Chicago Tribune Story Idea Survey: Good Idea, Poorly Executed

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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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