Regularly connecting with readers is at the heart of remaining relevant in today’s changing and challenging media landscape. The dynamics of staying in touch has been strained by the pandemic and forced isolation during the past two-plus years.

All newsrooms and their complement of editors and reporters likely have formal and informal networks. You connect in a variety of ways to get a pulse of whether you are meeting reader expectations.

But how often do you ask for a direct critique of your news content, the very lifeblood of your product? When is the last time you asked the subjects of a news story what they thought of a report?

It’s a perfect time to launch a “story check,” something we implemented during my tenure as editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle.

The process is straightforward. We’d select a couple of stories from each edition and identify someone mentioned. We’d send a cover letter and ask a series of questions. For example: 

Are facts in the story and/or photo cutline accurate, including spelling of names and addresses?

Were the quotes attributed to you used in proper context?

In general, do you consider this newspaper to be accurate?

We did our best to diversify the sampling of stories from spot news to features, sports to lifestyle. The individuals may have been quoted from a city council meeting or simply named in a police report, civic club write-up or news brief.

Story checks are also a great opportunity to ask other questions about your product. What are the most interesting sections of the newspaper? How can you improve service? What other topics or subjects warrant your coverage? Are they a subscriber – why or why not?

Our goal was to solicit feedback from a range of readers – new and longtime residents, young and old, men and women, adults and kids – and from a demographic and geographic representation of our marketplace.

The concerns and ideas identified on the questionnaires will help you reinforce what readers think you are doing right and will challenge you to improve in areas where you are falling short of expectations.

Bottom line, use the story check to seek honest and straightforward answers. Reader feedback always directs you to a stronger product.

Of course, readers should not have to wait to be asked. Readers rarely are hesitant to offer their opinions on how you are doing your job. A telephone call should always be welcome.