Ask the editor: what's new, what's fair, what works

Here are some responses to questions that have come in via online comments, email, snail mail, and even by real live people asking me directly (it's retro but effective):

How do I know what's new?

A number of readers have requested a way to tell which articles on are new each day. The Web lets us keep articles alive for more than one day; that was impossible in print. But how do you tell the new Monitor articles every day from the older ones?

Our first attempt to provide you with this feature can be found in the "Today's News Agenda" post. You can find it on our home page Monday through Friday beginnig around noon, Eastern Time, on the upper right-hand side of the home page. (Click here to check out Wednesday's.)

The news agenda is derived from articles that our news team assigns and edits throughout the day. We go over these articles at a 10 am (ET) news meeting. At first only a few of these items are anything other than topic sentences. But as the day goes on and the stories go live on the site, we provide link to the live stories.

By the end of the day, the news agenda links you to the top new Monitor stories that we've produced.

If you find this useful, let us know. We'll make it a more regular and more prominent feature.

Can you find weekly Monitor articles online?

We do eventually republish articles from our weekly Monitor on the Web. But we don't do so in one spot or at one particular time of the week. During the course of a week or more after the cover date on the weekly, we slot individual articles into the lineup, depending on relevance, news flow, and reader interest.

If you want to read the weekly articles in a timely fashion -- and enjoy the design, texture, and handiness of the print package in which they come -- you have only to subscribe to the weekly. It's inexpensive. It's a good reading experience. It will give you important background on news and ideas that the world is discussing. (Yes, I'm a big fan. Go figure.)

And it is getting good reviews from readers and critics. Here, for example, is how Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix described it in the May 15 issue (the Monitor item is halfway down the page):

“It's hard to say whether the reconfigured Monitor … should be called a newspaper or a magazine. Either way, it's an aesthetic success: tabloid-size and enticingly hefty, printed on 48 pages of matte stock that make the photos inside jump into the reader's lap. The one-page reports from abroad that fill the front of the book have a distinctly Economist feel, in terms of both layout and prose; in contrast, the cover stories get more real estate and funkier presentation."

Why do we allow some of those comments?
Readers continue to ask us about our standards for allowing comments on articles. As noted in an earlier response on this subject: "We are feeling our way through this, trying to thread the needle between living in a walled garden where we only talk to ourselves and standing in the middle of Times Square during a New Year’s Eve bash. It is a work in progress."

You can be excused for wondering whether a "work in progress" ever really progresses. It does. We have tightened our acceptability standards for comments. And next month, when we will have implemented a new content management system, we'll have a better way of presenting and policing comments. We don't want to snuff out comments. We want to encourage them.

Comments from our readers extend and enhance the discussion. Yes, sometimes they are shallow. Sometimes an otherwise reasonable comment can have a ugly turn of phrase. Do consider that even an off-base comment has its merits. It can indicate what a portion of the population is thinking. It can also be the impetus for a persuasive response that you could contribute that either appeals to the commenter's sense of fairness and reason or that appeals to a similar sense among indivduals who may be quietly reading the comment string.We don't edit comments. We approve them or we don't approve them. If we edited the comments, we would become the publisher of them and would thus have to verify every fact. We verify every fact with Monitor journalism, but we don't have the resources to do so with comments.

Think of comments as being like the water cooler conversation that is sparked by a news article. We don't endorse what is said, though we are glad to contribute the journalism that gets the conversation going. And if the conversation doesn't seem right to you, you can always walk away.

We've been trying to err on the side of letting readers be heard, hoping that their rough edges will be worn off by exposure. Still, we recognize that the Monitor's standards mean we don't want to approve hurtful comments. So our challenge is to reconcile these two goals. We're not there yet, but we are trying to find our way.

Is the Monitor's new strategy succeeding?

It's too early to know. We are sending our seventh weekly to the printer this Friday. Our circulation folks are working around the clock to improve the timeliness of delivery, a complex task because it involves logistics, special transportation arrangements, and education of postal agencies to be on the lookout for our publication and to process it quickly so that it gets into your mailbox.

Our weekly circulation is nearing 50,000. We hope it will grow significantly as people become more familiar with it through your recommendations and our marketing.

Our website is experiencing healthy traffic. Last month, we measured 2.5 million unique visitors, meaning that's how many individuals clicked on at least one Christian Science Monitor article. We are working to build our retention of these visitors so that they see more of the rich variety of content we offer. That demands an improved page design for individual articles and for the website overall. We'll be rolling out some of these improvements in late June.

Our Daily News Briefing, meanwhile, has just under 1,000 subscribers. We hope to have that grow significantly as people see what a handy way this is to get a quick update on news they should care about. To subscribe, click here and look under the "Electronic subscriptions" heading.

And we have other features in the works -- applications for Kindle and the iPhone, for instance. More on that as we progress through the development cycle.

Is there an alternative approach?

Every place you look in the media world today, the old way of doing business is crumbling. Newspapers are in deep trouble. Newsmagazines, TV stations, and most other media outfits are struggling. Everyone is trying to develop a workable business model (see this provocative article that we carried and this piece on the New York Times mulling metered news).

It's difficult to see a silver-bullet solution to the business model problem. As Steve Outing writes in Editor and Publisher, "Newspapers' existing content is better off being free on the Web ...  so as not to kill the opportunity of growing online advertising and the benefits of ubiquitous distribution of news content to reach the widest possible audience -- and thus have greater institutional influence on society."

The Monitor model isn't just theoretical. It was carefully developed with full awareness of what was going on in the news industry -- and then (this is the important thing) it was implemented. We made the leap out of daily print and onto daily Web. We shifted our print offering to a weekly. We are learning as we go.

That the economy is in a grueling recession doesn't help. But so far, we've seen no indication of a business model that is more rational than ours. If we do, we'll adopt it, or aspects of it, quickly.

Our belief remains that Monitor journalism -- humane, thoughtful, honest, hopeful, timely, lively Monitor journalism -- will be valued by people who care about those qualities. There have to be millions of people who do.

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