I spent several fascinating hours with The Herald's Readers Advisory Committee on Tuesday. It was only the group's second meeting, but they are a smart and articulate bunch and they have plenty to say about the direction of The Herald.
We will approach future meetings with better focus, but Tuesday was my first opportunity to hear their opinions and their ideas. I came away loaded with ideas that can fill a focused agenda for the next five years.
While no recommendations came out of the most recent meetings, several issues were very clear to me.
First, members of the panel all agreed that The Monterey County Herald should not pull back from its coverage area. Faced with continuing reduction in resources and staff, we have toyed with the idea of scaling back our coverage of Salinas to concentrate more on what we consider our "core," which is the Monterey Peninsula. Salinas, after all, has a newspaper of its own. But our advisory panel seemed to be collectively aghast at the thought of ignoring Salinas. The folks on the Peninsula do not live in a vacuum, they said, and most of them recognize that news from Salinas does impact them in meaningful ways. Ignoring Salinas would simply foster additional misunderstanding among the citizens of Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula, and would make it that much tougher to tear down the "Lettuce Curtain" that divides the two communities.
Second (and this was gratifying to hear), committee members told me they actually appreciated the diversity of opinion that we allow to inhabit our Opinion pages. Whatever their political stripe, they said they enjoy reading reasoned arguments from folks with whom they disagree, particularly the syndicated columnists. They like that we allow locals to mix it up with their letters and their extended pieces -- and they encouraged us to foster even more of it. Diversity of opinion, they said, is what democracy and freedom is all about. They are grateful we provide the outlet.