Gannett has decided that the time for a traditional editorial page has come and gone. Beginning in the spring and accelerating this month, the 250-title chain is cutting back opinion pages to a few days a week while refocusing what opinion is still published to community dialogue. The change is evolutionary, Amalie Nash, senior vice president for local news and audience development, told me in an interview. Experimental approaches in the same vein at papers like The Tennessean and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel date back as far as five years. A series of reader surveys and a task force of editors have persuaded her and other executives to recommend a new chain-wide pattern as part of Gannett’s push to make digital content its focus. Among findings supporting a new approach, Nash said, were:
- Readers do not want to be lectured at or told what to think.
- Routine editorials, point-of-view syndicated columns and many commissioned guest essays consistently turn up as the most poorly read articles online.
- Readers can find a range of opinions on hot national issues on the internet — so replicating that sort of content locally is a waste of time, space and budget.
- In the digital space, readers may not easily distinguish opinion pieces from straight news reports.
- A more promising approach, as an April strategy document puts it, is “highlighting expert local voices that are not the same-old talking heads and political hacks.”
The new opinion program is a strong suggestion, Nash emphasized, but not an edict. Editors at individual properties are free to tailor the general principles to what they think best suits their community