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Larry Lough

Newspapers have many kinds of customers

This newspaper is not a business – it is several businesses.

That means we have several kinds of customers.

For example, our editorial department provides news and information to readers, while the advertising department provides businesses and organizations access to those readers, and our commercial printing business offers a wide variety of products to people who need booklets, brochures or any number of printed materials.

This is Customer Appreciation Week – for all customers.

So, if you are a reader, an advertiser, a partner, a supplier, a source, or in some other business or professional arrangement with this newspaper, we want to say, “Thanks.“

We do appreciate the relationship.

EDITORS, REPORTERS and other newsroom folks have readers as a primary customer.

Like all businesses, we have “internal” customers, too – the people we work with inside our company to gather and package news and information.

But readers’ interests come first. We shouldn’t let our own convenience prevent us from serving the needs of readers.

A newspaper like this one, which is published and distributed in the early morning hours, has lots of people who work late at night and into the next day to serve readers as well as advertisers whose commercial messages share pages with the news.

Working nights is not convenient. Same with working weekends and holidays.

But a number of our staff members do that to serve our customers.

That is part of the job of newspapers.

NEWS IS A UNIQUE kind of business, as we have mentioned before in this column.

Much of what goes onto the pages of a newspaper involves subjective judgment – that is, reporters and editors present news and information that they believe is important, interesting and sometimes a little entertaining to readers.

But no two readers are exactly alike – in tastes, standards, experiences and philosophies – so a mass medium’s decisions about what to include in a daily report are subject to disagreement from many among the masses.

Because we handle a large volume of information every day, few days go by without our hearing from someone (or several someones) who found an error in reported fact or who suggested we made an error in judgment.

Errors of fact generally get corrected the next day on Page A2.

Errors of judgment? Well, everybody is entitled to an opinion.

IF SOME OF THIS sounds familiar, it should.

For each of the past 4 years, the editor’s column has addressed this subject during Customer Service Week.

And the column always includes the news department’s five-point customer service pledge.

With some embellishment, here it is again.

We pledge to:

1. BE ACCURATE: We serve customers best by giving them timely information they can trust.

“Relevant information” is part of our company’s brand promise. Among other things, that means timely news that readers can rely on. We know we will make mistakes, and we want to acknowledge factual errors promptly and get them corrected.

We publish our corrections policy on Page A2 each day: We care about accuracy, and we want readers to let us know when we get something wrong.

We appreciate your help.

2. BE ACCESSIBLE: Make it easy for customers to make requests, ask questions, and offer comments.

You will find staff members’ names, phone numbers and email addresses throughout the newspaper and on our website. Contact information is at the top of local news, sports and feature articles – and for the editor, it’s over there next to his picture.

We don’t merely encourage comments and criticisms; we welcome them.

An occasional compliment (thank you) is appreciated, too.

3. BE TRANSPARENT: Openly and honestly explain our role and performance.

Shortly after this editor came on board 4 years ago, he started this weekly column as a conversation with readers. In case you hadn’t noticed, this column has been here for more than 200 consecutive weeks – it never goes on vacation, even if the editor might sometimes find that to be inconvenient.

Readers who disagree with the decisions we make deserve to know the process and thought that was involved in our making them.

And we always find space for dissenting opinions on our Opinion page, through letters to the editor and guest columns.

Who knows? People who disagree with us just might be right.

4. BE UNDERSTANDING: Respect and reflect our customers’ diverse interests and divergent opinions.

Our Opinion pages, over time, reflect the wide variety of thoughts and ideas of our readers – even those with which we disagree.

On our Opinion pages you will see conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, and people who think between and outside those broad labels. Our hope is to promote an intellectually honest debate in the pursuit of truth, but we know the disingenuous nature of political speech makes that nearly impossible. Still, we try to edit out any outright falsehoods that contributors offer.

Our job includes facilitating public discussion – in fact, we are still the primary public forum in this market. You are invited to join – in print or online.

5. SAY “YES”:  Find some way to accommodate every customer’s reasonable request.

We want to find some way to get your information published, even if it’s not Page 1 news.

Our Community section, which is published each Saturday, includes news by, from and about our readers. You are welcome to contribute. And it’s free! All submissions are subject to editing for style, length and content.

If you want total control of the size, timing, content and placement of your message, we can help there, too.

We call it advertising. That, of course, comes with a cost.

But income from those ads helps us to offer our many services to our many different customers.

Thank you for being one of them.

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