New Priorities at the Sentinel

by Dan Ward

We often mention in our Message Matrix® training sessions that research shows a majority of journalists believe bottom line pressures to be the most important issue facing the industry, rather than accuracy or quality of news coverage.

That was backed up Thursday by the editor of the Orlando Sentinel, who told a gathering of Florida Public Relations Association professionals that his No. 1 priority is “audience growth.”

As much as I believe that journalists should focus on telling important stories that keep the public informed, Editor Avido Khahaifa makes a valid point that people need to read those stories to be informed.  And when journalists have information they feel people need to know, they bear responsibility for building that information into stories that people want to read.

One of the things that intrigued me most about Khahaifa’s presentation is his focus on audience-driven story selection and execution.  He is challenging his reporters to step outside of what he calls the “echo chamber” and write stories from the perspective of the audience.

As he shared with me after the presentation, journalists often see their role as watchdogs, but the audience is more interested in having a family pet that also guards the house.  A watchdog sees everything as a threat and barks at anything that moves, and after a while, you don’t want that dog in the house any more.

Khahaifa has spent many years on the business side of newspaper publishing, but his background is as a journalist.  It will be interesting to see whether the changes he has in store for the Sentinel pan out, but it’s clear he brings a fresh perspective to the job as a journalist who believes the audience comes first.

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