Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Readers Say...

The Saline Reporter and The Milan News Leader have held a series of focus groups in both communities over the last two weeks to find out what readers like about the papers, what they don’t like and their ideas for improving the papers.

Two focus groups were held in Saline and one in Milan, generating lots of great feedback. Video of the Milan focus group can be viewed at

Readers who didn’t have an opportunity to participate may be asked to in the future. We’re considering holding these focus groups quarterly or twice a year. E-mail me at if you would like to participate in the future.

In addition, we distributed surveys asking focus group participants and key communicators in both communities to answer questions such as whether they watch local video on our Web site, whether they’re satisfied with news, feature and sports content, and we asked them to rank their favorite sections of the newspaper, among other things.

Readers interested in giving us feedback may visit the posting on this blog to download a survey or e-mail me and I’ll send a copy.

The unscientific survey will help us remain focused on what readers want to see in their community newspapers and help guide us as we decide what types of changes we may want to make to improve the newspapers.

So far, I’ve tallied the results of 39 surveys and found some interesting information.

Of the 39, 28 are “usually” satisfied with the news coverage, three are “totally” satisfied and three were “seldom” satisfied. No one selected “never,” which makes sense as those people aren’t likely reading the paper anymore if they did and weren’t happy.

Now it’s our job to work on turning those “usually” satisfied readers into totally satisfied and at least bringing up those seldom satisfied to usually, and keep working from there.

Our sports coverage got a greater mix of reviews, with 12 totally satisfied, 16 usually, 11 seldom and one never. I suspect those who are seldom and never satisfied either don’t like sports or are parents of players who are in club sports or non-varsity and want more coverage of those teams.

Since our sports department is a one-man show, covering both Saline and Milan, we encourage coaches and parents to turn in game results, articles and photographs to help us provide more comprehensive coverage. Those items may be submitted to Jerry Hinnen at

The message that the newspaper is a collaboration between the news department and community was the theme of our focus groups as we asked participants to help us get the word out that we welcome submissions from readers.

In fact, we have information on how to write a news release, how to submit news tips and how to submit photographs on this blog.

What’s encouraging is that of the 39 surveys I’ve reviewed so far, 35 welcome articles written by readers. Only two said they wouldn’t. Most added that those submissions should be edited. I want to assure readers that everything is edited before it’s published. We only have one editor for two newspapers –– no copyeditor’s desk or multiple copyeditors like at the dailies –– so we don’t always catch every mistake, but we certainly try.

More interesting tidbits I’ve learned from the surveys include:
Twenty-one out of 39 surveyed were subscribers and 12 weren’t.
Twenty-three were women and 16 men.
Nineteen were aware we produce local videos of community events, sports and news coverage and 19 weren’t.
Eleven watch our local videos, while 24 don’t.
Seventeen would watch videos now knowing they’re available, seven would not, three might and one probably wouldn’t.
Fifteen were aware we produce a blog called “Inside the Newsroom,” while 22 weren’t aware.
Sixteen were interested in joining an online conversation by posting to our blog, while two might and 15 weren’t.

I find these responses particularly interesting as we strive to enhance our Web sites with video, more news and commentary. I don’t understand why people don’t want to watch videos of local events. Just this week alone, I posted video of children from Saline and Milan sitting on Santa’s lap sharing their Christmas wish lists, including a message from Santa; video of Treasure Trail to Santa in Saline, where local children visited shops as they made their way to Santa; and video of our focus group in Milan, where local officials and readers share their thoughts on the newspaper and how we can do a better job.

Other videos, which are still posted online, include athletic event coverage, interviews with coaches and athletes; Saline’s Harvest of the Arts, Summerfest, Celtic Festival and Business Enterprise Awards; high school graduation; and video of outgoing-Superintendent Beverley Geltner as she spoke to the board before placed on administrative leave.

And from Milan, we’ve had video of the recent Milan Shopping Extravaganza at the American Legion Hall, holiday parade and Milan Area Chamber of Commerce membership social and awards, as well as fireworks display, community fair, high school graduation and athletic games.

After attending most of these events and uploading videos, I usually post to the staff blog, adding photos and my comments from each of these events. In addition, my reporters have posted comments about local issues, observations from around town and athletic feats.

So, I ask myself, how do we spread the word about this unique, local content online, and how do we get more people interested? Why did seven people say they’re not interested in viewing these local videos? Is it time constraints or maybe they don’t have the technology? I don’t understand.

I am also surprised that 15 out of 39 people aren’t interested in posting their comments on our blog. Well, I guess if people are reading it, that’s a step in the right direction. Maybe we need to write on different topics that might inspire someone to post a comment or is it that people are just shy and don’t want to say how they feel for the entire world to see?

I was pleased to see that 30 out of the 39 said they look at the Neighbors pages with all the photographs. Only five said they don’t. These pages are created around a theme and photos are usually provided by freelance photographer Gaines Collins. This week, she has photos on Saline’s Christkindlmarket and the Paddock Elementary School Gift Shop in Milan.

In fact, the Neighbors pages and hometown heroes spread are the most popular special sections of the newspaper, next to election profiles, The Ones to Watch on young professionals, recipes and travel.

When asked if they could receive more information in the newspaper about specific subjects or issues, what would it be, most responded hometown heroes returning from military service. This was followed by features on local children, school happenings, township board meetings and city council news. I was surprised that government corruption only garnered four votes and government worker salaries only grabbed one.

I was also surprised that when asked how they determine which story to read first in the newspaper, placement ranked third, behind local significance and whether the readers are already familiar with the topic. That goes to show, every story doesn’t have to be on the front page to get read first.

Another surprise for me was that most readers surveyed think it’s “important” (16) or “very important” (14) that a person being profiled in a feature story be from the community. I was under the mistaken impression that as long as it was an interesting story –– whether it’s on a cancer survivor, someone who accomplished an amazing feat or some unusual invention that can help people –– it didn’t matter where the person was from because the story and what can be learned from sharing the information was what’s important.

I also found it curious that 18 out of 39 readers said they like to read news from surrounding communities in their newspaper. Fourteen said they don’t. I find this interesting because I get a lot of feedback from readers that they don’t want Saline news in their Milan paper and Milan news in their Saline paper.

I think some may be thinking of Pittsfield, York, Lodi, London and Saline and Milan townships as “surrounding communities.” Others, however, I know welcome news from both communities in their newspapers because they said so in focus groups, but not many.

When asked to rank the areas they prefer to read about in order of importance, Saline garnered 29 votes, surrounding townships had 29, Milan had 19, Washtenaw County grabbed 13, Ann Arbor had 10 and outlying cities such as Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester and Ypsilanti had four votes.

I still have about a dozen or so surveys to tally and more come in every day. I will take a look at these and try to interpret the data before we move forward with any changes. In the meantime, please feel free to download the survey from our blog and e-mail me your feedback.

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to attend our focus groups and fill out the surveys. We value your feedback as we strive to continue to produce the best newspaper we can in collaboration with the community.

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Blogger jb76 said...

As a former resident of the Milan area I applaud your effort to obtain input to improve your publication. There was some mention of the aging population, I have observed a certian reluctance by seniors to utilize computer comunications,(possibly due to vision problems) Did I miss the entire farewell address of the Mayor or Is it to be found only on your web site ? Do you plan to ask the electorate what they thought of the prior administration and what expectations thay may have of the new one, I commend you on your positive approach and when I am at the newstand and decide to spend the extra quarter it is with the hope that you still retain some reporters and jouralists on your staff.

December 20, 2007 at 12:18 PM  

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