letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
Last week in this space I asked for thoughts about the changing news agenda - the extent to which ''new'' news about science, culture, health, the environment and so on, deserved to elbow its way to the level of ''old'' news, of the politics-plus-diplomacy sort. The letters back were generally subtle and thoughtful.

Janey Huber, a former eye surgeon from Cambridge, wrote in favour of the new agenda: ''There was a time when I read newspapers and saw only photographs of middle-aged white men, read only articles written by middle- aged white men, about the power struggles of middle-aged men, white and otherwise.'' There is a gender question here, she argues: ''Traditional news is masculine and about men in power. The kind of news I want to read is about things that affect me: the survival of the planet, women's success or failure in Equal Opportunities cases, the things I should feed my children, what's going on in Europe, what will hit us next from the US.''

Another reader, Clare Prout from London, agreed - ''I'd like to support your idea that environmental and wider social issues are just as much news as the sleeping mumblings in the House of Lords. In many ways, these less 'hard' items are proto-news.''

Dr Tony Daniels from Cleveland, while applauding the ''clean new layout'' of the paper, suggested that we are becoming less a newspaper than ''a daily news magazine'' and adds: ''You are heavily biased to the arts, fashion and the south-east of England in your 'news' coverage. Science and technology rarely get a look-in.''

Well, we are upping the science coverage - today's page three being an example - but the ''magazine'' criticism came from other readers too. Colin Parker from Tewksbury, for example, said he regarded the news items as being ''too 'magaziney', if I can invent such a word ... I get the impression that some stories are saved for a day when a page can be filled with stories that loosely come under the same heading.'' Quite a few of you agree with Mr Parker and Dr Daniels.

Another London reader, Nicholas Maxwell, put the opposing view: ''By presenting the information the way you have chosen, you break down an unhelpful, and possibly unreal, division between hard and soft stories. The grouping of pieces ''gives me what I need to make the links between different but related stories and makes me think more about the pieces rather than just reading them and passing on.''

That, of course, is exactly the intention of the new paper, even if we don't always succeed. The editorial and commercial dilemma is how to balance the traditional agenda with a grouping and choice of stories that tease out the new agenda while not losing too many readers on the way. If there is a pattern, it is that the offended readers tend to be older and the enthusiasts younger. E-mails, interestingly, are running more heavily ''pro'' than handwritten letters.

When The Guardian relaunched in 1988, it managed to lose 100,000 sales in a year. Amiable though our shareholders are, I rather suspect that I would not be permitted to do quite that badly - and so far (phew), sales are well above, not below, our base figures before the new paper. But it is of course easier to lose readers than to win new ones, particularly since we don't have sugar-daddy money. So if you are enjoying the paper, tell a friend!

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