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 firstname.lastname@example.org