So I read with interest the latest Dyson at Large column on Hold the Front Page: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/blog/100407dysonblog14.shtml

The blog itself was, as always, interesting  – even if some say it is easier to critique from the outside than run the ship (to which I agree). But of much more interest to me were the comments. Dyson presents the Bradford Telegraph and Argus as a good paper with strong stories, a high story count and several other features of note, but then adds their ABC figures were poor.

He puts this down to poor marketing as costs are cut. Speaking from personal experience, the marketing departments of most newspapers are truly terrible and have no concept of brand message or brand awareness or even basic marketing techniques (the exception being my current paper where a huge ad campaign has reaped rewards of a circulation increase and much excitement , but that is for a later date).

Undoubtedly some of the blame lies here, but as other commenters are quick to point out, there is no shortage of local papers where staff have been cut and budgets slashed, yet their ABCs have not suffered as much. So maybe it is not just the marketing to blame, but the content of the paper, or another arbitrary factor not considered (one comment mentioned mucking around with editions which is bound to alienate some).

Which all begs the question I pointed to in my first blog. Do we, as journalists, decide what the reader wants based on what we think sells, is readable, interesting etc? Or do we follow the reader to the end, even if it means no council stories and more about celebs on patch?

Certainly, the Argus example suggests what we journalists think as a cracking read and a top paper (and the blog seems to indicate this) does not appear to be what the reader wants if we accept their ABC figures are at least in part down to content. What then do they want? Are they fed up of crime yarns? Do they tire of council debates, community news and boring business? And how do you tell without conducting a very expensive survey which might not provide the answers anyway?

At this point the web journos come in and say look at the web stats – an instant way of seeing what stories prove popular and what do not. But of course the web readership is not the same as the paper, no matter how much of one overlaps with the other. In the old days, one might have used the letter contributions as an indicator. But this can be skewed, with the most controversial, not the most read or interesting, being pushed up the bill. And letter writing is a dying art

Ultimately, there are some tough decisions that need to be made in newsrooms. Readership is declining. But we still sit here and think we’ve put out a cracking paper, if not every edition then as many as we possibly can. I often pick up a tale and get super excited about it and think it’s going to get the world talking. But has being in the industry warped my perspective? And is it the same for editors, long in the tooth and accustomed to the usual journalism fare? Maybe those great exclusives we fight for are not worth all that much to the readers, who want a page of nibs for easy digest and big pictures to look at on the train.