And the Survey Says . . .

Though Herald execs are giddy about their market-driven plan for "journalistic excellence," the critics denounce it as a bitter pillar to swallow

Like their Broward neighbors, Dade Hispanics are not interested in "news about Haiti." Which apparently suits Dade blacks just fine; the survey shows they aren't interested in "news about Dade Hispanics" or "news about Central America." (No one, it appears, is interested in "news about Dade Hispanics" besides Dade Hispanics.)

One of the few things Dade blacks, Anglos, and Hispanics all agreed upon was that none has much interest in "news about Broward."

The survey also asked whether those responding were "very interested," "somewhat interested," or "not interested" in a series of general topics. When asked, for example, to cite their interest level regarding crime in their neighborhood, 94 percent of the respondents were either "very interested" or "somewhat interested."

Though some might find such data predictable and unenlightening, it got Herald executive editor Doug Clifton's pulse racing. Clifton says he was shocked by the crime statistics. He often felt the Herald had too much crime reporting in the past, he explains, and he has tried to keep coverage of mayhem to a minimum. Now that readers have been surveyed, he notes, that will probably change.

Joseph Angotti, a communications professor at the University of Miami, says focus groups and surveys are an industrywide trend. "I'm concerned about the extensive use of research by all media, not just the Miami Herald," says Angotti. "I think it has gotten completely out of hand. There are a lot of stories people don't want to read about but should read about. I think the Herald continues to do some of the best in-depth reporting of any newspaper in the country. If this survey is going to reduce that kind of reporting, then I think that is unfortunate. But so far I haven't seen that."

As an example of what people should read about, Angotti cites the issue of race relations, which didn't make the Herald's top nine. "If you asked people, 'Do you want to see or hear more about race relations?' the chances are very slim it is going to rank high on people's lists," says the professor, a former NBC News executive. "But it may be one of the most important issues that need to be addressed in the country today."

Further insight into the role marketing plays in how the Herald covers the news was revealed last month during a panel discussion about the future of the City of Miami. Sponsored by the Coconut Grove Civic Club, the roundtable discussion included Miami City Manager Cesar Odio, New Times editor Jim Mullin, and Herald political editor Tom Fiedler.

Fiedler was asked why the Herald wasn't being more aggressive in covering the City of Miami. The newspaper, which used to have two reporters at city hall, now has only one. Fiedler hesitated at first, saying he wasn't sure it was appropriate to share this information with the crowd, but went on to say he had been told that since Miami residents make up only fourteen percent of Herald subscribers, it wasn't cost-effective to have a second reporter on that beat.

This, too, will change, argues Clifton: Coverage of local government is now excellence pillar number one.

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