I thought I’d start this blog with a nice simple issue. Is the reader always right?

It’s the message we have been receiving from the powers that be. They have spent good money on in-depth research (that in itself is highly impressive given the tight purse strings of most newspaper bosses). Now they have all the results it is understandable they are using them for all their worth. We have detailed breakdowns of our readership – who has gone, who has come, who remain, who we should be going after etc.

It makes for fascinating stuff and as a reporter it might just be the first time in a newsroom I have actually been told in no uncertain terms who we are writing for and who exactly our audience is. In the past it has more been an editor saying these are good stories and these are not, and learning through that.

All very well and good but to what extent should we trust the input from our beloved readers? From experience the reader is definitely not always right. From the readers who claim you’ve made an error when you know you haven’t, to the interviewees who claim you misquoted them even though it is all on tape and in shorthand. Then there are the regular green ink brigade spouting about God, or conspiracies or both in the letter pages. These people also took part in the survey no doubt. How can you discount their input? Should you?

While I have no doubt reader feedback is useful, I wonder if too much is being read into their answers. When editorial content is being specifically targeted to individuals based on polls and survey results, you run the risk of pandering to a readership who more often than not do not know what the hell they want (for example I never hear the end of people saying there are not enough “good news stories” in the paper, despite none ever saying what a good news story is and all still fascinated by those stories you imagine they would term “bad news”).

What is to say in¬†six months time they change their mind and tell us actually they don’t like lots of small stories anymore and instead would like in-depth¬†features. No we don’t want celeb stories and actually all the boring council stuff we used to ignore is interesting as they’ve shoved a giant phone mast next to my house and I had no idea as I was reading about Lindsay Lohan coming to town.

So do we trust the reader implicitly and follow their desires, or do we give them what we think is good and interesting and right and hope they agree?