I have worked with newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals and websites. While the communities changed over the years, the need to connect with my readers remained. However, how that’s done has changed.
I started my editing career as a journalist. I worked as a reporter-photographer at daily and weekly newspapers for seven years before becoming the editor of a community newspaper.
Getting to know my readers was easy. They were everywhere. I could talk with them at the community events and meetings I covered. I wanted to hear what they thought of the paper, what they would like to see more of and what they could do without. Just picking up a coffee on my way into the office, I could talk with a reader. I was part of the community.
Things changed when I became the editor of a stamp collecting magazine. While newspapers serve a community based on geography, magazines serve a community based on interest. Because the readers were spread across Canada, connecting with them became more difficult.
Some people complain about having to work trade shows, but I loved them. That was when I could connect with my reading community. I enjoyed being able to talk with stamp collectors and dealers about what they did and didn’t like about the magazine. They often had the best story ideas, so I didn’t mind having to try to sell subscriptions to those who didn’t already have one.
The readership and the columnists were mostly retired or retiring men who were recapturing their childhood hobby handed down to them from their fathers and uncles. Few women collected stamps. Fewer women were readers. I was not part of this community. My consulting editor and major contributors were the subject-matter experts, and they gave me insights into the community.
Connecting with my reading community became even more difficult when I became the communications editor at an aboriginal health organization. My main responsibility was launching a plain language academic journal. It was the job experience I needed to become the managing editor of three medical journals.
What were once quarterly trade shows became annual conferences. The publications I represented were not the focus of the booths I worked, so there were fewer opportunities to talk with my reading communities, and the quantity and quality of discussions at each event declined.
Thankfully, journals have a healthy respect for research and surveys. By that time, email and the internet were more commonplace, which made readership surveys more economical for not-for-profit organizations. It wasn’t the same as meeting readers over coffee, but it provided some insights.
To keep up with the changing times, my professional development turned to online media. Capturing and analyzing website and social media data helps me understand my readers’ demographics and online behaviours. Conversations now take place in social media groups, which offer a wide range of topics and opinions from a diverse community.
The need to connect with the reader has remained the same, even if the way that’s done has changed. Of course, I still like chatting over a cup of coffee.
How do you connect with your reading community? Your perspective and comments could help somebody else.
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