By: Joe Strupp

ASNE Survey Looks At 8 Newspapers

WASHINGTON – Even disgruntled newspaper readers are heartened by
efforts to improve credibility, according to a reader survey of eight
newspapers released yesterday at the American Society of Newspaper
Editors (ASNE) annual convention here.

‘Readers have voiced overwhelming faith that these initiatives [to
improve credibility] can achieve their goals,’ said Christine Urban of
Urban & Associates of Sharon, Mass. ‘The majority of the public is
still willing to listen to explanations of the decision-making process,
and it is possible to rebuild trust.’

The survey queried readers in eight test markets where newspapers
implemented new programs or policies to increase credibility,
including: The Oregonian in Portland, The Gazette in Colorado Springs,
Colo., the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, the San Jose (Calif.)
Mercury News, Florida Today in Melbourne, the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-

Tribune, the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., and The Philadelphia

Readers at these papers said there are credibility problems. Urban
reported that more than 80% of adults surveyed in each test market
believed newspapers regularly over-dramatize stories to sell papers.
Readers also said newspapers should not interpret the news, but just
tell the facts. More than 66% said they had become more skeptical of
the press, and believed that special interest groups easily manipulated
newspapers. At the same time, only half of those respondents thought
newspapers used their power to protect the underdog, or that the press
had covered Bill Clinton fairly.

Still, Urban said readers who had heard about or participated in the
test market credibility projects and initiatives were hopeful that
improvements could occur. ‘Once people see these initiatives, they are
mostly open to ways of making things better,’ Urban said.

The test market initiatives included:

? Florida Today’s use of local residents as proofreaders

? the Mercury News’ new reporter checklist for accuracy and balance,
and a tracking system for corrections

? the Herald-Tribune reader advocate program that assigns rotating
editorial employees to the job of hearing reader complaints and
following up on them, then writing a column about it

? the Oregonian’s revamp of crime coverage to focus on trends and
issues rather than spot crimes, while also expanding youth coverage to
focus on individuals and issues such as youth stress

? a reader audit of minority coverage in the Gazette

? reader critiques in the newsroom of the American-Statesman, with
results published in the newspaper

? the creation of a new South Jersey edition of the Inquirer, including
a separate editorial and media criticism page

? the organization of special neighborhood meetings between editorial
staff and neighborhood groups by the Daily Press

‘It really helps us fulfill our jobs as journalists,’ said Sandy Rowe,
Oregonian editor, commenting on her paper’s program. ‘It does have a


Joe Strupp ( is associate editor for
Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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