Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reader Input on Heds Yields Mixed Results

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reader Input on Heds Yields Mixed Results

Article excerpt

The Orange County (Calif.) Register is the latest newspaper to embrace the American Idol model by letting readers vote on the Web for the next day's headlines. But not just any reader can make his voice heard: At the end of July, the paper began selling that capability as part of its new VIP rewards program.

Membership has two levels, explains VP/ Marketing Lelani Bluner. If a person subscribes to the paper at 50% or more of the newsstand price, they can opt-in for basic membership. But the perks are greater for those who have subscribed for at least a year. Basic members, for example, get discounts on game tickets for the Anaheim Ducks. Premium members might get the chance to skate with the hockey team.

However, both levels can vote on the Register's headlines. "It's been an unscientific pursuit of newspapers to really understand the community and its pulse," says Jeff Light, deputy editor/daily news. Light notes he got the idea from the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, which started letting readers vote on front-page stories in January.

The Register provides several headlines with detailed previews of the accompanying story. Once a vote has been cast, a pop-up window shows all of the votes thus far.

The paper reserves the right to override the winning headline, but promises to explain the reason for the decision -- a problem Light would welcome. That's because so far, relatively few have been participating.

Granted, the VIP club just started, and Light acknowledges it's hard to find where to vote in the special section (originally it was buried way down in the "insider extras" box). The paper plans to tweak and promote the poll in coming months.

But Light wonders how interested readers really are in starting a conversation with the newsroom and giving their two cents. "Maybe I have the wrong idea about how interactive the newspaper is supposed to be," he muses. …

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