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Cook column: Tell us: What do readers want?

Last week I posted a question on my Facebook page: What do readers want?
Several people quickly responded:
– “Honesty.” said a young nurse in Durham who is from Salisbury.
– “Education coverage!!!” said a teacher who has been in the trenches about seven years.
– “Events going on in town (Night Out on Town, October Tour etc), school events, good deeds or projects, ways to be thrifty in today’s economy,” said a busy mother.
– “Maybe even more local news?” said a Catawba College professor. “The national news is everywhere … I’d love to see more stories on good deeds done by local people, more local sports, more local event coverage, education, etc.!”
– “Animal controversies!” said a member of the Post’s staff ó joking, I think. But he’s right. People love animal stories. Wandering bears are a big hit.
– “To get rid of Bev Perdue,” was part of one response, a vote for political coverage.
– “I miss Rose Post kind of stories.,” said a longtime reader.
Now I’ll ask you ó in print, online, on the phone ó what do you want as a reader of the Salisbury Post?
Send a letter to me at the Salisbury Post, P.O. Box 4639, Salisbury, NC 28145-4639.
E-mail editor@salisburypost.com.
Call me at 704-797-4244.
Or let me know on Facebook or Twitter (ElizCook).
– – –
Newspapers are changing; some have cut the number of days they print a paper, several have gone entirely online. A few may go out of business.
We’re still rocking along at the Post, committed to printing a daily newspaper and getting plenty of demand for it. We have picked up a few hundred new subscribers in the last month. Meanwhile, our online readership at www.salisburypost.com continues to grow.
But this is no longer business as usual. We’ve tightened belts in every department and cut back staff. We’re rethinking our content, too. What do readers want to see when they pick up their local paper or go to it online?
I can speculate all day about what we should do. I’ve spent time talking to other editors and reading industry publications that address the issue.
Then the obvious dawned on me. Ask the readers.
– – –
People have been telling us what they want all along. Fielding requests from readers is like breathing here; it’s what we do.
Ditto with non-readers. Some callers will admit they don’t subscribe but still want our help getting the word out about their event or accomplishments. Maybe someday they will subscribe, we tell ourselves. Either way, we’re here to help.
I asked my staff to list ideas or requests they’ve received lately that they have not been able to accommodate.
Some of the things we haven’t gotten to are basic community news ó a senior citizens meeting, countless school and church events, an interview with an interesting 83-year-old. Or 90-year-old. Or 100-year-old.
We also get requests for more complicated stories that require investigation.
Some are beyond our capabilities, like digging out the “truth” about Barack Obama’s place of birth or tracking federal bailout money. Then there was this: “I know a guy in Iraq who I think is involved in brain-washing the troops. Can you check on this?”
Others are more on our level but still complex ó deeper coverage of the Alcoa-Yadkin Project controversy, analysis of local government spending, and so on.
As editor, I am supposed to make sure the Post gives readers what they want and gives the community the kind of coverage a democratic society needs.
Sometimes I wish I had a magic wand. Or a genie.
– – –
To lighten the mood last week, I visited WorkJoke.com.
“An editor, a photographer, and a journalist are covering a political convention in Miami. They decide to walk up and down the beach during their lunch hour. Halfway up the beach, they stumbled upon a lamp. As they rub the lamp a genie appears and says ‘Normally I would grant you three wishes, but since there are three of you, I will grant you each one wish.’
“The photographer went first. ‘I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas with no money worries.’ The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.
“The journalist went next. ‘I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the Mediterranean with no money worries.’ The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to the Mediterranean.
“Last, but not least, it was the editor’s turn. ‘And what would your wish be?’ asked the genie.
” ‘I want them both back after lunch,’ replied the editor. ‘The deadline for tomorrow’s newspaper is in about 10 hours.’ “Typical editor ó more concerned about putting out the paper than money.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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