Bridging the ‘divide,’ the ‘$1 rag’ and more of what readers say

Posted 4/18/19

From time to time, I’ll use this space to share information and insights about the News + Record, to tell you about things we’re doing to make your newspaper better and, like today, to …

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Bridging the ‘divide,’ the ‘$1 rag’ and more of what readers say

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From time to time, I’ll use this space to share information and insights about the News + Record, to tell you about things we’re doing to make your newspaper better and, like today, to share the occasional interactions I have with other readers (and, of course, non-readers).

On Monday of this week, I made a presentation to members of the Siler City Rotary Club about the newspaper industry and the News + Record. In the Q&A time that followed, one member asked: “There’s this divide in Chatham County between east and west…between Siler City and Pittsboro…is that a challenge for you?”

I replied that the challenge for us at the CN+R was publishing a newspaper that serves all of Chatham County (which was part of our rationale for re-branding the newspaper from “The Chatham News” and “The Chatham Record” to the unified “News + Record”). It was our goal, I said, to produce compelling content that was informative, useful and interesting to everyone who called Chatham home.

But yes, the divide does show up in my conversations with readers. I shared with Rotarians the story of discussions I had on consecutive days last week — the first with a business owner who said they liked the “new look” of the paper, but told me her customers were complaining about it, saying that there was “no Siler City news.”

“They’ve said, ‘It’s all Pittsboro stories,’” she shared. “They’re saying you’ve abandoned Siler City.”

The very next day I was talking to a reader about the same topic. He said, “You’re not covering Pittsboro at all. It’s nothing but news from Siler City. If you want to capture the growth that’s taking place, you need to write more about Pittsboro.”

That’s part of the challenge, I said: overcoming the perception that coverage favors one town or another.

I then shared a conversation I’d had last week with someone who was displeased about our coverage of the Confederate statue issue. This reader — who was most definitely on the side of removing the statue from in front of the Historic Chatham County Courthouse — had gone as far as to measure, in inches, the amount of column space we’d devoted to what he described as “pro-Confederacy coverage.”

That was a long and spirited conversation that, I think, ended up in a good place, even though we agreed to disagree about what constituted “pro” or “anti” when it came to news coverage and the differences between “news” and “opinion.”

I talked to club members about the notion of confirmation bias, which occurs when we look for evidence or simply interpret things we see in a way that fits our pre-existing predilections. Or, as one researcher on the subject described it, to assign more weight to evidence that confirms a pre-existing hypothesis while ignoring evidence that would disprove a person’s bias.

Our goal is to publish a newspaper that serves the interests of readers all over Chatham County, but also one which covers the news where it happens. As we prepare stories and put the newspaper together each week, we’re aware of where stories originate, and we pay attention to the idea of balance. In any instance where there’s a divide — real or imagined — sometimes balance is hard to achieve. But we’re trying hard.

I’ll end with this story: with last week’s edition, we raised the single-copy price of the News + Record to $1. I wrote letters to our single-copy vendors explaining the rationale for the price increase and to let the dealers know they’re getting a portion of the additional quarter readers will pay each week (about $13 over the course of a year).

At one local store, the clerk told one of our employees: “A dollar for that rag? Are you kidding? Everything in it is two weeks old!”
I think a lot about the value proposition of our product. News as a commodity has immense value, and because there’s no other place, no other vehicle, in Chatham County that does what we do, and provides what we provide, what the clerk was saying is: this news has no value to him.

Either that, or he doesn’t read the News + Record. Because if he did, he’d know what you know: it’s worth knowing, and it’s worth reading.


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