Latvian Newspaper Professionals Learn about Readership Research

Twenty-two journalists from newspapers around Latvia came together in a session in Jurmala in the middle of April to learn more about ways to talk with their audiences.

In a three-day workshop sponsored by the Latvian Media Professionals Training Centre, Riga,and the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, the participants discussed the techniques of conducting focus groups and surveys of their readers. They learned about everything from the art of asking questions to the special techniques of scientific sampling.

Instructors for the workshop were: Dr. Melinda Hawley, associate director, James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Newspaper Management Studies, at the University of Georgia; Dr. Klaus Schoenbach, Professor in the Department of Communication and the Amsterdam School of Communications Research at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the Cox Center.

Latvian newspaper journalist Ms. Anita Kehre, who founded and directs the Latvian Media Professionals Training Centre, organized the workshop and kicked-off the first session.

Ms. Aija Breiksa, marketing consultant, Latvian Press Publishers Association, gave a brief overview of readership research already underway in Latvia and of efforts of publishers there to gain control of their circulation lists from the postal service.

Newspaper managers must think strategically about how to compete for the attention of their readers and those who might become their readers and how to win the support of advertisers, Dr. Becker said at the beginning of the workshop.

"Newspaper editors and managers must learn about the needs and desires of both readers and advertisers if their papers are to survive and grow in the future," Dr. Becker said. "This is an ongoing process, as reader and advertiser needs and desires change frequently in a rapidly changing world."

Workshop participants joined with the instructors in sample questions that could be included in a basic readership survey to measure reader use of the newspapers, interest in types of stories, and pass-along use of the newspaper. Many of those attending said pass-along readership is very important at their papers but difficult to document for advertisers.

The journalists and media managers attending also learned when and how to conduct focus groups and how the information gained from these might be used in making decisions about the content of the newspaper.

The instructors also suggested ways to conduct readership surveys and offered alternative ways to select people to be interviewed so as to improve the chances the information gained will be useful in decision-making. The instructors also offered practical guidelines on how many people should be interviewed.

In individual sessions, the workshop participants used the instructors as expert advisors and sought solutions to problems confronting their newspapers. Some sought advice on interpretation of data already gathered, while others sought advise on planned content and format changes for their newspapers.

Dr. Hawley told those attending the workshop that her research shows that audience members are very intolerant of even small errors in the paper and that they become frustrated if the newspaper is redundant with other media they use. She also reported that "women didn't find anything for them in the newspapers."

Dr. Hawley recommended that the editors and media managers make sure their papers contain in-depth stories about local issues and local reactions to national and international stories and "stories for women."

Dr. Schoenbach told the attendees that his research on German newspapers shows that, while market characteristics are "as important as what newspapers do" in determining their success, newspaper managers can do things to help guarantee their survival.

Dr. Schoenbach recommended that newspapers differentiate themselves from other media by being different in the topics selected on a day-to-day basis. "Don't imitate magazines by presenting specific features on Tuesdays and Fridays," he said. "In that case, newspapers become simply a bundle of magazines.

"Be serious in your reporting," he continued. "Those of your readers who want to watch television watch television. Those who want to know about motorcycles read magazines about motorcycles. Be sure of the place of the newspaper in the media landscape. It fulfills specific purposes and should fulfill them well."

Dr. Schoenbach recommended that newspapers contain stories about women throughout the newspaper, not in specific sessions. He offered the same advice regarding stories of interest to young people.

Infotainment-the combining of information and entertainment in the same story- is not successful, Dr. Schoenbach said. "Both entertainment and information are important," he said. "But you should not combine them. The newspaper should not be boring or incomprehensible, but in the political section people don't want to read about gossip."

In the closing session Dr. Becker thanked Ms. Kehre for organizing the workshop and indicated how pleased he was that the Cox Center was able to hold a workshop in the Baltics for two years running. The Center collaborated on a workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the Spring of 1998.

Ms. Kehre thanked the Cox Center and Drs. Hawley and Schoenbach for complimenting assistance Latvian journalists have received in recent years from Scandinavian media trainers and organizations.