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Listen to your Readers: They are your Best Friends

Liz Spayd, the new public editor of The New York Times’, took a lot of heat for her first column in the storied newspaper. Her column’s title speaks for itself: “Want to Attract More Readers? Try Listening to Them.” Expressions of contempt were not late in coming. Surprisingly, MIT Technology Review Editor Jason Pontin labeled Spayd’s article a “disastrous first outing.” According to Slate, it was “phony populism.” Perhaps critics can be commended for their honesty. Yet this attitude is surprising, to put it mildly. Readers have always been the raison d’être of newspapers. There is a practical problem in engagement with the audience: the sheer volume of comments and interaction. Then there is the issue of incivility. Studies, however, have shown that incivility decreased by at least 17 percent when a known reporter interacted with readers. They were also more likely to quote evidence for their comments when someone engaged them at newspaper. There is a powerful reason to engage readers. “What would prove more fruitful is for newsrooms to treat their audience like people with crucial information to convey — preferences, habits and shifting ways of consuming information,” Spayd says. That should help build up a loyal readership, and growth, too.

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