By: Mark Fitzgerald That's the advice of Minneapolis Star Tribune's editor, who believes pursuing potential readers can alienate loyal ones sp.
NEWSPAPERS RISK LOSING their most loyal readers if they rush recklessly after potential readers, warns Tim McGuire, editor and general manager of the reader customer unit at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "We have to understand our best customers are those who value information the most. We can't be pandering to the edge of the market, those so-called potential readers or at-risk readers," McGuire said. "We definitely need to be inclusive, but we must not threaten the needs of dedicated readers who want information, who value it, and who are willing to pay for it," McGuire told the Organization of News Ombudsmen annual conference in Minneapolis. McGuire's comments came in the wake of the release of a major industry study of how newspapers can attract that 13% of the adult population that has all the attractive characteristics of a newspaper reader ? with the exception of the reading habit. The study by Minneapolis-based MORI Research was sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors and was released at NAA's recent annual convention. To attract these potential readers, MORI president Kristin McGrath said, newspapers must "get rid of some sacred cows," including a "preoccupation with breaking news" and their "biased" view of their watchdog role. McGuire said there was much of value in the study. For instance, he said he likes the concept of taking "multiple approaches" to telling stories, an idea the MORI study strongly supports. "Yes, we do need to include potential readers [in planning newspapers] but the core of our business is the person genuinely interested in information," McGuire said in an interview. "If we do so much to get the potential reader, we could put the genuine reader at risk," he added. "I'm not taking a radical position at all," McGuire said. "But, yeah, you could create difficulties." In addition, he said, "There's no indication that if we do all the things in that report, that we will even get the potential reader." While he warned against faddish approaches to get readers, most of McGuire's speech to the ombudsmen emphasized the need to change to a "more reader-focused" newspaper. "It's time we started appreciating that most readers value us and, in fact, want more information than we give them," McGuire said. "Readers are challenging us to present more information, better, to tell stories better and to start identifying with who they are. They see us as elitist, too liberal, arrogant and hung up on dumb stuff." McGuire echoed the MORI study by arguing that "we become so hung up on the watchdog role, we lose our sense of context." "Great journalism," he said, "can only come from a fundamental respect for our readers."