Nancy Barnes: We're seeking right mix of local, national and world news

  • Article by: Nancy Barnes
  • Star Tribune
  • November 10, 2007 - 4:19 PM

My oldest daughter, now 18, is a freshman engineering student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. She is also Exhibit A among the challenges facing today's newspaper editors. She scoffs at the idea of reading a newspaper when she can get all the news and information she needs online. (Or so she thinks.) She literally sleeps with her cell phone, which I believe will soon evolve into her primary means of receiving information.

I, on the other hand, cannot start my day without coffee and at least one newspaper. The habit is so ingrained that I feel lost without something to read at the breakfast table. Later in the day, I'll browse a variety of news websites for updates. Then there's my mother-in-law, whom I'm pretty sure has never been online to check a news report in her life.

Therein lies one of the quandaries facing every major newspaper. How do we serve all of these people who consume news in so many different ways? How do we do this without undermining the core newspaper and the hundreds of thousands of dedicated readers who still want their news in print? This is a particularly difficult challenge when dealing with national and international news, which is available in many, many places other than the Star Tribune. How many of our readers still look to us as their primary source for this information? Even if they get this news from television, I'm not sure they'll find a report substantive enough to help them understand, for example, the implications of the growing relationship between Iran and Russia.

We wrestle with these issues every day, but even more so on Sundays, when nearly twice as many people read the paper. The Sunday issue has the 11th-largest circulation of any Sunday paper in the country.

Rene Sanchez, our deputy managing editor for content, has been overseeing the Sunday edition for a few years now. In deciding what to showcase on Sundays, he looks for stories that will resonate in the hearts and minds of readers. "It's a day when people still tend to have a bit more time to read and reflect, so we owe them stories that are compelling -- that take them in deep or surprising ways into the issues and the characters that are a big part of life in the Twin Cities." They certainly aren't the type of stories you'd want to read on your cell phone.

Still, it's tough to decide how to strike the balance on Sundays between local, national and international. "As we put more front-page emphasis on strong local stories, I think we're still obliged to give readers an ambitious report on the country and the world. That's why a few Sundays ago, for example, we published an analysis of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and why last week we devoted an entire page inside the Sunday A section to the big political crisis in Pakistan."

Sanchez also has been working with the paper's wire editors to make the Sunday Nation+World page a showcase for deeply reported international or Washington stories. He's also setting aside space just for weekly stories on the 2008 presidential race. And he created a feature called "American Tales," stories that tell you something unexpected or charming about how life in the country is changing.

Despite these efforts, readers often tell me that they find the paper short on the national and international stories. The world may be wired, but large numbers of people don't want to wake up on Sunday mornings and go to their computers to find out what's going on. Starting next Sunday, we'll be making more changes and adding space to the A section to provide a fuller national and international report. I'll be watching the daily A section as well to see if other adjustments are needed.

Is this the right balance in today's wired world? We'll look to our readers -- the ones who still like to hold a paper in their hands -- to let us know.


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