Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Readers' letters and that MP

Most of my day today was spent in a meeting with Northcliffe's senior editors having what was described as a robust discussion around our print and digital strategies. One thing you can always say about editors is that they are incredibly passionate about what they do ... and you could also say that anyone trying to get general agreement from them on anything has a task akin to herding cats!

The few moments that I did spend in the newsroom of the Mercury was spent going through all the letters and emails submitted by our readers for publication in the paper. I'm guessing, but I've probably read through somewhere in the region of 60 today which is probably pretty typical of the numbers we see every day. More than half of these will have been submitted by snail mail, although we do see an increasing number arriving through our inboxes.

The advantage of spending a bit of time doing this task is that it does let me see what our readers have got on their minds.

What surprised me today was that, unlike the editors, a huge percentage of readers agreed with each other on the main topic of conversation. More than half of the letters came from people who were still exercised by the Keith Vaz allowance claims ... and I didn't see one letter of support. I did see one that didn't like Mr Vaz very much, but felt that the Mercury was a Tory rag which was revelling in putting him through the wringer.

We're not. Well, not entirely.

What I mean is that we do not support the Conservative Party. In fact, the Mercury doesn't support any political party and won't while I'm editor. We'll call it as we see it on individual issues. Obviously with Labour in power at both a local city council level and nationally, we are more likely to be seen criticising them than the Tories simply because they are doing more. But you will equally see us supporting some decisions of the city council - see this or this (and indeed tomorrow's editorial which supports work being done to clamp down on noisy neighbours).

So, we're not a Tory rag, but are we a rag? You know what, I don't mind that term as it is normally used in the context of the 'local rag' and, while it might be mildly insulting, it is also sort of affectionate ... it's the sort of mild insult you might use about a close friend! And, above all, I like people to comment on the paper - and this blog - because it means that we are doing something worth commenting on and I'd hate for the paper to fade into irrelevance.

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