Your Annual Chance to Grade Newspaper Comes Next Week

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Slusher

In the fall of 1999, the American Society of Newspaper Editors published the results of a two-year study chronicling a steady decline in the confidence people have in their newspapers.

That people were not reading newspapers as much as they had in the past already was well-documented. But the editors' survey suggested a critical reason for that trend - a conspicuous drop in the level of trust readers place in their newspapers.

The Daily Herald was disturbed by the survey results, and we wanted to do something to make sure they don't apply to us. Thus was born our first Reader Report Card, an opportunity for readers to rate us on characteristics that foster faith in and enjoyment of the paper. Next week, the Reader Report Card will appear for its third installment, and it may be the most important yet.

The response to our first in-paper survey overwhelmed our greatest expectations. Some 2,000 readers completed the report card. Even more returned it last year. So, now we are beginning to amass a body of results that can help us monitor our progress - or regress, if that's the case - in a visible way.

By comparing results from year to year, we can look for trends that give us some insight into how well we are satisfying your expectations. We can see if our efforts to redesign the paper a year ago are improving your assessment of our usefulness, for instance. We can see whether efforts we have made to concentrate on the depth and quality of our writing have affected how you rate our level of seriousness - and whether we have been able simultaneously to maintain your appreciation of our commitment to the local community.

Most of the categories in which we seek your rating were drawn directly from the national newspaper editors' study, which cited five dominant reasons behind the public's poor perception of media credibility - too many factual errors, and spelling and grammar mistakes; not enough respect for readers and their communities; suspicion that journalists' biases influence what they cover and how they cover it; a belief that journalists pursue sensational stories in order to sell more papers; and a sense that newsroom values and practices conflict with those of readers. …