Readers seek local content from their paper

Sep 29, 2015

By Kevin Slim
Software Review

Back in February, I spoke on the topic of customer service at the Ohio Newspaper Association Winter Convention. Shortly after, I received an e-mail asking if I would lead a webinar in late summer or early fall for all the staffs of member papers of ONA, covering the same material.

I agreed, but didn’t feel right about using the same material I had used in February. After all, surely there would be some people present during the webinar who sat through the presentation in Columbus.

Just one day before the webinar, I created a survey about customer service at newspapers and asked Facebook friends, not affiliated with the newspaper industry, to complete the short questionnaire. I hoped maybe 20 or 30 would take the time and give me some fresh, interesting, information to use during the webinar. 

I was pretty surprised to learn that more than 200 folks had completed the survey in a few hours, and their answers weren’t exactly what I expected. Of the respondents, 38 percent reported subscribing to a newspaper, while 62 percent answered that they did not.

Next, I asked subscribers: “What are your biggest pet peeves concerning your newspaper?”

By a large margin, “Not enough local content” took the prize. A full 38 percent of newspaper subscribers answered that lack of local content was their biggest pet peeve.

OK, that might not have been a huge surprise. However, their response to the second question did shock me. Just under 22 percent of newspaper subscribers answered that “poor writing” was their top pet peeve. Honestly, I didn’t think poor writing would crack the top five.

Delivery problems and poor design tied for third, with each receiving 13 percent. Billing and other problems followed in single digits.

And what about people who don’t subscribe to a newspaper? “Poor writing” took the top spot with a hefty 37 percent responding that was their top pet peeve.

The No. 2 reason respondents gave for not subscribing to a newspaper was “not enough local news” at 27 percent.

Finally, I gained some useful insights from the nonsubscribers, which could be used in my customer service webinar. A full 26 percent answered that their main reason for not subscribing was either “delivery problems” (14 percent) or “customer service” (12 percent).

When asked about the price of newspapers, 51 percent of nonsubscribers responded that “The price is too high.”

I’ll soon be working with a daily paper in Indiana for a couple of days. What did I learn from this survey that will make me a better consultant for that paper?

First, a large number of subscribers and nonsubscribers feel there is not enough local news in their newspapers. That didn’t surprise me, and it’s been on my checklist.

Second, there is more concern over writing than I had suspected. Sure I figured Mrs. Feathers, my high school English teacher, lost sleep over writing quality. But a large percentage of both groups, especially nonsubscribers, seem to feel that poor writing is a major problem with newspapers.

I will probably stress good design a little more than I have in the past. If 13 percent of readers say their biggest pet peeve with their newspaper is poor design, then it seems like something we should all watch closely.

For paid newspapers, it might not seem like there is a lot we can do when folks feel like the price is too high. But when I look more closely at these numbers, I realize that for a good number of subscribers and nonsubscribers, the price might seem high because they feel like the quality isn’t where it should be.

What would I suggest to you? Go through this checklist and see how your paper would score, using the classic school grading system, with “A” for excellent, “C” for average and “F” for failing. Rate your paper on the following:

• Local content

• Writing

• Design

• Delivery issues

• Customer service

How did your paper score? I would suggest that every newspaper should score an “A” if it wants to remain viable in today’s marketplace.

Some fixes are easier than others. Go through this list with your staff and see which area could be addressed most quickly and make a plan. Then begin to create a long-term strategy to guide your newspaper toward an “A” in each of the five areas. © Kevin Slimp 2015


Kevin Slimp is director of the Institute of Newspaper Technology. To read his past columns, go to To learn about the institute, go to


Most of the survey respondents left optional comments. Here’s some of what they want us to know:


“Our paper used to be the go-to venue for finding out about upcoming events, and now I’m forced to tediously search Facebook groups for upcoming events.”


“They simply stopped delivering. I received no bill, no courtesy call. Two weeks after receiving no paper, I received a sales call to sell me a new subscription.”


“(My local daily) was once a good paper. Now the writing is bad, the customer service is bad (missed a paper and was on hold forever) and the price is too high for the quality.”


“A lot of news is readily available online, so it’s hard to justify a newspaper subscription, especially when people post the most relevant information from the newspapers page.”


“I hate seeing all the staff cutbacks at the newspaper. A lot of stories don’t get covered, or at least covered from a local perspective because of this.”


“I live in a large metropolitan area, but the paper I subscribe to is the smaller suburban one.”


“No point in subscribing when I can get it free on the Internet.”