In March 2005, David Stoeffler, then vice president of news for Lee Enterprises, issued a challenge to the company’s newspaper editors: Give me ideas that will revolutionize your paper.

“Inviting Readers Into the Editorial Process”
– Ellen Foley
Wisconsin State Journal editors sent Stoeffler a proposal that called for a daily online ballot through which Web users could select a front-page story for the next day’s print edition. Managing Editor Tim Kelley and I felt that empowering readers to make such choices would demonstrate our investment in interactivity. This feature, we also felt, could serve as a starting point from which the newsroom’s top editors could push other online initiatives.

As simple as this idea seemed to be, it still took nearly a year for us to reach readers with it. Why the delay? The short answer is that this idea was a low priority of the information technology crew at Capital Newspapers, which publishes the State Journal. More pressing was the creation of other Web features to serve users and advertisers. A time-consuming redesign of, the Web portal for the State Journal and its partner newspaper, The Capital Times, also took precedence.

What the Reader’s Choice experience taught me, however, is that there is no substitute for stamina. We could have given up, but we believed in the idea so passionately that we refused to let it go.

Moving into 2006, the pace of change and responsiveness accelerated. We wanted to buy digital video cameras for reporters and that request was honored. But a paired request for a computer that we needed to edit the images our staff would shoot was denied. We pointed out to company managers that without this machinery newsroom staff could not use the cameras; this time we got a distinctly different answer than wait-and-see.

“We’ll get back to you tomorrow afternoon,” one of Lee’s Internet executives told me. The next day he called with the resources we needed to buy the editing computers.

We’ve also learned that it’s hard to argue with success. Good ideas and great execution yield credibility. Having success with one small step garners attention and resources that allow us to take the next.

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