Saturday, May 21, 2011

Asked and received

I asked for your comments and I got them.

Between the various traditional and new-media options, we received 66 responses to my request for feedback on whether it was appropriate to put a story about Quentin Killian, aka “Troll”, on our front page. As part of our ongoing series about “characters” in downtown Idaho Falls, we featured the tattoo artist on our front page last week, causing a strong reaction from at least a dozen or so people who called in (and, no doubt, others who didn’t.).

Getting feedback from e-mail, Facebook, phone calls and that old standby, the Postal Service, isn’t exactly scientific, but it’s instructive and interesting. Here’s the breakdown: 17 people said the story either was entirely inappropriate or should have been published in our West section, not on the front page. The remainder -- 49 people -- thought both the story and its play on our front page was perfectly appropriate.

After years of reading and moderating our Post Talk message board on the Post Register’s web site, I’ve become all too accustomed to uncivil language, name-calling, and discussions that deteriorate into a series of personal jabs. In contrast, nearly all of the comments we received on the Killian story were thoughtful and polite.

You’ll not be surprised that the following comment was my favorite, from a “politically conservative” reader: “I'm continually amazed that a small community the size of I.F has been the home of a local newspaper having the quality of the PR.”

Here’s something else we found interesting -- people who called or hand-wrote letters were almost uniformly against our decision. People who sent e-mails or posted on Facebook or Post Talk were generally in favor of the decision. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that this probably indicates different tendencies based at least partially on age.

That pretty much describes a daily newspaper’s challenge and opportunity. Our 70,000 readers range from 12 to 90-plus in age, yet we put out one edition per day. We try to choose news and information to interest that broad range of people.

While the response I get may not be scientifically representative of our entire readership, it was a healthy reminder of our need to put out a newspaper every day varied enough to continue attracting a wide audience without unnecessarily poking some of our readers in the eye.

After all of this I reaffirmed, to myself, at least, that the placement of the story was a good decision and that getting regular feedback from our readers is a really good thing. Don’t wait for another invitation – drop me a letter or e-mail or join the conversation on the Post Register’s Facebook page any time.

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