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Attracting new readers is goal of improvements

February 29, 2004|by Terry Headlee

One complaint expressed by readers through the years is why we "jump" front-page stories to multiple pages on the inside of the newspaper.

Well, here's some good news.

Starting Tuesday, readers of The Morning Herald won't have to sift through the paper to find the other half of our news and feature stories.

Instead, all stories will jump to page A2 - so all you have to do is simply turn the page.

We will be moving our national and international wire stories from the Associated Press further back in the A section so that our first four pages of the newspaper will predominantly be local news.

We'll also be adding a new feature called "Can You Believe It" that will be anchored on page A2 each day and will highlight some of the more bizarre stories of the week. I'm certain this feature will give you something to talk about each day.

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Other improvements include:

- An online poll called "What Do You Think?" that will pose several questions of interest each week. You can check out the questions in the newspaper and then go to our Web site at www.herald-mail.com and click on the "What Do You Think?" button to cast your vote.

Results of the poll can be found on both the Web site and in the newspaper on the front page on the left-hand side.

-- A new feature called "Debatable" in which readers can go to our Web site and type in their comments about a particular issue. This will be set up similar to an online "chat room."

-- Our television grid will be resized in both editions (The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail) to allow us to run more celebrity and entertainment news items. We have eliminated television listings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., but have added six more channels and increased the size of the typeface to make it easier to read.

Entertainment news will be given a higher priority from now on, so more of these stories may appear on the front page as well as the daily entertainment page.

You will notice other design and content changes.

We're adding more graphics and logos to identify local stories that pertain to local governments and town meetings.

An information box that we run on page A2 each day to promote upcoming stories will be redesigned to be more visually attractive.

We'll be adding brief descriptions of stories on the jump pages to give readers a quick glance at what each story is about - just in case you want to turn back to the front page and read it.

In the near future, we also plan to bring back a once-popular feature known as "Action Line." For those of you who don't remember, this was a consumer-advocacy column in which we investigated complaints by readers who claimed to have been wronged by a business.

All of these improvements I've mentioned didn't just happen overnight.

Last August, a group of seven individuals employed in various departments at The Herald-Mail began meeting weekly to review the newspaper and brainstorm ideas to make it more attractive to readers under the age of 40.

This became known as our "Under 40 Project" and was modeled after a study by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University.

The group surveyed and tested its recommendations with nearly 100 readers outside our building and about 50 employees within our company. Their recommendations then were modified and new prototypes were made.

A group of editors in the newsroom then began meeting in January to develop a plan to implement the reader-driven changes.

And the moment has now arrived.

As always, I'm interested in your comments. Give me a call or send me an e-mail - good or bad. I'd like to know what you think.

Terry Headlee is the executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7594, or at terryh@herald-mail.com.

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