Thursday, February 02, 2006

Managing creative destruction

Like me, you’ve probably heard endlessly about that 2004 Pew survey that found 45% of readers believe “little or nothing” of what they read in the paper. Outside critics and hand-wringers inside the industry repeat it over and over again.

But almost nobody mentions this result from a more recent Pew study, which was done a year later in 2005: people surveyed gave newspapers an 80-20 favorable/unfavorable rating, higher than President Bush, the Supreme Court, Congress or either political party.

We have strong reputations and widespread trust. But both are being attacked and eroded all the time, and we need to work actively to preserve and extend them.

We’ve talked about a number of ways to increase transparency and nurture trust amongst readers. Here are some that I can recall. I’d love to hear what else you think we could or should be doing:

  • Doing accuracy surveys, mailed questionnaires
    • You can report to readers periodically on the results
    • Inviting readers to join daily news conferences and editorial board meetings
    • One-week stints at each meeting would provide more than 100 local citizens with an inside look at how you do business
  • Writing regular columns about the making of the newspaper – decisions, incidents, feedback etc
  • Using “How I Got That Story” opportunities to show readers what goes into reporting stories
  • Encouraging appropriate staffers to speak at public events, classrooms, civic clubs and so forth
  • Thinking about an editor’s blog? (Ask Melanie and Mark how it’s going for them).
  • Minimizing the use of anonymous sources, and enforcing strict standards for those that do appear
    • Any anonymous sources in the paper should be accompanied by as much detailed explanation as practical: why they needed to be anonymous, what their motive for speaking was, what their interest in the matter might be
    • Making use of the web as a way to authenticate, annotate stories where appropriate?
    • This can include transcripts, links to original source documents, supplementary materials, alternative points of view
  • Opening up both editorials and many stories for easy feedback via email or an online blog/forum.
  • Opening up letters to the editor to more readers by publishing online those that don’t make the cut for the printed page.
  • Establishing a back-and-forth thread for comments on letters will increase both freuqnecy and intensity of readership

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