Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
Most of the time we (and I believe you) take the view that our primary responsibility is to offer up all the news we think you want to read. At this time of year, though, there often isn't that much news of the conventional kind - politics, business, etc - so the agenda is either fuelled by what are known as "silly season" stories, or papers are beefed up with lighter material. In all of the summer, the August Bank Holiday week is supposed to be the quietest, when next to nothing happens, and the paper naturally has a more featurey feel.

This week has in fact turned out to be blessedly and abnormally busy, with real events - MI5, Northern Ireland, Montserrat, and so on. But the curious thing is, on those days when we do put in softer summery features, instead of feeling short-changed, people seem to rather like it. I can say this with some confidence since there is probably no journalist in national newspapers who has listened to as many readers as I have done over the past three or four years; hundreds of you, in sundry focus groups and the like, all over the country. The popular idea of focus groups (I caricature) is that they trap you into believing that everything must be slavishly marketed. That, in turn, is presumed to lead products (whether newspapers or politicians) into a kind of two-dimensional soundbite persona. In fact what this experience has taught me is how wonderfully three-dimensional our readership is. No two groups are ever the same, no set of people wholly agree, and that feels as if it's just the way it should be.

Having said that, it is enormously helpful to learn how certain kinds of reader respond. A trivial but, I hope, amusing instance (since I don't want to give too much away to our competitors!) is that working women read papers in a completely different way, depending on whether they live in or out of London. In London, since they mostly get tubes and trains and buses to work, if you give a woman a paper she reads the tabloid bit first, and then wrestles rather irritably with the broadsheet shape, spreading it out until she finds a way of folding it smaller in order to read the bit she's after. Out-of-London women almost always spread the paper out on the floor. Why? Because they're used to reading it at home, or on a desk or a table. This may strike you as completely irrelevant, but actually it means you approach the paper in a completely different way, which is mildly useful for me to know.

There are many other things, however, which it is much more useful to know - such as, what you thought of this morning's front page, the way we approached a particular story, which columnists you most enjoy.

Starting from next week we are launching a methodical approach to finding out what our readers feel about the paper, which will give us instant feedback on what you make of our judgements, ideas, the mix - in fact, everything to do with the paper. We are compiling a large panel of readers who are willing to be phoned one evening a month and interviewed briefly about what they read in The Independent that day, and what they thought about it. If you would like to help, I would be enormously grateful: just send your name and phone number to Independent Reader Research, Freepost 13583, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5BR. Alternatively, send an e-mail to "panel@independent.co.uk". At the very least, you'll get a chance to tell us what you really think of us.

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