T-U Metro Section Lacks Space, News Readers Want Much More

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

Readers want local news. The more local the news, the better.

Yet, the small size of the Metro section does not come close to filling reader requests.

Today's column is the second in a series examining the newspaper's sections, all taken from the reader's perspective.

While readership of the Metro section is nearly as high as the A section, most advertisers prefer to be up front in the A section. Since advertising largely determines the number of pages in a section, that means little space in Metro.

"Starving" is the best description for news space in Metro. When the section is limited to six pages, it looks something like this: A front page, about two pages of paid obituaries, two pages of editorials and opinion columns and some news on the back page. Toss in display advertising and you're left with barely two pages of local news. Staffers have taken steps to reduce the frequency of those six-page sections, but it's an extreme example of a continuing space crunch for local news.

Given enough space, however, it's the job of the Metro staff of reporters and editors to make their stories relevant. Too often, stories are based on the same government and official agencies. Not many regular people. Not much pizzazz.

There is one recent addition, though. In response to reader surveys, the Times-Union has been writing more news stories on people who have died in the community -- news obituaries. Those stories usually go in the Metro section. The residents being profiled don't need to be VIPs, just people who have lived interesting lives.

A few more comments:

-- Though the section is called Metro, it continues to focus on Jacksonville. Yet population growth in neighboring counties is astounding. Without a regular spot for suburban news, readers must hunt for an occasional story. Years ago, the Metro section included a page of news for Clay and St. Johns counties. …