John Drescher

On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage

We’ve fed you some spinach over the years — undercooked and not tasty. “Spinach” is what we sometimes call the obligatory stories about government process, as we dutifully report incremental changes recommended by a subcommittee of a blue-ribbon panel.

Enough with the spinach. Starting this week, we’ll be working harder to answer your questions and present the news in a way that is more relevant, with more video and more focus on topics that we know you care about.

When most of our readership was of the print paper, we never knew with precision how much each story was read. Now we know how much digital readership each story has, and we’ve used that as a guide for which stories we will cover.

While measuring readership is important to us, it’s not the only factor we’ll consider when deciding what to cover.

When our reporters and editors discuss stories, they’ll talk about who the audience is and how large that audience might be. But they’ll also talk about whether the story has a public-service mission. Does it break news that could make a difference in the community? Does it hold leaders accountable? Will it directly affect the lives of residents?

If we think a story has a small audience and a limited public-service mission, we’ll drop the story and focus our energy on a story that better fits our mission.

Cat clicks?

Most of the time, our stories shouldn’t be written for insiders; they should be reported and written for a broader audience of taxpayers, consumers and citizens.

Our goal is to anticipate your questions and get them answered in a format that reaches most readers. Our best stories are both smart and easy to read.

We now have a rich amount of data that shows which stories get read and which don’t. We’ll use this information to make decisions about what we cover.

This mortifies some traditionalists who think we should only cover the boring stories that few people read. The ink-stained traditionalists worry that we’ll publish nothing but click-bait stories about cats. They (the traditionalists, not the cats) underestimate the intelligence of the readers in this region.

Our most-read reporter of the last two years — by far —was Colin Campbell, who covered state government and politics, and reported about some of the weightiest issues of our era. (Campbell recently moved to the Insider, our sister publication that covers state government from an insider’s vantage).

In terms of 2016 digital readership, four of our top 10 reporters covered state government and the legislature.

New coverage

In our new beat plan, we’ll have three reporters covering state government; another reporter who will fact check statements about government and politics; a reporter in Washington, D.C., covering news from a North Carolina viewpoint; and two Insider reporters whose work will sometimes appear in The N&O.

Click bait? Hardly. That’s more reporters covering government and politics at The N&O than when I was part of the reporting team in the 1980s. The N&O always has led the way in covering the governor, legislature and state government, and will continue to do so.

Readership data show an intense interest in issues related to state employees and public school teachers. That’s not surprising considering the number of each in this area. So we’ll increase our reporting on those issues. We’re also going to add reporting on the Triangle faith community and on local TV and media.

We’ve let go of some features that had a limited digital readership. We’ve dropped the weekly news quiz; the Thumbs Up youth achievement page; the Past Times column from our archives; and Barry Saunders’ column. We’ve eliminated the metro columnist job because those columns weren’t resonating with our digital readers.

Our core values remain the same. We’ll continue to provide the kind of watchdog reporting that has distinguished The N&O. Check out “Jailed to Death,” our new report on deaths in county jails; you can read the first installments at newsobserver.com or starting in Sunday’s paper.

We want to give you the news and information that means the most to you in the form and at the times you want it. Farewell to the spinach.

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