Kari Borgen: Publisher's Notebook: Readers share opinions of The Astorian

·4 min read

Jul. 16—The week before COVID-19 lockdowns were announced in 2020, The Astorian invited readers to a forum at the Astoria Library to ask what subscribers valued in their newspaper and what they thought could be improved.

The feedback was valuable and pointed out ideas to pursue for new content.

One week later, the newsroom's attention made a sudden shift to the COVID crisis at hand and how to meet our mission to inform the public of health, safety and practical measures to keep our community strong. The advertising department pivoted to help businesses communicate changes in hours and delivery options. Internally, we scrambled to develop communications to allow employees to work from home and address keeping those in the building safe while still serving our customers.

All of which explains a bit of a pause in working on some of those reader ideas.

That's not to say we haven't made improvements during the past two-plus years. Part of serving our community and customers has been a significant shift to digital-only subscriptions, which have grown from 12% of our total subscriptions to 26%. The Astorian's total print and digital subscriptions has grown by over 5% in the past two years, something to be proud of in a time when so much of what the public hears about newspapers nationwide is that the industry is dying

Given the remarkable changes to our everyday lives in the past few years, we conducted another reader survey in May to see if our subscribers' interests had changed. Not surprisingly, nearly equal numbers say they primarily discover their local news from the print and web versions of the newspaper — 54% print, 52% online. Since nearly all respondents were subscribers, those who primarily discover news through social media was only 26%. (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)

The Astorian has grown email newsletters as a way to provide quick bits of information to subscribers and nonsubscribers on topics of interest like breaking news, headline news, weather, events and sports. As a result, 17% of readers responded that they rely on learning news by email.

When asked, "What topics interest you reading The Astorian?" Over 80% of respondents said local news, local business, local government. Public safety reports ranked highly at 68%, as did obituaries, opinion, music, outdoor activities, food and dining, prioritized by about 50% of respondents.

In every survey and forum, we ask our subscribers for their feedback on improvements we can make to the paper. We are in turn chagrined, delighted and intrigued by the responses we receive to those comments.

As noted in a column about our 2019 survey, Astorian readers don't agree on what should be included in our pages — or what should be left out — with the exception of local news. In an open-ended question about how The Astorian can improve, there were differing opinions asking for more national, opinion, sports, comics, ads and less national, opinion, sports, comics and ads.

There were good suggestions and tips that we are working on, some published since the survey, like watchdog stories on local government, homelessness and housing and adding the events calendar to Coast Weekend. Other suggestions we are pursuing, and as they come to fruition I'll be announcing improvements in future columns

One of the takeaways is that we need to do a better job of communicating to readers how our business works. Questions about letters to the editor, how to get breaking news alerts, using the online system and more can be answered better in print and online instructions.

We also need to be more transparent about how our business makes enough money to operate. We pay for reporters, online systems and printing papers entirely through subscription and advertising revenues. It's particularly frustrating to hear "make the news available online free" or "hire more reporters" from people who won't subscribe. It's like telling a store owner you won't shop from their business unless their items are free.

Our mission remains that we are committed to reporting and distributing local news and information because a well-informed public keeps our communities strong.

To that end, we are always interested in your opinions on what that local news and information should be.

Share your ideas with me at kborgen@dailyastorian.com