Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Readers Preview School Section

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Readers Preview School Section

Article excerpt

Unusual prepublication review involves readers, yields good ideas

Breaking with newsroom tradition, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., SunSentinel has allowed a group of readers to review a back-to-school section prior to publication.

The move was designed to glean feedback on the content and look of the section, featuring stories on enrollment, charter schools and standardized test scores, said Earl Maucker, editor of the Tribune Co. paper.

The panel - 11 teachers, parents and students - made 17 suggestions, some of which were incorporated in the Aug. 9 section in the Broward County edition. The Palm Beach school section was not reviewed because of production schedules.

Inviting readers to look at stories prior to publication is highly unusual in American newsrooms, where editors zealously guard unpublished copy and photos. Sometimes sources are called to confirm quotes or to check parts of com plicated stories, but rarely do sources review stories before publication.

"We consider ourselves a reader's newspaper. And we want to connect," Maucker said. "How are you going to know what you can do to serve them better if they're not there to tell you. . . . The whole idea is to have a culture here that permits this kind of interaction to exist," said Maucker.

Prepublication review allows readers to raise questions and gives editors a chance to consider ways to make stories or graphics easier to understand.

Readers "get a chance to see how it's displayed, they get a chance to see how those cutlines fit in, how the whole story ties together with its photos and graphics. They get an opportunity to see the entire package, and they react to an entire package," said Maucker, who also noted that readers are told beforehand that any suggestions may or may not be accepted.

He asserted that reader reviews will only work on special sections and certain projects - not in the daily crush of news coverage.

Maucker emphasized that the editorial integrity of the paper is not compromised.

"Our feeling is you don't have to give anything away in your integrity. Again, we are not inviting sources to come in and review the material; we're asking readers that might tell us if they understand what we're doing as well as what we could be or should be. …

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