Excuse me, sir. I think there's been a mistake. I know it's detention but I don't think I belong in here.’’ — Claire Standish, “The Breakfast Club”

Surely we’ve all felt the angst of being at odds with our surroundings as “Princess” Claire did in “The Breakfast Club,” adrift in detention alongside a basket case, a criminal, a brain, and an athlete in the 1985 John Hughes classic American film.

Like the famous John Hughes film, customer dissatisfaction can occur when something feels distinctly out of place.
Like the famous John Hughes film, customer dissatisfaction can occur when something feels distinctly out of place.

This can strike when we choose a product to buy or enroll in an event to attend that doesn’t exactly fit.

This weekend, for example, I’m going to what I thought was a weekend camp for grown-ups (Colour war with booze! Flashlight Cards Against Humanity after lights out! Limericks for Ladies!). In fact, it’s a retreat, complete with a real-life pastor from Atlanta, Georgia, an opening session at a riverside chapel and a packing list that includes a Bible. Please pray for me.

The author’s weekend Bible retreat is a far cry from her expected grown-up summer camp.
The author’s weekend Bible retreat is a far cry from her expected grown-up summer camp.

Or when our friends and family choose things for us, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with evil cackling.

In college, for example, my friend Joanie was unable to attend registration day because of a vacation that ran long. This was back when one had to line up in a large university gymnasium and fill out desired classes in little coded circles using a No. 2 pencil. Not until days later would you learn which classes you actually received.

Joanie’s sister Marianna agreed to register for Joanie in her absence, but resenting her sibling’s glamorous trip, randomly filled in circles, leaving Joanie enrolled in bogus classes like SWA 201 Intermediate Swahili (“Builds proficiency in the language of speaking, reading, and writing. Includes children’s stories, newspaper articles, poetry, and folklore”) and Golf Course Management.

So, it’s become all the more important that, as news media professionals — especially those of us who still publish seven-day print newspapers — we deliver what we say we’re going to deliver. This can be ticklish as we trim pages and sections, and repackage and shrink-fit standing features like comics into tiny house-sized spaces (“Honey, could you hand me my monocle?”).

Even inconsequential changes can cause loyal customers to become angry.
Even inconsequential changes can cause loyal customers to become angry.

Hell hath no fury like the reader addicted to “Blondie” who cannot imagine why you went and cancelled it (insert *mother of all curse words* here, I kid you not). Don’t even think of trying to convince a loyal subscriber his favourite crossword puzzle is so much more fun online.

We walk a delicate tightrope these days with the print edition, do we not? How do we reflect the good in our communities while still holding scumbags’ feet to the fire? How do we wordsmith headlines to adequately describe the funhouse (without the fun) that is the current state of political discourse?

We do it, I think, by continuing to invest in smart, insightful editors who truly “get” the communities they serve with daily newsprint products. And we also do it, I know, by getting “niche-y” all over the place with digital and print products and events that branch out, have attitudes, look splashy, and appeal to audiences willing to pay for them.

Let your daily print product do its thing and do it well, reflecting as best it can the “mass” appeal the best newspapers still deliver. Then let your niche product development team run wild, follow the money, and colour outside the lines of what newspapers are or can ever be.

There may be some overlap on where your readers and customers feel they belong, but they’re grown-ups. Let them choose.