Chicago Tribune Story Idea Survey: Good Idea, Poorly Executed

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 8:  Flags wave in the wind ...
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The Chicago Tribune recently reported that it has halted a “short-lived research project in which the Chicago Tribune solicited responses from current and former subscribers to descriptions of Tribune stories before they had been published.”

The project — a collaboration between the paper’s editorial and marketing departments — was stopped because reporters raised journalistic concerns. Originally it had only surveyed selected “would-be readers” about general topics and previous Tribune coverage. But in the last two weeks, participants had begun being surveyed about their preferences on synopses of stories currently in the works.

In all, 55 reporters and editors voiced their complaint in a letter to Tribune editor Gerould Kern and managing editor Jane Hirt. The letter “expressed concern that providing story information to those outside the newsroom prior to publication seemed ‘to break the bond between reporters and editors in a fundamental way.'”

Here’s more detail about how the research was conducted: “Surveys were sent by e-mail to around 9,000 would-be readers on two occasions. About 500 responded to each, indicating which of 10 story ideas they preferred. Kern said the stories ‘tended to be news features,’ and the results never made it to him or had any impact in how stories were handled.”

I can understand the reporters’ complaint if their story ideas were shared outside the newsroom without their prior knowledge and consent. However, if that consent can be obtained, I personally think this type of research could be surprisingly useful. Especially if the people being surveyed truly represent younger people (i.e., the news organization’s future market) as well as demographics that historically have not been well served by the news organization…

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News on the Kindle 2: Some Glitches, Lots of Potential

kindle at breakfast

News on a Kindle 2: Part of my balanced daily breakfast.

Last week my Kindle 2 e-reader from Amazon arrived. I swore to my brother a couple of years ago I’d never buy 1.0 of anything ever again — and I’m glad I waited. I played briefly with a friend’s first-edition Kindle last year and was intrigued. The new version has a better display, better form factor, and better usability.

This device is far from perfect, but it’s impressive. It’s pricey ($359) — but I still think even the most cash-strapped newsroom should acquire one and make it available so journalists, editors, designers, and news technologists can play with it. If you can’t or won’t buy one and you’re in the online news biz, go buy a Kindle 2 owner a beer and play with theirs for an hour or two at least.

Why? Because I seriously suspect devices like this could become game-changers for online and mobile news — perhaps surprisingly fast. That is, if online news operations start taking e-reader technology seriously and work with Amazon and other e-reader makers to improve e-reader news delivery. We still have a way to go, but I see significant’s potential.

Currently Kindle is mainly intended for reading books. But Amazon has always sold newspapers and magazines (one-offs and subscriptions) since it launched the Kindle Store. Yes, that’s right: sold. As in: revenue.

This week I bought a couple of issues of Technology Review, and I even subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle. (Yep, subscribed. Paid for it. Me. $5.99 per month. Imagine that.) Generally, I like getting news via Kindle, but there are some glitches.

My observations so far… Continue reading