Once upon a time, journalism was mostly a one-way street. Newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasts went out. Only letters to the editor were allowed back in. Sure, readers and viewers called to complain. Sometimes anonymous tipsters called us, too. (One wanted the code name "Squirrel," but that's another story.)
Then, the term "reader engagement" joined the lexicon of industry jargon. Editors wanted to--or were told to--get readers involved. All sorts of hilarity ensued, much of it viewed with skepticism in the editorial department. Readers don't know what they want, and if they do, they don't say so. They claim to want positive, serious news, but they read scandal and gossip. And do we really want readers to contribute? Extremists speak most loudly, right?
Now that most people take at least some of their reading pleasure online, we know for sure that extremists are loud and annoying. Trolls, anyone? But all you have to do is read the comment thread on a serious news story or column to find that many readers have thoughtful opinions, and civil debate can actually happen. Comments on both sides of an issue can be enlightening. And even trolls can be instructive. How else would we hear the latest conspiracy theories?
Plus, readers are sources, too. In a previous life, I was a senior editor at American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines. One of my brainstorms was a contest for business travelers. Who's the biggest Road Warrior? We'd get readers involved. We'd hear more from them than kudos or complaints about a story. And it worked. We got thousands of entries; apparently, business travelers were quite anxious to talk about their exploits.
What I didn't anticipate, really, was how much I would actually learn from reading those many, many, many essays from American Way readers. Which seats were best for sleeping on Boeing 777 aircraft, for instance. How often hotel guests lock themselves out of their rooms, often naked. How to pack, where to eat in Rome, where to run in San Francisco, which VIP lounges at JFK get the highest ratings... but also, the heartbreak of leaving kids and spouse behind 40, 60, 80 times a year, and how postcards, Skype, texts, digital photos of a kid's teddy bear in odd locations, foreign coins, and under-the-pillow notes might help. And so on.
I even learned how to avoid spilling one's orange juice on oneself during a trans-Atlantic flight. Don't pick up the cup after popping a sleeping pill. You know what I'm talking about.
Which gives us a nice pharmaceutical segue into the reason for all this: FiercePharma has launched a LinkedIn group. We'd like you to join. Share the news of the day with us. Chat about trends and problems. Suggest story topics, nominate your companies and colleagues for special reports. Tell us your office jokes, even. War stories are great, too. We'll also be soliciting your opinions about the latest issues.