More reader feedback, from the ‘pitiful’ to the pleased...

BY BILL HORNER III, Publisher
Posted 9/27/19

“The paper has gotten so pitiful.”

That was a line from a recent letter I received from a reader. From time to time, I’ve shared in this column some reader feedback, the good and the bad, …

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More reader feedback, from the ‘pitiful’ to the pleased...

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Posted

“The paper has gotten so pitiful.”

That was a line from a recent letter I received from a reader. From time to time, I’ve shared in this column some reader feedback, the good and the bad, and this letter was one of three I received in a two-day span a couple of weeks ago that were particularly interesting.

The sender of this note — which was written in a nice cursive script, but sent to me unsigned — had two particular complaints: one was that some of the stories in the News + Record “are so small you can’t half see them.” The other: “It’s all about Pittsboro and nothing about Siler City.”

I’ve kept it at my desk along with another letter received the very same day which said, “The newspaper is nothing but stories from Siler City and Sanford, and nothing about Pittsboro.”

Go figure.

I understand it’s all about perception. Since we began putting datelines on town-specific stories – datelines, like SILER CITY or PITTSBORO, tell you where the story happened — I’ve gotten a number of complaints that the News + Record has “forgotten” Siler City or, to a lesser degree, Pittsboro. That’s a complaint that I’ve challenged those readers on, based on a week-in, week-out reading of our content. Stories are written based on where news is happening, and because so much of the Chatham County-specific news occurs in the county seat (Pittsboro) or related to our county school system (with central offices in Pittsboro), stories may seem Pittsboro-based, even though we as a rule don’t give a dateline to a county-wide story that’s not town-specific. But if we have had more Pittsboro-datelined stories, it’s because more news is happening there. (As far as the comment about the typeface being small…which I think was the point…we changed fonts in January to one that’s more readable, but that was nine months ago.)

Then there was the caller last week who asked us to cancel her subscription. “The paper is not what it used to be,” she told one of our office staff. “There was nothing about the Silk Hope event” — Old Fashioned Farmers’ Days, I think she was referring to — “and nothing about farmers.” In reality, we had a front-page story prior to the event, promoting it; we were a sponsor of the event, and we had multiple photos from the event the week after.

Then there’s this: a few weeks ago, we had a local convenience store owner ask us to stop bringing newspapers to his stores to sell. The reason? He “heard a rumor” the News + Record was going to publish a story about lynching. I talked with the man, who had a litany of complaints about news coverage; he said the newspaper was “trying to make Chatham County look bad” with coverage about the Confederate statue issue, and that the lynching issue (our two-part story on the county’s lynching legacy, which I wrote, ended last week) was something no one was interested in. Even when I explained to him that the story wasn’t about lynching per se, but rather an effort to memorialize the victims, he wasn’t phased — “we’re going to use that space where the papers were to put other merchandise,” he told me.

That might help account for our recent uptick in new paid subscriptions.

That lynching story, by the way, earned a subscription cancellation from a man who last week also told me that the newspaper was “trying to blame white men who live in Chatham County now” for something that happened 100 years ago. He was very eloquent in his thoughts about the story, but I had to ask him: did he actually read it? Yes, he assured me, but he also said he “knew” what my motives were in writing it.

Yep, go figure.

(Not long after that call, I got one from a reader praising us for the story. I told him I appreciated it because I’d just gotten a call from an upset reader who canceled his subscription. “No problem,” the reader told me, “I’m going to buy a subscription for a friend to make up for it.” And then there was the message from a reader who claimed we were “trying so hard to sensationalize this story and stir up a big mess just because the citizens of Chatham want to keep the Confederate monument in place in Pittsboro.”)

There was no reasoning with either of those upset folks; we’re all accustomed to assigning motives where none exist, but I’ve been encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I’ve received about the News + Record (and from the stories about Bob Pearson’s efforts to memorialize the county’s lynching victims) in the last couple of weeks. I won’t bore you with all the positive comments, but suffice it to say the messages, calls and conversations I’ve had — and the online comments from postings and re-postings of the lynching story — have been nice to read.

At Sunday’s PepperFest, I stopped counting how many positive comments the three of us working our booth heard — all of them unsolicited — about the changes we’ve made in the News + Record. I was most happy about remarks about the paper’s “balanced and fair” coverage of the statue controversy, comments from long-time readers about the increased news content (“I used to just skim the paper and throw it away, but now I keep it around all week because it takes me so long to read — there are so many good stories I’m interested in,” one told me), and a long conversation I had with a new reader who recently moved here from Boston: “I couldn’t believe this community could have such a great newspaper,” he said, among other nice things.

And as for the reader who started off the letter with the statement about how the paper has “gotten so pitiful”?

Here’s how that letter ended: “Also — see if you can put a newsstand at the Liberty Food Lion — I think the people in Liberty & the area will like the paper.”

Again, go figure. I’ll take that as a compliment.

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