A reader-driven redesign

Posted

Jane Nicholes

Before the first prototype page of the redesigned Dallas Morning News Business section was ever created, readers were asked what they wanted to see in it.

"We did our own research and reached out to a lot of the business section's loyal readers to ask them questions about what they read in the section, why, what they noticed about it, what they like and don't like," said Business Editor Dennis Fulton, a 38-year veteran of the section.

"We got a pretty good blueprint for what we thought this group of readers would like to see. A lot of it was additional personal finance coverage, helping with their money and investments. They wanted a better synopsis of what's going on outside our circulation area, basically nation and world business news.

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"They wanted more on Sunday. We provided some personal technology coverage during the week as well as some small business advice, but it was obvious that they wanted that in the Sunday paper and wanted more of it."

The redesigned section, launched April 15, was about a year-and-a-half in the making. The Dallas Morning News has its own research department that routinely surveys subscribers and asks those interested in specific sections if they would be willing to provide regular feedback. Daily and weekend readers of the seven-day, stand-alone Business section were also invited to review prototypes and rate them compared to previous prototypes and the existing section, Fulton said.

Among the results were:

  • Expansion of the Sunday section by two pages, from an average of eight pages to 10. Personal technology and entrepreneur pages moved from weekdays to Sundays, with content increased by 50 percent.
  • More but much shorter national and world stories.
  • The addition of Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary and Kiplinger.
  • More infographics and better organization to make it easier for readers to find stories and portfolio information that interest them. Cover pages promote more inside content, and inside page flags detail what's on each page.

In a letter to readers on April 15, Fulton offered his personal email address and asked for feedback. "And boy, did I get a lot of feedback."

The overall reaction was "extremely positive. Readers loved the changes," Fulton said.

However, there was one exception: The section dropped gold coins listings on the markets pages. Readers made it clear to Fulton that they wanted their gold listings back.

"We had them back within about a week. They were very happy," he said.

The redesign has proved easier to execute than Fulton expected. Take, for example, the nation and world business news. While the length of staff-written stories remains about the same, national and international stories are more often in the form of short pieces, briefs and summaries.

"It's actually easier to do that than to pick and choose which three stories are the top ones of the day. You go ahead and give them a dozen or so instead."

While other daily newspapers have cut stock listings, reduced the number of business pages or dropped business news sections altogether, The Dallas Morning News is doing just the opposite. For example, readers still may ask to have particular stocks listed on the market page.

"We have been very committed to business," Fulton said. "Dallas is a strong business community. We're locally owned, so our top management is part of that community, which I think helps.

"We've just always been dedicated to it. We still have 20 people on the staff, which many of my peers at other metro dailies are jealous of."

The changes may not be over. Fulton said reader surveys will continue so that they get what they want.

For more information contact Dennis Fulton at dfulton@dallasnews.com.

Jane Nicholes is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala., and a former editorial writer for the Press-Register in Mobile. Email her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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