Reporters and editors should develop a reader satisfaction index

Many people referred to my MBO post as a “challenge.” That wasn’t a challenge. It was just a task list with a reward. Here’s a challenge:

Make your focus your audience. Try to figure out what readers want, not just what you think they want.

For the individual reporter: Make a three year commitment not to submit any story you report or write to any journalism contest. Insist that no editor submit any story you write to any contest. At the same time, collect every reader praise you get and track them. Make it your goal to get at least 4 reader praises per month. The praise can come through a phone call, in person, e-mail or story comment. In months that you make goal, give yourself a treat — it might be a night out at the movies, a nice dinner, a concert or whatever makes you happy but you don’t already do regularly for yourself (or your significant other). When you don’t make goal, deny yourself that treat. If you make goal three consecutive months, increase the goal by a reasonable amount.

For editors: Ban your staff from submitting articles to award contests. Start collecting reader praise. Every week, post the number of reader praises on a prominent bulletin board in the newsroom. Encourage editors and reporters to forward praise to you so you can count it (if the praise didn’t come in written form, require specifics on the nature and source of the praise). Track that number every week and graph it. When praise comes in written form, post the best of the praise. Do not give gold stars or bonus checks for praise. Don’t make it an individual contest. But do thank every staff member who forwards praise to you. Though, you should encourage reporters to do the individual measurement on their own.

BTW: Praise can be for stories, blog posts or video — any kind of journalism, no matter where it first appears or what format.

It can’t be from sources or subjects.

Don’t count complaints. Complainers about stories often have agendas, or are just zealots with an anti-media bias.

Or develop your own reader satisfaction index. The goal is to focus on the reader, the audience.

I can already hear the objections — you’re dumbing down journalism by aiming for the lowest common denominator, you’re ambulance chasing and taking journalism from the context of serving the public good.


It’s a false dichotomy to say there are only two kinds of journalism — the “holy temple of serving the civic good” journalism and the ambulance-chasing journalism. There are all kinds of journalism. Your job is to figure out what kind audiences really want.

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3 thoughts on “Reporters and editors should develop a reader satisfaction index

  1. “Don’t count complaints. Complainers about stories often have agendas, or are just zealots with an anti-media bias.”

    Problem is, people who praise you are also just as likely to have agendas, or love to see their names in print.

    Likewise, there are stories I’ve done where I take the complaints as a badge of pride – lets you know you’ve done a good job.

    I’m all for judging journalism by the customers it attracts, but I don’t think how many people are motivated to get in touch with the journalist is the right way to measure it.

  2. It seems like every month or so someone is asking me what we should submit for “best multimedia/online/etc.” category of whichever contest is on the horizon. And each time, I find myself trying to explain how the stuff we are most proud of doesn’t fit the criteria that the journo-judges want.

    Here we are trying to come up with better ways to interact with our audience and we still have folks who want us to cram these blogs/topic-sites/conversations onto a CD for an award submission.

    If there is any indicator that we should be using to judge the viability of our work it should be the audience.

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