September 26, 2005
During political campaigns, focus groups get a bad name. They’re the straw man when a candidate says that unlike her opponent, she’s not going to base her policies on polls and focus groups. Of course, then she does.
We’ve been working on a content-driven redesign of the Monitor for two years, and we are just over a month from our launch date. We’ve been soliciting reader opinion all along in making decisions. Last week, we showed a prototype of the redesigned Monitor to two focus groups, one of subscribers, the other of lapsed subscribers. You can learn a lot from focus groups.
Since you haven’t seen the prototype, it’s not possible to delve into specifics, but I will list five notions about newspapering that the focus groups reinforced for me:
– Readers are smart and they know newspapers. Anything these groups perceived as a dumbing down of content, they disliked. There were times when, unprompted, group members talked about fonts, anecdotal lead paragraphs and column rules, sounding much like the editors who had pored over these same pages.
– Readers are good at multi-tasking. They read letters to the editor to see what the neighbors are saying but also “to see what whack jobs they are.”
– Readers are pressed for time. They want stories that get to the point and organization that makes sense. They want like news items in one place. They want to be able to tell at a glance the difference between news and ads.
– Readers form strong habits. Leave a regular feature out of the prototype, and they’ll ask where it is.
– Subscribers and lapsed subscribers differ on some things, creating a dilemma for us as we go forward. Regular readers like national and world news, lapsed subscribers less so. Readers don’t necessarily want more coverage of television and popular culture; lapsed subscribers do.
The bottom line for both groups was that the new design is cleaner than the current Monitor. On content, both groups liked the ideas we stressed in the prototype, but they also reinforced the idea that our mission hasn't changed: They expect strong local and state news from the Monitor.
All in all, we read the focus groups' views as a green light. They're willing to accept change as long as they see change as improvement.
Posted by Mike Pride at September 26, 2005 07:27 PM
Wow-- is that "whack job" comment directly from the focus group? If so, I expect the new Monitor to be colorful indeed. =)
Posted by: Max at September 28, 2005 01:36 AM
I think whatever you do with the paper, you have to figure out how to make your Web presence more timely. Not updating every day is unacceptable. (I have to turn to the Manchester U-L for state news!) Your future is on the Web, not on dead trees, and you need to figure that out. Of course, so does every other newspaper in the country, but the CM has been out in front of other small community papers and perhaps you can here as well. I'd put everything into a Web presence that was second to none, and let the dead-tree version take care of itself.
Posted by: Ben at October 1, 2005 01:00 PM