Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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What newspapers must learn when readers are the judge

It was a joy to share that news with colleagues and readers on Monday ... and to hear back from readers. Elaine Formica shared a very nice note of congratulations. “I’ve subscribed to the Gazette since moving to the Pioneer Valley over 20 years ago and look forward to reading this newspaper each weekday,” she wrote in an email.

We hear from readers every day — and listen hard to what they have to say. On Monday, before news of the award arrived, the mail wasn’t all that positive. Several readers said they grimaced over a large Page One headline with a news analysis that characterized the University of Massachusetts fooball team’s Saturday loss to Maine as the school’s “worst nightmare.”

Several pointed out that the weekend also saw the death of a student, for reasons that haven’t yet been made public but which are not considered suspicious. That is far closer to a nightmare, they noted, for the student’s family and friends.

I asked a class of UMass student journalists later Monday what they thought of the Page One headline and the reader reaction we received.

The criticism, they felt, was on the mark.

The Newspaper of the Year award isn’t just a plaque. It keeps on giving, and talking back.

All of the newspapers that enter the contest receive detailed critiques from the focus groups that examine entries. Soon, we’ll get a scorecard back from the readers who gathered to rate the newspapers, along with verbatim comments.

Here in the newsroom, we’ll consider carefully what these readers, who live outside the Valley, had to say about how we’re doing.

We know they generally think we’re doing things well ... but I’m sure they also found things we can do better. We’ll be listening.

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