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Readership editor ready to serve you

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

What is a readership editor? Readers may well want to know.

A story on page one today tells about three additions to The Union’s news staff, and each one brings special skills and assignments designed to help our newspaper service the community better. None is more important than Dixie Redfearn, the new readership editor.

When I arrived in Nevada County in early September, my first column described the challenges The Union faces as it responds to the needs of a growing population that is demanding more from its newspaper than ever before. Our strategy to meet that challenge is manifold, but centers on two key elements: listening well to our community, and responding by giving our readers unique, relevant and well-told stories about the world around them.



That requires organizational skills and processes that are adaptable to a changing world. But newspapers have a right-brain/left-brain conflict. They have a strong need for creativity, while also being engaged in industrial production. Producing an entirely new product every day requires assembly-line skills that sometimes put blinders on us. All we can see is the deadline at the end of the tunnel.

At The Union, it became clear that there were two obstacles standing in the way of our growth. One was the lack of a clearing house for our relations with the community. Story ideas, contributions, requests and complaints would come in via phone, fax, e-mail and the front door and go to any number of people – or sometimes to empty desks or electronic dead-ends.




I can’t count how many people contact me to ask, “I brought a (story, photo, press release) in two weeks ago and haven’t seen anything in The Union. What has happened to it?” The first few weeks I was here, I had a handy answer: “I don’t know – I just got here.” But after three months, that excuse doesn’t work so well, especially when I would ask around the newsroom and nobody else knew where the item could be, either.

It’s not that we don’t want to get your stories, photos and events in the newspaper. We do – most eagerly. However, it was not anyone’s primary job description, their reason for being. Thus, the readership editor.

Part of Dixie Redfearn’s job will be to keep track of all those reader contributions and requests, and pass them out to editors and reporters, who will get them into the paper. She’ll be on hand during the key hours you want to contact us during the day.

And there are lots of places in The Union where we use your contributions. Just look in any edition and you will see something as small as a brief about a club meeting to a major story about a trip to Europe, with photos. You will find photos of sons or daughters sworn into the armed forces, school honor rolls, “Local Heroes,” and Opinion Page essays. All go into making a great community newspaper, which we aspire to be.

A second major strategy that will allow us to focus our coverage on the most relevant issues for our readers is advance planning, and the readership editor will help us do that, too. National research on which topics have the highest potential for growing readership – either more, or better, or more creative – also coincide with issues that drive reader interest in this area. They include stories about government, business, health and fitness, public safety, home, food and fashion – all approached with a fanatically local focus.

Dixie will help everyone in the newsroom (and at the entire newspaper, too) keep our readership goals in the forefront every day: Is that story being written because it interests us, or our readers? Does the story include the impact on real people? Does the photo complement the key point of the story we’re trying to tell?

So the answer to the question of “Why a readership editor?” is: to make us better. Whether we succeed is for you to decide, not us. And if I’ve learned one thing in three months, it’s that you’ll let us know.

Dixie Redfearn’s phone number is 530-477-4238, and her e-mail address is dixier@theunion.com .

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. His column appears every Saturday.


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