By: David S. Hirschman
While many businesses use the phrase “The customer is always right” as a rallying cry, the concept has seldom filtered into the thinking at most newspapers, which traditionally invented and reinvented themselves based on top-down thinking. But when the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News decided to overhaul its operations two years ago, that classic listen-to-your- customers maxim was taken to heart.
Always an investigative powerhouse, the News, a Cox paper, was nonetheless losing readers on the print side, arguably to the Web (with weekday circ in the latest FAS-FAX at about 128,000). So executives decided it was time to reevaluate the paper from top to bottom, based on the Readership Institute’s research into rewarding readers’ “experiences.”
“If you want to make an impact, you have to shoot for revolution, not evolution,” says Editor Jeff Bruce. “When we started this process, we challenged our team to create a paper that would put the [current] Dayton Daily News out of business.”
The resulting recommendations, based on thousands of reader suggestions and extensive focus groups, narrowed the redesign team’s focus to three basic elements. Readers responded that they wanted a paper that “makes me smarter,” “gives me something to talk about,” and “looks out for my interests.”
The resulting product, which debuted in April, is completely different from its predecessor. The design is cleaner and bolder and flush with color on as many pages as possible. Articles no longer jump to another page, and several pages near the front have been reorganized to provide tighter news summaries. Some stories are told through diagrams and other graphics, while a feature called “The Daily Explainer” takes a different topic each day and breaks it down for readers.
There’s also increased emphasis on local and state news ? and the paper’s definition of “news” has been expanded to increase coverage of health, consumer news, social issues, and trends. Editorial pages strive to feature multiple perspectives on different issues.
The change has also required a leap of faith for those used to traditional newsroom culture. Bruce acknowledges that the Daily News’ new incarnation takes a lot more work to produce each day from a staff whose numbers and budget have remained the same. “Frankly, what we’re trying to do is less efficient,” he says. “And we’re still a long way from having it be where we want to be. But it’s definitely exciting.”