Hey, look us over, lend us an ear…

With this new column and the new year, I’m hop­ing to be­gin a reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion with read­ers about the North­east Times.

I once wrote a sim­il­ar column called The Listen­ing Post for The In­quirer and I learned a few things about read­ers that re­main with me still. First, long­time read­ers know a news­pa­per bet­ter than any­one. And second, that read­ing a news­pa­per is far more than a daily or weekly habit; it’s the wel­com­ing of a fa­vor­ite guest in­to your home. That guest is ex­pec­ted to ar­rive on time, en­gage in lively con­ver­sa­tion and, for the most part, be­have.

I be­came ed­it­or of the Times in May after four years as man­aging ed­it­or of the Jew­ish Daily For­ward, an­oth­er be­loved com­munity pa­per al­beit of a sec­u­lar, eth­nic vari­ety. Be­fore that, I was on­line ed­it­or of The De­troit News and the pro­ject dir­ect­or for a na­tion­al train­ing pro­gram for journ­al­ists. After all these years, I still con­sider it a priv­ilege to have dir­ect ac­cess to rolls of news­print and bar­rels of ink.

My fo­cus now, of course, is on the North­east Times, and how to make it the best pa­per it can be. For that reas­on, whenev­er I meet someone from North­east Philly, I al­ways ask the same ques­tion: What do you like — and don’t like — about the pa­per?

Mostly what I hear is that read­ers love the pa­per. It was in their home when they were grow­ing up, and it con­tin­ues to be there today. I’ve come to think that this com­munity pa­per is as much a part of the fab­ric of the North­east as the May­fair Diner, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity, Di­etz & Wat­son, and the traffic stream­ing up and down the Boulevard.

When I press read­ers for what — spe­cific­ally — they like about the pa­per, they tend to tell me two things. First, they like find­ing out about things go­ing on in their neigh­bor­hood. And, second, they want to read about loc­al crime.

Some read­ers have made do­ing the cross­word a part of their Sat­urday morn­ing routine. One craft vendor told me she re­lies on the weekly cal­en­dar to let her know where the craft fairs will be. A caller lamen­ted that the list of trips was not pub­lished in her zoned edi­tion the very week that she wanted to plan a get­away. (I told her to al­ways look at our Web site, too.)

More than a few people have told me they save their copy of the Times every week for a re­l­at­ive who has moved away.

When I re­mind read­ers that I want to hear what they don’t like, too, they tell me they re­mem­ber when the pa­per was fat­ter, when it car­ried even more news and ad­vert­ise­ments.

We’d like to get back to those days, too, but our fate is closely tied to the eco­nomy, and that is an im­port­ant driver of our ad­vert­ising, which brings in nearly all our rev­en­ue. I’m sure that as the eco­nomy re­cov­ers, the North­east Times will put on pounds, too.

For now, we try to make the best de­cisions we can every week with the news hole we have. That means a lineup of break­ing news and fea­ture stor­ies, loc­al sports and let­ters from our read­ers. We also run news even closer to home, such as a photo of a cham­pi­on­ship team and the be­ne­fit plans for a neigh­bor with a de­bil­it­at­ing dis­ease. All of this fosters com­munity spir­it, and that’s part of a news­pa­per’s role, too.

I’d like you to write and tell me what you would like to see more of, and less of, in the pa­per. Is the crime log — the bi­weekly list­ing of all the crimes across the North­east — use­ful to you? Would you miss those two pages of re­li­gious events that we oc­ca­sion­ally run? What should we add that isn’t there now? More about loc­al his­tory? Din­ing? Mu­sic? 

I will tell you up­front I won’t be able to re­spond in­di­vidu­ally, but I will read every re­sponse and con­sider what you say as we as­semble the Times for you, our read­ers.

Ed­it­or Lil­lian Swan­son can be reached at 215-354-3030 or lswan­son@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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