Opinion: We listen to, appreciate feedback

“I didn’t really want deadlines and editorial work. I wanted something mechanical and eight hours a day. So I went to work, thinking it was easy – ha, ha – on the complaint desk …”

– Katharine Graham, legendary publisher of The Washington Post.

Here, at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we really don’t have a complaint desk, per se. Each of us in the newsroom interacts with our readers. You, after all, are among our most important customers, and your feedback only helps us improve.

That was certainly the case earlier in this year, when we made the difficult decision to eliminate the movie listings amid soaring newsprint prices and market research, which told us that most (though not all) of our readers turn to our digital products for that information.

We heard from dozens of readers who asked us to reconsider. They agreed we didn’t need to publish the movie listings all weekend long, as we once did. From those conversations, it became clear that we needed to find a home for the movie listings at least one day a week – particularly on Fridays – as folks plan their weekend.

That’s exactly what we did.

Within two weeks, the movie listings were back in Go Guide, our Friday entertainment section.

“You have restored my faith in The AJC,” one reader wrote. Another said: “It’s wonderful to know that The AJC continues to be responsive to its readers.” A third said: “I’m glad Friday movies will be coming back. Thanks again for listening. I truly value The AJC.”

The movie listings serve as just one example of what happens when you take the time to share your thoughts, your concerns, your criticism.

Please know we take those comments to heart. We promise to listen with an open mind. And when we can, we take action.

Consider, for instance, this year’s improvements to the newspaper. They, too, were the result of market research, in which we ask readers how well we’re delivering on topics they find most important.

You told us you wanted more investigative reporting and in-depth journalism. So we dedicated more resources to producing those types of stories, and we made sure they were prominently displayed on our front page.

You told us you wanted more news from your community. So we added 11 full pages each week to accommodate our expanded County by County coverage. In addition to offering more stories, we reorganized the pages, grouping news of the day by geography to make it easier to find.

You told us you expected your newspaper to provide more context and understanding on the day’s biggest stories. So we introduced a new feature, called “Today’s Explainer.” That’s where we take a complex topic and present it in a way that allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of a timely issue.

“I wanted to thank you for the new ‘explainer’ feature, particularly the one about the trade deficit,” one reader said in a telephone call. “It was just first-rate. I have an MBA and I don’t think I ever thoroughly understood [the issue until now.] Maybe it was the quality of my education?”

Another wrote. “I wanted to let you know that … I love the ‘Today’s Explainer’ features. They’re informative and to the point.”

Not all calls are so complimentary – nor should they be.

Every day, we try our very best to produce a flawless newspaper – one that is free of typographical errors and other mistakes; one in which the best stories of the day appear in just the right spot and in just the right order.

Of course, we don’t always get it right.

There was that time when a production error meant the wrong puzzle page appeared in the newspaper. We immediately corrected the mistake on our digital replica, the ePaper; we ran two puzzle pages the following day; and we responded to every reader who contacted us.

“Thank you very much for your response and action,” one reader wrote. “The digital fix was great. I have been a subscriber for 47 years and plan to continue.”

There was that time when we neglected to publish a story in our Saturday edition on a federal judge reprimanding Robert Mueller’s legal team.

“I apologize that story did not appear in Saturday’s newspaper, as it should have,” I wrote to one reader. “I do hope you saw the story that we published on page A5 in Sunday’s newspaper.”

The reader responded: “I did indeed see the article on Sunday morning and read it in its entirety. Comparing the information with other news sources that ran the story, your write-up seemed accurate and informative. Please keep it up.”

There are also ongoing concerns about perceived bias in our reporting – an issue which we’re constantly addressing and striving to make progress.

“I’m sorry you’re finding it so ‘painful’ to read the newspaper,” I wrote to one reader, addressing a phrase he had used in the opening line of his email. “I can assure you we try very hard to offer our readers a balanced and unbiased news report … I’m hoping you wouldn’t mind providing more specifics. In return, I promise I will share those concerns with other editors so that we can address them moving forward.”

The reader responded: “Well, praise the Lord and pass the salt. I am traveling at the moment, but as time becomes available, I will gladly respond in greater detail. For now, just know it means a whole lot just to get an honest response from you.”

Most times, it seems readers are a little stunned to hear back from one of the newspaper’s managing editors. They appear to be even more surprised that someone actually listened to their concerns and took the time to return their telephone call or email.

“Someone actually responded!” one reader wrote. “That’s a rarity these days, but it is appreciated!”

Another said: “I’m impressed that you have taken the time to resolve [this issue] in such a positive way and then responded to my email.”

A third wrote: “You have reinforced our impression of The AJC as a quality newspaper.”

It’s not only our editors who interact with our readers.

As one reader said, “I have communicated with many of your staff journalists and can say they are very responsive and cordial which is great and appreciated.” Another said: “I recently wrote to [reporter] Mark Niesse with a question, and he not only responded quickly, but with a succinct answer and phone number that produced results.”

You see, we really do welcome – and value – your feedback.

In 2018, it’s helped us make improvements to the newspaper. It’s guided our coverage and led to new techniques to help us present the news in a balanced and straightforward way. Most importantly, it’s allowed to us to hear from you, our most important constituent.

So as we enter another year, please keep the feedback coming.

I promise we’ll listen.