The people have spoken...
Well, it was actually a few people that spoke, but their responses seemed to lead to one conclusion -- stay the course.
In recent weeks, the staff of the Mountain Home News conducted an online poll to gauge the public's interest in the county's publication. It was a chance for them to tell us what they thought of the newspaper and what improvements, if any, they preferred.
Granted, the total number of responses we received was pretty limited with only 40 individuals completing the poll. However, the data collected generated tended to confirm what the newspaper had suspected -- people turn to the Mountain Home News each week as a source of information affecting those who live in communities across the region.
That's not to say that I didn't see a few surprises in the results. Among them was a question on what people like to read first when they pick up a copy of the paper.
When I was a young journalist, my instructors at the schoolhouse taught me that the two types of stories that generated the most interest dealt with two different topics -- people who ended up on the wrong side of the law and those who had died.
I suppose it's human nature or sheer curiosity for us to learn who got busted or who we lost over the past seven days.
While court and police reports and obituaries were among the responses people had to choose, it turned out that most of them -- more than half -- turned immediately to the main stories of the week first.
When asked for more specifics of the types of news stories they liked reading, a majority preferred reading about what was happening in Mountain Home and Elmore County. Nearly 30 percent felt that articles pertaining to our local area schools were just as important with state and regional news a distant third.
What caught me a bit off guard was a desire for different styles of cultural stories in the newspaper. While human interest articles remain a favorite of many readers that took the poll, there were others wanting to see more stories pertaining to local history while a few more thought that others dealing with agriculture were just as important.
That seems fair because southern Idaho has very deep ties to the history of this nation, especially when it comes to all the pioneers that made the treacherous journey across the Great Plains in search of a new home in the western United States. When you add in the agricultural "footprint" this state contributes, and it's obvious that the newspaper needs to keep its ears open to these avenues when possible.
While the newspaper doesn't run a lot of entertainment-specific stories each week, people were pretty clear on what they wanted to read. If it had anything dealing with movies, that's what 62 percent of folks wanted to see with book reviews a distant second at 24 percent and music and television receiving a combined 17 percent of the total vote.
We also heard from our readers that they want to know more about what's available to see and do in southern Idaho. More than 60 percent of those taking our poll want to read about all the great outdoor recreation outlets that abound in our county's "backyard."
Meanwhile, about 20 percent wanted to read about different plays and shows they can attend while local sports and "late night" activities rounded out the list of choices.
Other topics we wanted to address in our poll dealt with the newspaper's appearance, which I admit hasn't changed very much over the years. Granted, a few things have changed within the past 18 months, including the addition of a community calendar each week highlighting events across the county. We've also made a few minor tweaks to how some information is packaged to make it easier for readers to find what interests them.
It seems that people like this "tried and true" format with 35 percent of respondents quite content with how the newspaper's front page looks. However, another 35 percent were hoping we could use more photography on that page with another 22 percent wanting something more in line with mainstream daily newspapers.
Where do we go from here? Well, that's a work in progress.
In coming months, the newspaper wants to incorporate some of the suggestions introduced by our readers to see if we can make a few changes without affecting the overall "feel" of the Mountain Home News.
As I've seen happen in other newspapers, one of the worst things we can do is suddenly change everything overnight versus doing things gradually. Case in point: I remember one newspaper that almost had a revolution on their hands after they tried revamping their comic section by doing away with some comic strips and replacing them with others.
If the readers could've had their way, I'm sure they would've shown up at the front doors of that newspaper "angry mob style" with torches and pitchforks in hand.
So what we plan to do is take your suggestions and blend things together to come up with a few design ideas. Then we'll take those ideas to see which ones are the best fit.
Make no mistake, this won't happen overnight. If we've done our job right, you won't notice a lot of these changes until one day something catches your eye that seems out of place only to realize that we made that change a few months back. When everything is said and done, I think you'll appreciate those changes.
-- Brian S. Orban