The problem is that readers will tell you what they think you want to hear. So the popular method of asking questions about whether they read a certain kind of news or how they will react if a certain change is made can steer editors in the wrong directions.
An idea roundtable, moderated by John F. Oppedahl of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, offered some different ways to think about readers and how the paper is marketed. Rather than readership, satisfaction needs to be measured - with the goal of moving those who are dissatisfied to satisfied and those who are satisfied to very satisfied.
A factor that affects satisfaction is the day of the week. What people want in their paper on Monday is different from what they want in their paper on Friday. There are certain core days for topics, and readers have been willing to pay a week's price for only four days of papers - if they can pick the four days. So, reorganization should be done around certain days.
Editors shouldn't be afraid to work with advertising because advertisers often help define what the core days are.
Keep in mind that consumers react and follow. They don't lead. It wasn't a consumer focus group that decided "Gee, maybe you should put flavors on chips." But when Doritos added nacho flavor the consumers flocked to the product.
Doyle is editor of the Walla Walla (Wash.) Union-Bulletin