Designing a Destiny for Future Editorial Pages: Opinion Pool to Provide Deep Research
Oppedahl, John, The Masthead
By this time next year, NCEW members should have a lot more valuable research information about their audiences and some new, innovative workable ideas for adapting to the future. Specifically:
* Eight to ten newspapers will have volunteered to be experimental pilot sites for audience research and editorial page innovation led by NCEW with the help of several new partners, including the Reynolds Institute for Journalism at the University of Missouri, the Kettering Institute in Dayton, Ohio, and the Gannett Corporation.
* Focus groups and phone interviews will have been held in the eight to ten communities where the newspapers publish.
* That local research may lead to a national survey of the audience for opinion journalism in the U.S.
* The pilot newspapers, using the research, will have undertaken a number of experiments to try to figure out the best ways to operate in print (or broadcast) and on the Internet. Then, Web surveys will be undertaken to gauge how the Internet audience assesses the new work by the pilot newspapers.
All of these fall under the rubric of what we are calling "The Opinion Pool" This is an urgent, disciplined effort to build a model online template for opinion journalists. It is the result of efforts by the NCEW board and members over the past twelve months.
A year ago, in a speech to the 2006 convention, I tried to summarize the thoughts of the board and my own ideas, which had grown out of a strategic planning effort that I helped lead for NCEW. My talk was pretty downbeat.
The newspaper industry (and some local TV stations) were facing economic decline: Advertising revenues were dropping and audiences were diminishing; there were staff reductions almost everywhere and less space (or time) for editorializing.
And I hate to say I was right, but over the past twelve months, some newspapers have done away entirely with their daily editorial opinion pages and others have killed their weekend opinion sections.
I said in 2006 that it seemed to me that institutional (newspaper and local television) opinion journalism had about three years to figure out its future and take some action to guarantee that it has a future.
But I also stressed that editorialists retain marvelous, unique advantages: a great deal of knowledge of their local communities, especially public affairs; a high level of competence in analyzing and presenting ideas; strong connections to other opinion leaders; real credibility and broad brand identity.
My pitch then to NCEW members was: Build on your strengths and plan a new future. It seemed obvious that you needed more information about your audience and you needed to do some experiments--maybe radical ones--to figure out where you stood with the print audience, how you relate to the expansion of bloggers, and how you are going to evolve.
Several things happened over the past year.
First, I was asked by NCEW to speak to the collected publishers at the Newspaper Association of America convention in May in New York. I stressed to the audience there that they all have a possibly undernourished and unappreciated asset--their local opinion journalists--that is one of the few strategic, sustainable competitive advantages left to newspapers. I got what I took to be a positive response, both in supportive questions and informal conversation with publishers.
Second, I joined some NCEW board members in a meeting at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, on June 26-27, which was set up with the help of Eddie Roth, an editorial writer and NCEW member from the Dayton Daily News. …