toward keeping things just the same.

     – Dec. 10, 2003
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Front.little Ball
    Fayette's Demetrious Whiteside (left)Skylar Lester attempt to keep the ball from going out of bounds during Morenci's recent basketball tournament for fourth and fifth grade teams. Morenci's Andrew Schmidt stands by.
  • Front.tug
    MORENCI pep rallies generally end with a tug of war. The senior class entry, shown above, did not advance to the finals. Griffin Grieder, Alaina Webster, Kyle Long and Jazmin Smith are shown at the front of the rope, giving it their best effort.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Athletic Fields
    SPORTS COMPLEX—Fayette’s outdoor athletic facilities will include three ball fields for summer recreation leagues at the southwest corner of the school. The baseball and softball fields, along with the running track, will be constructed on the east side of the school. Outdoor athletic fields were not part of the new school project from 2007, but voters approved a $1.4 million levy for a school addition and the sports fields last August. Both projects are scheduled to be complete by July 20.
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.band
    TROMBONISTS Jake Myers (left) and Max Baker perform Friday at the annual Senior Citizens Luncheon at Fayette High School. The National Honor Society and the FFA chapter teamed up to serve a meal to area seniors and to provide musical entertainment. Both the school band and choir performed. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.

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