Listen to your readers

Last night at SJSU’s King Library, former Knight Ridder chief news executive Jerry Ceppos made a few points that brought together a few things I’ve been rambling on about lately:

  1. Newspapers need to jump into the online world with both feet. Take the governor off the engine and start devoting a larger percentage of your staff to creating and editing content for the Web.
  2. Newspapers need to communicate with their readers, and the Web is the easiest way to do it. Newspapers need to talk with readers about why they do what they do, and what decision-making processes go into putting together a big story. This is part of building trust.
  3. Most of newspapers’ new readers and new profits are coming from online

Here’s a great example of a newspaper website that’s giving readers a chance to voice their views on opinion pieces by way of a group blog where all the regular newspaper columnists, plus many special guests (think Huffington Post) can and will blog on their own time, with comments flowing freely, including links to Technorati trackbacks. It’s from the Guardian, and it’s called Comment Is Free.

There are even links on each user comment to report it as “offensive” or “unsuitable.”

This is a great way to create a real live public forum, without confusing reporting on fact with expression of opinion. Let your readers easily add their own voices to your opinion pages, and you might build a site that they want to come back to.

[UPDATE: Oh, and of course, there’s an Editors’ Blog on the Guardian site. From its sidebar: “The Editors’ blog is a daily account of the process of editing the Guardian and Guardian Unlimited. It covers how editorial decisions are made, the events and discussions that take place and how the editorial side of the organisation works.”]