A Year-End Report To Our Readers

Monitor readers care passionately about this newspaper.

In the past year, several thousand of you have written, called, or sent e-mail weighing in on everything from the size of the type we use to the nature of our movie reviews. Last summer we assembled groups of readers in Boston and Chicago and asked them what they thought about the paper. One common theme: Readers love the Monitor like a friend of the family, one that has been coming into their homes for decades.

So, on behalf of my colleagues in the Monitor's editorial and publishing offices, here is a year-end report on the institution we all cherish.

1997 was a year of considerable change for the Monitor. On the most basic level, we moved out of a newsroom that had been the Monitor's home since 1934. The Christian Science Publishing Society building is being renovated to remove asbestos, install sprinklers, and upgrade electrical systems installed long before the computer era. Over the Fourth of July holiday we moved to comfortable temporary quarters in a building that previously housed the Monitor's radio and TV operations. Monitor Radio, our broadcast arm, closed June 30 after 13 years of providing in-depth news and analysis to listeners around the globe.

Seeing what readers want

The newspaper staff spent a significant part of 1997 researching readers' wants and needs and laying the editorial and design groundwork for serving subscribers more effectively in the years ahead. The work began with a thorough study of everything the Monitor's Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, had to say about its mission and operation. A variety of Monitor correspondents who are based around the world came here to participate in discussions about improving the paper.

In October, we launched a new Work & Money section that runs on Mondays. It is the first of five daily sections we plan to introduce over the coming months to serve readers better and to attract new subscribers and advertisers. Sections coming in 1998 are: Arts & Leisure, Home & Family, Education, and Ideas.

We've had positive reader reaction to the practical, brightly written Work & Money sections that business editor Lynde McCormick and his team are producing. Two readers even called staff writer Jim Tyson asking him to manage their money. Jim was flattered, but plans to stick to writing.

Readers tell us they love the worldwide scope of the Monitor's coverage but want us to do a better job of making sure the unique Monitor contribution to each story is immediately apparent. To that end, in 1997 we made a variety of changes aimed at offering greater utility, clarity, and insight.

More first-person stories

One step was offering occasional series written in the first person. A number of you wrote to say thanks for Marshall Ingwerson's compelling, first-person account of traveling to each of the countries bordering the Caspian Sea. In November and December, writer Warren Richey and photographer Bob Harbison took readers on a highly readable trip through the Everglades. The six-part series brought a spirited response from several readers with a lively interest in matters reptilian who questioned Warren's statement that crocodiles live in the Everglades. For the record, reptile experts say Warren is right.

We also plan to offer more of David Herring's stunning full-page graphics that make complex subjects understandable and interesting to the general reader. Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan graciously told a C-SPAN audience in December that the Monitor was "a terrific newspaper" and that a Herring centerspread on global warming was "the best graphic I have seen in any newspaper" on the subject.

In mid-December, we celebrated Paul Van Slambrouck's return to the Monitor. Paul is reopening the Monitor's San Francisco bureau as part of our effort to strengthen coverage of the high-tech American West. Many of you will remember Paul from his distinguished service as the paper's international news editor. Paul has been serving as deputy managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News, the leader in Silicon Valley news coverage.

Quickened pace in '98

During 1998 we plan to step up the pace of improvements in the paper.

Next week, we welcome Clay Bennett as our new staff cartoonist. Since Jeff Danziger left the editorial page last January, we have been running a variety of syndicated cartoonists. Clay spent 13 years as cartoonist of the St. Petersburg Times and more recently has been syndicated in several hundred papers. His work is thoughtful and gentle, as well as funny, and thus is in keeping with the Monitor's character. In his off hours, Clay teaches computer animation, and animations of some of his cartoons will be featured on the Monitor's Web site. An example of his work appears above.

Coming Arts & Leisure launch

On Friday, Jan. 23, we launch the Arts & Leisure section, the first of four additional sections to debut by June 1998. In addition to coverage of movies, television, and popular and fine arts, the section will also include a weekly sports column written by Doug Looney. The column will be designed to delight readers with compelling human-interest stories and to place sports news in a wider context. Before coming to the Monitor, Doug spent 21 years as a writer for Sports Illustrated and wrote a bestseller about corruption in college sports.

During 1998, the Monitor's 90th-anniversary year, we plan to freshen the look of the front page and the rest of the paper. The purpose of the redesign is to make the unique character and qualities of the Monitor more apparent from the moment a reader first sees the paper.

We are eager to serve readers outside the United States in a more timely and complete fashion. We plan to offer a strengthened weekly World Edition before the end of 1998. It will offer readers outside the US an up-to-date and comprehensive report on the entire week and will include content written especially for our international subscribers.

New steps in electronic publishing

Next year will be a busy one on the electronic publishing front, as well.

We remain convinced that the Monitor's unique values give it something special to offer the world of broadcast news. This spring, a team of Monitor staff members led by Karla Vallance, broadcast managing editor, will complete a study of various ways of bringing the Monitor's values to a broadcast audience in a manner that can become self-supporting. We will keep you posted as our broadcast plans develop.

The number of visitors to the Monitor's site on the Internet continues to grow rapidly. At least 60,000 individuals turn to the e-Monitor (www.csmonitor.com) each week. Early in the new year, the e-Monitor will begin using a new technology that allows visitors to see each page of our newspaper. This is an effort to make the Web site easier to use and a more effective ambassador for the paper.

Meanwhile, the Monitor's new e-Mail Edition is bringing the paper's contents to readers in remote areas that don't have access to the graphics-rich portion of the Internet. For example, one US Navy submarine crewman gets the e-Mail Edition of the Monitor while his boat is submerged. We are also grateful that computer hardware and software is now available that reads the Monitor's e-Mail Edition aloud to blind individuals.

While our electronic editions arrive on a timely basis, we know many of you wish the newspaper itself would reach your homes in a more dependable fashion. Jim Atencio of our distribution team devotes considerable time to this problem. In 1998, we plan small-scale testing in Boston of ways to deliver the paper that do not rely on the US Postal Service. Our aim is to find alternative methods that increase the timeliness without increasing the cost of the newspaper.

Goal: to build circulation

Building circulation is a major goal of ours in 1998. An improving circulation picture is a prerequisite for selling more advertising, which the Monitor must do to cover our operating costs.

In early January, 2.4 million potential readers will receive direct-mail invitations to subscribe. Later in the year, we plan to launch a "share the Monitor" program offering current subscribers the wonderful opportunity to give a free two-week trial subscription to friends they think would value the Monitor's unique qualities. We hope you will find this opportunity for sharing the paper as promising as we do.

Monitor reporters, editors, and publishing executives also expect to spend considerable time on the road in 1998 talking to subscribers, potential subscribers, and advertisers about the Monitor and the compelling service it provides. Publishing Director Steve Gray (grays@csps.com) and I welcome your suggestions about places such presentations would be most effective.

All of us who work for the Monitor feel privileged to be part of a news organization designed, in Mrs. Eddy's words, "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind." Her remarkable mission statement gives the Monitor a unique and much needed role in today's media world. We are grateful for your continuing support of our newspaper and its electronic offspring. We look forward to being of even greater service to you in 1998.

David T. Cook

Editor

cook@csmonitor. com

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