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Help us rethink 'Loop' - it's yours as much as 'mine'

May 19, 2008|By CHRIS COPLEY

The Herald-Mail recently received the results of a late-winter phone survey of area residents about their shopping habits. The survey was conducted to assess local shoppers' habits for our advertising department.

But there were a few questions at the end of the survey about nonadvertising features in the newspaper, such as the daily bridge column, daily stock reports and Loop, the Herald-Mail's weekly arts and entertainment section published every Thursday.

The results for Loop were mixed. In a survey taken a year ago, when asked about Loop, about half of our readers overall knew about it, with positive feedback from about 25 percent of respondents in Loop's target audience - ages 18 to 35.

This year, about the same number of overall readers knew about Loop, but less than 10 percent of respondents ages 18 to 35 said they did.

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Since Loop is one of our flashier sections and takes a large chunk of time each week to produce, this was disappointing. We debated whether the cause of the poor showing was a lack of marketing, poor location in the paper or uncompelling content.

As Lifestyle editor, the person who oversees the writing and production of Loop, I felt defensive. Loop is not mine, of course, but I felt ownership. And I thought we had a good product.

But Herald-Mail Executive Editor Terry Headlee cut to the chase: Assume the survey result is at least somewhat relevant, and consider what we could do to improve Loop.

So the rethinking process has begun. Readers likely will see a revamped arts and entertainment section within a couple of months. New elements will begin appearing this month. And this Thursday, Loop will be printed in a new location in the paper.

But the newsroom discussion got me thinking. I feel possessive of Loop, but whose section is it, really? For that matter, whose newspaper is The Herald-Mail?

Bottom line, a newspaper belongs to the business owners, who want to make a reasonable profit on a reasonable investment.

But we in the newsroom are very clear that our newspaper belongs to our customers - readers - who want timely information about local stories, about government deliberations and actions, about pop culture, about the many, many topics of interest to them.

By the same token, the newspaper belongs to our advertisers, who pay to get their message in front of readers. Herald-Mail advertising representatives, who want to give their clients the best value for their advertising dollar, also "own" the newspaper. Without advertisers, we're without a big chunk of revenue. No newspaper revenue, no newspaper jobs.

But for reporters and editors, journalism is more than a job. Most of us are champions of core American values such as open governance, citizens' rights and a free press. So journalists are clear the paper belongs to them; the newspaper is their means of keeping an eye on the local community.

A newspaper also belongs to editors. Since they prioritize and design the content and literally assemble the newspaper, editors understandably feel ownership.

So whose newspaper is The Herald-Mail? Ultimately, it's the newspaper of the community, of which everyone listed above is a member.

It's the same for Loop. The Lifestyle department assembles the calendar of events, writes stories, coordinates photos and so on. But if we're not serving readers' and advertisers' needs, we're still missing the point.

So help us in our rethinking effort. Please let us know what you think of Loop. Tell us what you like and don't like. Tell us what is missing - what could make it better.

Call me at 301-733-5131, ext. 2343, or send me an e-mail at lifestyle@herald-mail.com. Help me make our Loop - your Loop - a better arts and entertainment section.

Chris Copley is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail.

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