One of the great things about modern media is how reaction to stories can be tracked almost instantly.
Previously, editors used ‘phonecalls or incoming letters to judge the readers’ mood.
Often, they listened in to conversations in the local pub or cafe (and still do, by the way) to tap into the zeitgeist.
If an issue was really, really big, they might spend some money on focus groups, or even opinion polls. But that was very rare in a regional context. In truth, it was all more instinct than science. Today, it’s possible to hire web analytics experts to track and analyse virtually every mention of your company, group, product or project.
Special web listening tools will crawl over websites, blogs, forums and social media, logging every collectable reference made |online.
The millions and millions of bits of data form the basis of a very scientific report and can act as the blueprint for various action plans.
The scientific approach is, of course, costly and takes time.
On a less scientific level, modern journalists are able to sit back and watch the unfurling debate, which they have often ignited, by means of the paper’s own website.
This week, after a query from a reader, I stayed online and tracked the reaction to one story, rather than just dipping in and out as per normal.
It was fascinating to watch in almost real time as the Telegraph community created a very vigorous debate.
The report chosen was a story that UK supermarket giant Waitrose is considering an expansion into the province.
Two passionate camps quickly formed within about 90 minutes. In the red corner were foodies and shoppers familiar with Waitrose from GB.
In the blue corner, folks concerned with the impact of supermarket giants on our town and city centres.
Much use was made of voting buttons as readers ‘liked’ or ‘disliked’ the various points-of-view. At last look, the pro-Waitrose lobby was in the lead, but only just.
Not very scientific, of course, but more informative than ear-wigging on bar-room conversations. If not as much fun.
The best bit of being Readers’ Editor is, of course, meeting and interacting with readers.
And so it was a privilege to be at the Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference awards at the Grand Opera House on Wednesday night.
To hear the amazing, true-life stories of people nominated by our readers for the awards really was a humbling experience and the night was a fantastic success.