Letting readers choose

The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison is experimenting with an interesting concept to bring more people to its traditional newspaper. Between 11am and 4pm each day, users of its Website are given the opportunity to vote on which stories they’d most like to see on the front page of the next day’s paper. Managing Editor Tim Kelley wrote to readers that the paper recognizes the coming transformation in the way people get their news.

Under the “Reader’s Choice” heading, we’ll offer four or five story choices varying day to day from local to national, entertainment to sports. You’ll be able to see immediately how your choice stacks up against others, and check back later for final results.

In the paper, we’ll identify the day’s top vote-getter with a “reader’s choice” label. Unless later- breaking, major news displaces it, the reader’s choice typically will appear on the front page.

Critics may resist what they see as a popularity contest undermining traditional news judgment. But we aren’t too worried that you’ll be scribbling up our first draft of history with Paris Hilton’s daily exploits. Our unscientific poll is just another way for you to tell us what you find to be the most important, interesting or vital information of the day.

While some will criticize this as a shallow promotional effort, my hat’s off to them. Newspapers have to do something, and since the whole process is under the governance of the editorial staff anyway, why not give readers a voice?

After all, this IS the Age of Participation.

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