By: Todd Shields

Nebraska Editor Advises Reader Panels For Newspapers

WASHINGTON – Newspapers that listen carefully to their
readers can grow their circulation, the editor of the growing
Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star said Thursday. David
Stoeffler, speaking here at the American Society of Newspaper
Editors meeting, described how the Journal Star drew in
reader comment when it redesigned sections.

“Readers will be happy to tell you what they think,” Stoeffler
said. “And if you listen you’ll see some increased circulation.”

Stoeffler was among members of a panel examining how newspapers
can cultivate greater involvement with readers. Other speakers
included Dennis Hetzel of the York (Pa.) Daily
Record, who explained how a local history project evoked a
strongly favorable local response, and Jan Schaffer, executive
director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.

Stoeffler displayed charts showing Sunday circulation had climbed
from around 84,000 to 86,000 copies. The Journal Star
begins its reader involvement efforts by placing an advertisement
inviting comments. That usually brings in 40 to 100 responses;
from among them a readers’ panel of 12 to 15 people is chosen,
Stoeffler said.

“Find out what they’d like to see in the newspaper. Where do they
get their information now?” Stoeffler said. He cautioned against
taking the panel’s recommendations verbatim. “Do things that mesh
with what you already know from other sources, or what your gut
tells you,” Stoeffler said.

Reader suggestions have led to such Journal Star features
as a weekly encapsulation of recent restaurant reviews aimed at
readers who don’t always read the paper; an enlarged calendar of
children’s activities; and a gardening column that makes sure to
include tips on what to do each week. The changes have helped
boost reader satisfaction, with surveys showing widespread
improvements in attitudes toward the newspaper, Stoeffler said.
For instance, a revamping of the science section undertaken with
reader input nearly doubled satisfaction with science coverage,
to 75% of those surveyed, according to statistics Stoeffler

Todd Shields (tshields@editorandpublisher.com) is the Washington editor for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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