We’ve been getting a lot of advice lately. Quite intentionally.
This summer, as I was deciding to leave the Gates Foundation to become publisher of Crosscut, former ABC News Executive David Westin published a memoir of his experience that began this way, “I blush today, looking back on how much I didn’t know when I was named president of ABC News.”
Gulp. There is a lot I don’t know either about being a publisher, and so I have turned to some pretty good sources for advice, beginning with you.
Today I officially become publisher and CEO of Crosscut Public Media, succeeding David Brewster who will continue serving on the Crosscut board and as a writer. Getting feedback, brainstorming and hearing recommendations is something I’ve prioritized in the days and weeks leading up to my first day on the job. Over the summer I asked the staff to survey our readers to get feedback on the job we’re doing. And this past week I invited several dozen editors, writers, marketers, donors, community leaders and technologists to stop by Crosscut world headquarters in Pioneer Square for a donut, a cup of coffee and some lively conversation about Crosscut’s mission.
Today I want to share some of what I’ve learned from readers. And next I will report on what I’ve been hearing from writers, editors, marketers and others in our community. Last week I had a chance to share all of this with Crosscut's board as well.
I’m calling my occasional reports The Public Publisher. Public is a reference both to Crosscut’s roots as public media, as well as to my own personal value of being open to the public about what I’m thinking and doing.
In our survey of readers, 87 percent of the 507 respondents said the importance of reading Crosscut has increased or remained the same in the past six months despite staff cutbacks and reductions in story-count during summer hours. More than 65 percent are “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with our product. But one-third of you were only “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”
There is a lot you like. And there is a lot you would improve.
Many readers tell us that Crosscut is a standard part of their daily routine. More than 3,200 of you read Crosscut in the early morning hours when it is delivered to your email inbox through our daily free newsletter.
- “Love the detail and well thought out stories that are timely and relevant,” one reader wrote.
- “I appreciate the depth of reporting as well as the interesting topics.”
- “I read the articles and most comments regularly.”
- “This is my usual source for regional opinion.”
Crosscut fills an important void for many readers who have relocated.
- “I am returning to this area after five years in Chicago. Crosscut has really helped me reconnect with regional news and issues.”
- "I moved overseas and I read it even more.”
Many of you commented on your perceived notion of our political leanings. I estimate it breaks down this way: one-third felt our writers are too liberal, one-third too conservative and one-third said they read us because we are bi- or even non-partisan.
“None of the writing seems beholden to a party, individual or financial source. I like that. And that’s a compliment.”
One idea we are wrestling with is how Crosscut might better inform voters about issues. As a non-profit, Crosscut cannot endorse candidates or initiatives, but we are considering many ways to increase our reporting and analysis of important public issues.
- “I would like articles on upcoming initiatives and candidates for local districts.”
- “I would be interested to see an in-depth analysis of an important issue that spans a number of days or weeks. It would be great to see super in-depth reporting that could uncover facts not currently known.”
Some of you want more of one writer or the other while others want less. Some want longer articles and others want shorter pieces
You have ideas about what you’d like to see us covering.
- “Continue the diverse mix of stories: culture, arts, sports, politics, national, international.”
- “More coverage of non-Seattle stories (Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue, eastern WA, state-wide).”
- “Investigative stories.”
- “More stories about a sustainable community – biking/walking/public transportation, and health (disease prevention through healthy eating and physical activity).”
Stories about community sustainability are often among Crosscut’s most popular. Joe Copeland’s report last week about the science of organic food and Robert Mellinger’s scoop about Beacon Hill’s “food forest” attracted many page views.
It was also helpful to hear your critiques.
- I tend to agree with the reader who wants “Clearer delineation of opinion and news.”
- “Your articles read like opinion pieces.”
- “I think it would be good if you made very clear what’s news and what’s comment/editorial or be clear not to expect news.”
Technologically there is a lot more we could be doing as an online-only news site.
- “More audio features; MP3 downloads of interviews I can listen to while walking, commuting, etc.”
- “Make mobile more accessible.”
Many of our daily newsletter readers struggled to get from the newsletter back to the Crosscut home page. We will look to make this more intuitive, but the simplest way is to click on the Crosscut logo at the top of the newsletter, which should link you back to the main page.
I hear from readers that online news is a crowded marketplace. You have many options, and so I appreciate comments like the reader who prioritizes not only reading 3-4 daily Crosscut stories but also sees the value in contributing $35 toward being a Crosscut member.
Some readers did not make the immediate connection between supporting Crosscut financially as a member and the number of stories we are able to produce.
“Not happy that you cut about 1/3 of stories. Why?”
Well, let me answer that. We can only write, edit, and produce if we have financial support. We are member-supported much like NPR and PBS. Some of you get it and are sympathetic.
“Please go back to printing more stories. (But, I know that Crosscut is going through a difficult time, so I’m really sympathetic.) Still, I would love to see more stories again.”
Please consider becoming a member of Crosscut by contributing what you can. We’ve recently updated our donate page to make it easier — http://crosscut.com/donate/.
Next, I’ll share what I heard from editors, writers, marketers and others in the community when we sat down to discuss what we already like about Crosscut and what we would do to improve. Feel free to keep the suggestions (and contributions) flowing. I welcome hearing from you directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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