Despite the certainty that what we publish will never please all of our readers all of the time, at The Astorian we still continually strive to improve our content and timeliness.
When we selected our publication days for the three-days a week print schedule, we chose to print a Saturday newspaper partly because we could improve our timeliness with Friday night football coverage.
So in September we added Saturday Sports Extra, a four-page weekly section that featured a local Friday night high school football game, the local Friday night football scores and additional stories about high school athletes and teams.
The section published during the nine weeks of the regular high school fall season, Sept. 7 through Nov. 2.
Logistically, it was a challenge. Our lone sports reporter and photographer were required to cover a home game every week, then write and send the story and photos all before 10:30 p.m. that night, regardless of when the game ended. Editor Derrick DePledge would return to work to consult with our remote page design desk, round up the rest of the Friday night scores, and then finish the content and pages, which were due to the platemaking machine by 11 p.m.
Plates were burned, installed on the press and the press run started by 11:15 p.m. The Sports Extra section was added to the B and A sections with advertising inserts, labeled, packaged and sent out the door by 2 a.m. to make it to the various post offices in the county by 6 a.m. so that it would be delivered with Saturday’s mail.
Was it worth it? Did our readers care that we worked at breakneck speed in the middle of the night in order to get them a Sports Extra section for Saturday’s newspaper?
According to a survey we conducted of our readers, the answer is “yes” ...and “no.”
Here are the survey results, conducted through email and print to our subscribers:
• 63% read it at least once in the nine weeks published.
• 45% read it every single week or almost every week. Another 18% read it, but less than half of the weeks it published.
• 37% did not read it — not even once.
Of those that responded, 77% read the Friday night game story and scores, 72% read the Athletes of the Week feature, and 70% read the high school sports wrap-up stories on Page 2. A little less than half read the Oregon college football previews (47%) and Seattle Seahawks previews (44%).
Here is a sample of the feedback:
“I really enjoy reading about high school sports. I would like to see in-depth articles from all the schools.”
”The section was great, especially the Oregon-Oregon State preview and the Seahawks preview. Please bring it back.”
“Everyone is not a Duck fan. More Beaver sports news.”
“Focus on local sports. This isn’t how I receive information on sports that I follow. I would rather choose what I want, which is easily done online.”
“Replace with hard news.”
“Get rid of it.”
“Eliminate sports and add more state or national news.”
“Inclusion of more national news on weekend would be an improvement in the paper.”
“More local news and features instead of national news.”
“I glance at your sports photos because you do such a good job but sports are of no interest to us.”
“Put more effort into news than things like this — your content is rapidly going downhill in quality and quantity!”
So what are our takeaways from the survey?
Not surprisingly, about half of our readers are avid sports fans, and half couldn’t care less. National studies generally peg newspaper sports readership at about 20%, but in a small community we care more about local sports because they connect us to families, education and community events.
Readers who liked the section really liked it. Particularly the featured Friday night game and local high school coverage.
Although Knappa football went deep into the playoffs, our largest high schools — Astoria and Seaside — had less successful football seasons. Support from local business advertising was good, despite the win-loss records. Saturday newspaper sales in store and on racks though, were ho-hum.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that The Astorian posts daily at dailyastorian.com, and the digital versions are free with print subscription, none of the respondents mentioned going to the dailyastorian.com or our social media for local sports updates over the weekend. (Note, if you’d like to learn more about activating the digital portion of your subscription, call our customer service team at 800-781-3214.)
The survey included good suggestions for including a broader scope of sports information, including neighboring Pacific County schools —we are following Naselle’s playoff run now. It is interesting, though not surprising, that reader opinions differ widely on how much space should be devoted to national news.
I’ll be sharing some of the other opinions and suggestions we received about The Astorian unrelated to sports coverage in an upcoming column. It’s interesting reading.
We’ll weigh this survey with a number of other important factors, like our employees’ opinions and resource priorities, as we plan our sports coverage for next fall.