Scott Stanford: Trust wasn't built in a day

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What's the No. 1 reason that readers pick up a newspaper?

If you said a story, a photo, a headline or anything else related to the day's news content, you would be off base.

The main reason readers pick up a newspaper -- particularly in the case of Steamboat Today -- is because it's there. Our goal is to have newspapers in all 300 of our racks by 6 a.m. each day. Each minute we are late, we lose readers and there is no news event that can make up for that loss.

People are creatures of habit. The Steamboat Today, which is free, is distributed at racks throughout Routt County. The majority of our readers pick up the newspaper at the same place each morning.

If your routine is to stop by the store and get a Steamboat Today on your way to work, you likely won't make the effort to go back and get the Today if it's not there the first time you go by the store. It's even harder to get you to come back for the Sunday Pilot & Today, which costs $1 at newsstands.

The bottom line? Getting the newspaper out on time is the single most important thing we do to get readers. Nothing else comes close.

There are other specific reasons readers give for picking up newspapers: to search the classifieds, to get a specific insert, to view the advertising and to clip coupons, to name a few.

Somewhere much further down the line is the news on the front page. Research shows that fewer than 5 percent of people make the decision to pick up a newspaper based on a headline, photo or story. Watch people who pick up the Today in stores -- more often then not they will pick up the newspaper without even studying what's in it.

We occasionally get accused of sensationalizing stories, photos or headlines on the front page "just to sell newspapers." Setting aside for a moment that our newspaper is free six out of seven days, it just doesn't work that way.

We meet at 4 p.m. each day to choose the front page of the newspaper. We try to decide on the most important story and use our best photo on Page 1. Does that mean that the story on Page 4 of Wednesday's newspaper sometimes is a more important story than the story on Page 1 of Thursday's newspaper? Absolutely. We don't dictate when news happens; we simply try to put the day's best stories and best photos on the front. It is an imperfect and subjective process.

I'm not saying that news content does not matter to readership. To the contrary, it is critical. It's just that you can't build a great newspaper with one day's headlines. Great newspapers are built over time through stories and photos that deliver day after day, week after week and year after year.

Such content builds trust, which encourages readers to develop daily routines that include picking up the newspaper -- so long, of course, as it's there.

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