Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Building a Better Paper: More News, Less Confusion

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Building a Better Paper: More News, Less Confusion

Article excerpt

IT'S TIME FOR THE bottom line. Today I close out 46 years of efforts in helping put a good paper on readers' doorsteps. So in this last column I offer a list of ideas for newspaper improvement, all with the goal of better journalism.

First, I'm listing thoughts gleaned from Post-Dispatch readers in some 40,000 conversations and letters over the past five years.

After that, some observations from me about newspaper excellence, based on a variety of jobs I've held at four newspapers. Then, a word from former Post-Dispatch advocates, now safely out of readers' earshot, themselves readers.

Here goes, not necessarily in order of importance:

Changes in regular features:

When a columnist, a puzzle, a page or listing isn't in its usual spot, readers want to know why. Almost all of us are miffed if a favorite item is missing. A prominent announcement, high on the proper page, should tell readers the truth.

This gets observed pretty regularly in the Post-Dispatch, but should be a "must."

More news up front:

Readers feel they've been short-changed on news when the paper's A Section has only six pages or so.

The newsroom is provided a fixed average amount of space for news, but when much of it's in back sections, readers get a bad impression.

A News Analysis/Editorial section that isn't "buried":

When the editorial section is behind several pages of classified ads, my explanations to readers for the current arrangement are unavailing. It's seen as downplaying the importance of those pages, in many eyes.

Editorials, letters and Commentary articles get high readership among the paper's thoughtful subscribers.

Parenthetical statements inserted in news stories to note contradictory, fuzzy or incorrect information:

This means inserting such statements as: "In remarks in the courtroom that (the judge) would not explain later, he said . . . ," as Reporter Charles Bosworth Jr. wrote in a news story this past week.

Readers like to be told when a reporter tried but couldn't get an explanation for some puzzling information.

Fewer prominently played features in the family pages about controversial subjects that may include explicit sex, profanity or vulgarity.

Most parents want to steer their kids toward positive, educational, inspirational articles about subjects suitable for family dinner-table conversation.

Responsive staff members:

Readers are entitled to sympathetic, polite responses from a newspaper's employees - in all departments - whenever they call. I've had too many complaints about rudeness in various departments at the Post-Dispatch.

Now some of my observations:

Newspapers' efforts to gain young readers are best directed toward parents and teachers, I think. Elementary school pupils who see and read newspapers in their homes and classrooms are more likely to become subscribers in early adulthood. …

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