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Columbia Missourian

Readers board and surveys are routes to improve Missourian

By Tom Warhover
September 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

You may have noticed that several weeks ago the print Missourian increased its story count on the front page.

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Since March, the newspaper generally ran three main stories along with several nuggets of news. Dominant was a single report, which editors dubbed “the cover,” with more layers of information and deeper reporting.

The story count increased in August. Why?

Feedback.

Several readers complained that the print Missourian wasn’t “newsy” enough on the front. Internally, many editors felt that relying on one in-depth report didn’t allow enough flexibility on the page and was too difficult to consistently deliver.

Most good businesses rely on feedback from customers to deliver a better product. It’s important for a newspaper, which delivers more than a widget or a good piece of shoe leather.

After all, a good newspaper is a community talking to itself.

I hope the previous sentence looks familiar. It’s in some newspaper ads appealing to you to join a Readers Board.

This board would meet monthly to talk about what works and what doesn’t in the Missourian. Professional editors and students would listen to your ideas and concerns.

Teri Finneman, who was a reporter elsewhere before joining the Missouri School of Journalism, hatched the idea, and I think it’s a fine one.

Teri is looking for a diverse bunch of readers. The board could hear what’s on the minds of Missourian staffers. And, of course, Readers Board members would give the staff a piece of their minds.

“These people can also serve as a good reference point when reporters need help finding specific sources and can help improve the paper by offering new ideas,” Teri told me in an e-mail. “I think it's very easy for us as reporters and editors to think we know what's best when there are a lot of people in the community who can bring some fresh things to the table for us to consider and make us better.”

Agreed.

I hope you’ll drop Teri an e-mail (tafxbb@mizzou.edu) or letter (PO Box 917, 65205). She’d like to begin making selections after Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Vox magazine is trolling for your input through a reader survey.

Its editors are collecting feedback from an online survey. Editorial director John Fennell knows it is unscientific, because it’s not a random poll.

So each Vox editor also interviewed five newsstand readers and five readers from a list of subscribers. Tweets have been sent. Facebook appeals for input have been made.

Finally, there’s some old-fashioned letter writing.

I received an e-mail from Columbia real estate agent and occasional politician John John this week. He was irritated, with good reason, about reporters who call and leave a message with no name, unintelligible or non-existent phone numbers, and requests to call back to a long-distance number.

I sent the note along to all the reporters. Good journalism often begins with a simple phone call.

Thanks, John, and thanks to everyone who helps make the Missourian better.

Tom