One of the greatest fears that most writers have is that we will pour our hearts and souls into something and no one will read it. Or appreciate our written commentary.
As a newspaper reporter/editor, that fear is magnified, especially by the countless jokes about using the results of our hard work to wrap dead fish or line a birdcage.
Occasionally, we run into a reader who will offer a comment — sometimes good and sometimes bad — about something we wrote. Either way, it’s a rewarding feeling knowing someone read something you wrote and that your words provoked some type of reaction.
And sometimes we encounter those who read an article or column we wrote and don’t have a clue about who wrote it. For journalists bylines are important. For readers, not so much. I was reminded of that several years ago when my dad was complaining about not seeing my byline often enough even though it was in that day’s edition.
The relationship between writer and reader is tricky. It’s an art to find the proper balance between knowing what they want to read, and what you want — or need — to write about.
Hopefully, I have found a way to make those proverbial waters a little less treacherous and keep my ship afloat: a readers’ advisory panel.
Last week, the Boulder City Review’s newly formed readers’ advisory group met for the first time. Hailing from all walks of life, the eight local residents (including one whom I met with privately after the session because of timing conflicts) spoke about their likes, dislikes and other issues relating to the paper and its content.
I think it was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved.
Our conversation touched on so many subjects: how the paper looked, the order/priority of community briefs, the possibility of establishing a community calendar, increasing community participation through letters to the editor or contests, showcasing local activities and sporting events, appealing to different audiences, advertising and more.
For me, it was most enlightening to learn about issues they thought about that I don’t often take into consideration, such as the specific demographics of our readers and how many copies of the Boulder City Review are mailed out of state.
I have found that I get so busy putting the news together, that I don’t take as much time as I should getting to truly know who our readers are. Sure, I meet with some readers/subscribers at community events, but there are so many more out there.
By the end of the meeting, I had a laundry list of homework assignments regarding our subscription numbers, reader demographics and online-only content. I hope to have answers to all of their questions at our next gathering.
In return, I shared a bit about how the news is produced each week. I think they were surprised at how much can be accomplished by such a small staff.
Boulder City isn’t a sprawling metropolis, but it is a pretty busy city. No matter how hard we try — and we do try — it is impossible to be everywhere or know about everything that is happening. There are days when I am at three or four community activities/meetings, and fielding numerous phone calls in between.
So the possibility of using unpaid interns to help gather news was brought up and put on my list of homework assignments.
I also shared some insight about our space limitations and how, no matter how I try, it is impossible to please everyone or accommodate everyone’s needs.
I compared the plight to a similar situation I encounter when dealing with my children’s teachers. Realistically I know there are 30 or so kids in each of their classes, and the teachers have to deal with all of the students, their issues and their parents. But when it comes to discussing how my children are faring, I only care about my children and what the teacher can do to help them.
As time goes by, I plan to share some of the specific issues we tackle as well as the outcome or solution we come up with.
No matter how tricky things get, I know I will be able to get by with a little help from my new friends.