Colleen Otte

What my grandmother’s love of the Iditarod taught me about the news

Image: USFWS, Donna Dewhurst
Image: USFWS, Donna Dewhurst

Amazing Grace.

That’s what I like to call my grandma, Grace Otte. She’s 95 years old and is nothing short of amazing. She raised five kids on her own and found time to help others and their children as a nurse all the while. She speaks multiple languages and has lived in multiple countries. She cross-country skied all the way through her 80s, and makes the tastiest mug of hot cocoa, one capable of making even the coldest winter’s night cozy. (Especially with her coconut macaroons on the side.) She holds a treasure trove of stories that often begin with Stop me if you’ve heard this before… but nobody ever does because they are far too entertaining, even the tenth time over. She won’t hesitate to throw popcorn into the air and shriek in excitement over a game-winning Red Wings goal. She never, ever fails to send a card no matter the holiday — Valentines usually read “Be mine?”; Halloween cards “Boo! Guess who?” – and all are signed Always loving you, Grandma O.

So when this gem I am so fortunate to call my grandma wants something, doggone it, she should get it. She has spent 95 years bringing smiles to others’ faces, and really, her desires are quite simple: This past winter all she wanted was more coverage of the Iditarod.

“The Iditarod is the world’s foremost sled race!” she said exasperatedly. “I don’t know why they don’t afford it any time on the sports channels and space in the sports section.”

Grandma Grace is a feisty one, so she took it upon herself to call ESPN and inquire whether they might consider allotting more time to the famous dogsled event.

But why should she have to?

I’m not necessarily saying ESPN and other sports outlets should be required to push more Iditarod stories, because in all honesty, they probably don’t generate anywhere near the same click rates as NHL matchups or college basketball tourneys, for example. But I do think that my grandma, along with everyone else, should be able to specify what stories interest her and receive a publication tailored especially to her.

Why rely purely on clicks and pageviews to measure what your audience wants when you could get that information straight from the source? I think there should be a way to survey viewers and have them select what content they would prefer to receive, and then get those articles only. Additionally, it may help to implement some sort of tracking feature, in which consumers can flag the media they are interested in and then get updates on those stories.

One plausible concern is that this would be far too complicated and require too many resources to try to offer readers exclusive publications in print, but this is likely not necessary: according to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 State of the News Media report, newspapers’ weekend circulation fell 3 percent and weekday circulation 4 percent, and the magazine industry felt an overall circulation decline of 14 percent with some publications losing as much as 24 percent of their newsstand sales. The good news, though? The Pew Research Center also reported that this same group of magazines grew their sales of digital issues, which would be the best platform for this innovation to work smoothly.

Such an approach to content circulation keeps everyone happy: my grandma can keep up with the Iditarod, the rest of the world can keep up with the Kardashians (I’m kidding, well, not really) and publishers can keep up with the desires of their audiences.

Imagine receiving a publication that was all the information you wanted, and nothing more. What would it look like? Mine, I’m sure, would wind up being some combination of environment and sustainability news, Spartan and Detroit sports coverage, awe-inspiring photojournalism, and yoga and health tips and tricks, for a start.

But the possibilities are endless – whether you’re a 21-year-old graduating journalist, or the 95-year-old Amazing Grace.

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