Opinion Pool: The Challenge and the Opportunity: Moderator Offers Main Impressions

Article excerpt

Reggie Murphy, director of research services for Gannett Corp., moderated focus groups of young men and women in Seattle, Des Moines, and Vero Beach, Florida as part of the Opinion Pool project--spending two days in each cir.

* His objective was to generate discussion that will help us understand the "online and other media habits, tastes and interests of potential readers and audience (under age 40) so we can build opinion sites that focus on local community affairs and that become a prominent and regular part of local citizens' online routine."

Reggie will discuss his impressions in more detail at the annual meeting in Little Rock. But he offered to The Masthead what he called "eight big points" he took away from what the focus group members had to say in all three locales:

1. Younger audiences say they "need"--and that they actively seek out--opinion content on public and community affairs that is credible and that offers grist for intelligent discussion. They want information they can trust, and Websites that have purpose and meaning.

2. These audiences also say that they "want" entertainment and fun, even on sites geared toward opinion in public affairs. They like to read details and points of view that cite other sources. But they also may find "shouting matches" entertaining. And they look at unmoderated reader comments as a means to check the pulse (and range) of sentiment on the particular issue, then return to moderated and more thoughtfully developed material.

3. Younger audiences want opinion content that is simple, easy to find and use. That means they like sites that follow standard online conventions, such as commenting features and recommending (and ranking) options.

4. Only a small minority of younger audiences contribute comments to opinion websites and blogs--maybe as small as one percent. They go to the blog primarily to read the blogger's material, and if they like what they see they will return and become loyal readers. They read comments more for entertainment purposes and, as noted above, to get a sense of the range of sentiment.

5. Discussion forums and blogs seem more slanted toward men. Women view "opinion" content in a much broader sense, of involving not only "issues" and conventional "public affairs" but also discussion of lifesyle matters.

6. Social networking sites are for socializing, not blogging or issue discussions or reading opinion content. They are about communications among friends and acquaintances--and interposing issues and opinions could be seen as an intrusion.

7. Younger audiences are increasingly keen on controlling and aggregating their own content from many sources--through RSS feeds and other means--as opposed to relying on a single site as their content mainstay.

8. Local news brands have credibility with younger audiences. When they think Seattle Times or Des Moines Register or Scripps Florida newspaper they have a positive impression about the information's credibility.

And here's the opportunity.

These younger readers know little about newspapers' online opinion offerings.

They don't read the print product and are not steeped in the traditional editorial page. Thus they cannot fathom that a newspaper Website would have online opinion offerings that would engage them. They go to non-mainstream opinion sources because they think mainstream media will not "take chances" that independent sources do.

But they are not averse to checking out what newspapers have to offer.

The fact a Website is run by a newspaper is not a deal breaker--because of the perceived credibility of the information.

The Des Moines Register


NEW STUFF TRIED: We've picked our spots to host live "chats" with experts who field readers' questions and comments about a topic in the news. Our most successful chat came on the day that a voluntary flood evacuation was ordered for downtown Des Moines, when it was feared water would top the levees. …