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Cook column: Enough about ‘Calidamnfornia’

I have finally put all my readership studies to use. Reams of paper have flowed into my office through the years ó reports from the Readership Institute, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, task forces and workshops.
Mountains of research went into advising the nation’s newspapers on how to boost readership over the past 20 years. And last week the products of that research came in handy.
Seeing that most of the pages were used on only one side, I put them in a pile near the newsroom printer so we can use the other side.
“Yes,” I can tell my journalistic colleagues. “Those reports were very useful.”
– – –
We’ve been doing some belated spring cleaning in the Post newsroom. Our business is changing, and we need to evolve along with our readers. So we’re sweeping out cobwebs ó literally and figuratively ó and aiming for a fresh start.
Everything we thought we knew about newspaper readers in the 1980s and 1990s ó all our studies to see how their eyes traveled around a news page, all the strategies to attract young readers ó all that is about as useful now as the clunky old CRT terminal another reporter and I used to share on a swivel-top table.
The Internet has not changed all the rules, but it has changed a lot of them. There’s more immediacy to our work as news gatherers and distributors, and we’ve learned that the printed word is but one way to serve readers. The possibilities seem endless.
Case in point: the Rowan County American Legion team’s victory last week in the state tournament. Our Sports Department and photographer Jon Lakey provided excellent coverage to appear in the Salisbury Post. But that was just the beginning. We posted updates on SalisburyPost.com as the games progressed during the day. Lakey also shot short video segments at the games, one of which is now online. We’ve offered readers the opportunity to post congratulatory messages to the team on our Web site. And photos from the games have proved to be popular in our online photo gallery, both for viewing and purchasing.
Such services were not possible when the readership studies that filled my shelves were done.
– – –
Suppose there were no Salisbury Post? The question is theoretical; the paper is doing fine. But who would be providing those Legion baseball stories and images and keepsakes?
For that matter, how would Salisbury residents have learned of the garbage fee that the city proposed? Who would have told you about the county commission pressuring the ABC Board to share more profit?
Where would friends and family see your child’s name on the all-A honor roll?
How about obituaries?
“I would hate to think of Salisbury without the Salisbury Post,” retired Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner said in a letter, “and I know that your thousands of subscribers feel the same way. Please do not let it happen here.”
– – –
When I asked readers in the spring to tell us what they wanted, people were direct and helpful ó pro and con.
Some complained about biased reporting, skinny newspapers, too much national news (“I don’t care what goes on in Calidamnfornia,” Brenda Forbis said), too much negative news and even too much positive news. (“You’re so wrapped up in putting positive spins on everything that you’ve totally lost your sense of objectivity!” said Sam Morgan of Spencer.)
Other responses heaped us with praise. Thank you. You made my day.
Many were in the middle, telling us what they’d like to see more of. Here are excerpts:
– On SalisburyPost.com, kdrake said: “A section for school news (not school sports, school news) so you don’t have to hunt around to see your kid’s named buried someplace. … Expanded sports section for all schools, all grade levels, all sports.”
– TammyLynn wrote: “More stories about local people in the community, from business owners to stay-at-home moms and how they got to be where they are today, etc.”
– From Localreader: “More in-depth reporting, investigative journalism and an expanded watchdog role for the newspaper. More hard news.”
– Ed Norvell said he spends a lot of time in a coastal community that has no local paper: “Without a local newspaper, the community learns its news by rumor, which is not accurate and can be downright dangerous. I hope the Post never goes away. It serves a vital role in our community.”
Thanks, everyone. We are listening.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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