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Matthew Hoy currently works as a metro page designer at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The opinions presented here do not represent those of the Union-Tribune and are solely those of the author.

If you have any opinions or comments, please e-mail the author at: hoystory -at- cox -dot- net.

Dec. 7, 2001
Christian Coalition Challenged
Hoystory interviews al Qaeda
Fisking Fritz
Politicizing Prescription Drugs

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Newspapers' problems: One of the problems newspapers sometimes encounter is a disconnect with the communities they cover. It's not an uncommon occurrence for any large company, but it can be especially damaging to newspapers who need to tell the stories of a diverse audience.

At least once a year at The San Diego Union-Tribune the paper's editor and senior editors make phone calls to people who've canceled the paper -- a job usually left to much lower-paid workers -- in an effort to find out what they think of the paper and get them to resubscribe. (When the lower-paid workers do it, their primary goal is to get them to resubscribe.)

The reasons people cancel the newspaper are many -- from personal financial reasons to outrage over how an issue has been covered.

But when upper management makes these "retention" calls, the goal is to open lines of communication with readers.

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Inquirer doesn't quite get it. At the Inquirer, members of the editorial board got to make the retention calls, but they don't really want to hear what their readers think.

Thank you for doing this.

Pat will give your list of names and numbers shortly.

Here's a rough idea of a script.

Introduce yourself as a member of the editorial board. You've heard that the person stopped the paper over concerns with election coverage (do not pin it on 21 Reasons; in fact, many people who cancelled did so over Polman or other issues), and you wanted to give them a call after the heat of the campaign died down.

If they blow you off, thank them for their time and let them know that if they ever want to resubscribe they can do so by calling our customer service line at 800-222-2765. They can get a 50 percent discount on the rate by mentioning that they had stopped the paper due to election coverage.

If they want to talk, that's a bummer.

The "21 Reasons" mentioned in the memo are a series of 21 editorials that the Inquirer's editorial page ran on why voters should choose John Kerry for president. One editorial a day for 21 days. Three weeks worth of an endorsement.

And if you cancelled your subscription over it, well, they want to appear as though they care about your views, but not really.

Newspapers don't need to blame television, radio or the Internet for declining circulation -- they're doing it to themselves.

2:50 PM

While the reasons given for stopping the paper are numerous, I agree that newspapers are doing it to themselves. Just look at the CJR artcle on Let's Blame the Readers http://www.cjr.org/issues/2005/1/cornog-readers.asp and you will see that too many journalists (editors)sit in an ivory tower and dictate what news is worthy for print.

Newspapers constantly whine about needing to attract younger readers, but never seem to be able to put in content that attracts them. A sports editor's idea of including youth is posting high school football scores. This is great if you are a cheerleader or a football player and irrelevant to EVERYONE else. Tomorrow's UT will finally show some "extreme sport" coverage, but is still a long way from getting there. Less than three months ago, one of the largest paintball tournaments was held in San Diego. The sports section didn't even post the scores of the tournament let alone sports coverage. (There was mention of a show and that the tournament was taking place, but this was the extent of coverage of a multi billion dollar a year industry event)

And this doesn't even get into the "hard news" of the issue. It is far easier to say that readers want dumbed down journalism than it is to admit that journalists have quit holding themselves accountable for good journalism and editing. Even the Union Tribune's web site has grammar errors and mistakes on a daily basis.
The above mentioned CJR article trys to blame industry and school systems for reader apathy, "'In doing so, the traditional and primary collective goal of public schools building literate citizens able to engage in democratic practices' --The goal of American's founders-- 'has been replaced by the goal of social efficiency, that is, perparing students for a competitive labor market anchoreed in a swiftly changing economy.'" WRONG. First, the only thing I learned about social efficiency was survival of the social meanest. Let's review, shall we? Can I see a show of hands from the people who went to public schools that were taught ANYTHING about a changing economy, let alone creating a competitive labor market.

Readers will come back to major metros when there is something relevant, insightful, and timely for them to read. While major metros try to be all things to all people and still pamper their newsrooms with delusions of importance, they will continue to falter.

Younger readers? Name a major metro with an chief editor under the age of 55.
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