Editor's Views: Shifting emphasis of news could attract, shake up readers
What kind of news do you want?
That sounds like an easy question, but it's more complicated than you might think. Believe me.
The question keeps me up at night. And it's likely to occupy much of my time and that of many others at The Gazette in the months ahead.
Even if we agree on an answer, we might not be able or willing to provide the news that you want. Why? Maybe we don't have the resources, or maybe we're not comfortable tilting the balance as far as you'd like.
The challenge is even greater when you consider that there's not one “you” out there. There are thousands. And most of you have different ideas about what you'd like to see in The Gazette.
I wrote earlier of our plans to thoroughly review our content and then get employees and readers involved in a discussion about how to make our newspaper and website more interesting and relevant.
Those plans are pending, but a development in our industry last week got me thinking about a related aspect of the content balance. The Portland Oregonian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning news operation, is requiring reporters to post at least three stories a day on its website and increase that number over time, and it will reward those whose stories generate the most web traffic.
That's not a surprising approach given the need for all of us to increase our digital audience, but I'm not sure it's wise. The emphasis on quantity could hurt quality. After all, one important, well-researched story takes considerably more time than three quick-hitters that rely on one source and provide no depth or context.
Beyond that, chasing page views on the web can lead to choices that undercut the core mission of a news operation. Take a look at what's hot and trendy, and it's not typically important news about government or the economy that can significantly affect people's lives. It's often about Justin Bieber or cute animals or the latest trend in social media.
There's a place for all of that information, but for us, it's all about the balance.
We also have to think about who reads The Gazette and gazettextra.com and who we hope reads them in the future. It's no secret that newspapers have an older audience. By that, I mean many of our most loyal readers are 50 and older. Those people grew up with newspapers and appreciate what they provide. They are important to us, and they likely wouldn't be happy if we moved our coverage too radically away from the traditional stories that they expect and like.
If we hope to attract younger people and make them loyal customers, however, we might have to shift the balance toward what they consider interesting and important. Studies and surveys suggest that would involve more lifestyle news and information that helps them save time, find things to do or generally improve their lives.
To a degree, I think we're lucky to be having this conversation. A national “State of the Media” report released last week by the Pew Research Center's Project on Journalism details a steady decline in resources devoted to local news reporting. The trend is undeniable, and the reasons are tied to a sharp revenue decrease over the last decade.
At The Gazette, however, we've held our own and still take great pride in our local news. We've made cuts in some areas, but we've preserved the local resources we need to do the job.
Now, we need to define that job based on the wants and needs of the people we hope to serve. We produce a good newspaper and a strong website—both were honored as the best in the state this year—but we must evolve and get better. It's important to remember, though, that we only have so many people and so much space. If we add content in one area, we'll probably have to subtract in another.
We will ask many people for help as the process unfolds, but it's not too soon to get started. What, in particular, could we do to make The Gazette and gazettextra.com more valuable to you?
Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.