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Virginia St-Denis

Understanding My Reading Communities

image of a woman having coffee with a man, who is reading a newspaper

I have worked with newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals and websites. While the communities changed over the years, the need to connect with my readers remained. However, how that’s done has changed.

Newspaper communities

image of a woman having coffee with a man, who is reading a newspaper
robuart © 123RF.com

I started my editing career as a journalist. I worked as a reporter-photographer at daily and weekly newspapers for seven years before becoming the editor of a community newspaper.

Getting to know my readers was easy. They were everywhere. I could talk with them at the community events and meetings I covered. I wanted to hear what they thought of the paper, what they would like to see more of and what they could do without. Just picking up a coffee on my way into the office, I could talk with a reader. I was part of the community.

Magazine communities

Things changed when I became the editor of a stamp collecting magazine. While newspapers serve a community based on geography, magazines serve a community based on interest. Because the readers were spread across Canada, connecting with them became more difficult.

Some people complain about having to work trade shows, but I loved them. That was when I could connect with my reading community. I enjoyed being able to talk with stamp collectors and dealers about what they did and didn’t like about the magazine. They often had the best story ideas, so I didn’t mind having to try to sell subscriptions to those who didn’t already have one.

The readership and the columnists were mostly retired or retiring men who were recapturing their childhood hobby handed down to them from their fathers and uncles. Few women collected stamps. Fewer women were readers. I was not part of this community. My consulting editor and major contributors were the subject-matter experts, and they gave me insights into the community.

Journal communities

Connecting with my reading community became even more difficult when I became the communications editor at an aboriginal health organization. My main responsibility was launching a plain language academic journal. It was the job experience I needed to become the managing editor of three medical journals.

What were once quarterly trade shows became annual conferences. The publications I represented were not the focus of the booths I worked, so there were fewer opportunities to talk with my reading communities, and the quantity and quality of discussions at each event declined.

Thankfully, journals have a healthy respect for research and surveys. By that time, email and the internet were more commonplace, which made readership surveys more economical for not-for-profit organizations. It wasn’t the same as meeting readers over coffee, but it provided some insights.

Online communities

To keep up with the changing times, my professional development turned to online media. Capturing and analyzing website and social media data helps me understand my readers’ demographics and online behaviours. Conversations now take place in social media groups, which offer a wide range of topics and opinions from a diverse community.

The need to connect with the reader has remained the same, even if the way that’s done has changed. Of course, I still like chatting over a cup of coffee.

How do you connect with your reading community? Your perspective and comments could help somebody else.

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The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. Contact us.


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8 Comments on “Understanding My Reading Communities”

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    I seldom hear editors talking about their audiences, so this is great. All writing and editing is based on two key questions: What is the purpose? Who is the audience?

  • Wilf Popoff

    says:

    Your discovery that few women are stamp collectors is puzzling. Our Queen is a stamp collector; so was Ayn Rand.

    • When I was editor of Canadian Stamp News, there were very few women subscribers and very few attending the shows and bourses. There were some, but not many. But that was at the turn of the millenium. It may have changed in that last 15 or 20 years.

      • John Challis

        says:

        I edited Candian Stamp News and Canadian Coin News in the early 1980s; such a surprise to see mention here. It was where I cut my teeth in writing and editing. The trade shows were the best part of the job, really. They helped define what readers would be interested in and it was the place to connect with potential writers.

  • John Challis

    says:

    I edited Candian Stamp News and Canadian Coin News in the early 1980s; such a surprise to see mention here. It was where I cut my teeth in writing and editing. The trade shows were the best part of the job, really. They helped define what readers would be interested in and it was the place to connect with potential writers.

  • Elisabeth Dowson

    says:

    I loved your article because we share a common history, but I was discouraged to see an error in a piece written specifically for the Editors’ Weekly official blog.

    «I enjoyed being able to talk with stamp collectors and dealers about _______ they did and didn’t like about the magazine.»

    Missing words are very common in today’s blogging world, where the focus is usually csearch engine optimization rather than editorial excellence.

    Our professionals must lead by example and have the self-discipline and patience to be thorough despite a looming deadline. Even small assignments deserve our very best.

    • Congratulations, Elisabeth, for catching the error that was inadvertently created during a last-minute edit. It has now been corrected.

  • Jasmine Chabot

    says:

    Just wish to say that I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you!

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