Fix classified ad structure, and what about comics selection?

Queston 1: What guidelines apply to your crafting of classified ads so that they best fulfill the ad's purpose? My best example is #500 Dogs. From my view, this is a totally disorganized jumble of mixed raw data that has to be scanned and rescanned in order to find what is being sought. The ad's submitter wishes to sell dogs and the reader wishes to purchase a dog but there is absolutely no order in the process.

Do you envision a reader thinking: "I want an AKC certified dog and really do not care if it's a chihuahua or a pit bull, just as long as it's AKC." So why is AKC the first item listed in many ads? The first item is supposed to catch the reader's eye and pull him into reading the rest. What's wrong with insisting that each ad begins with the breed, just for the simple sake of ordered efficiency?
Also, why in this age of computers, can't you list the ads in alphabetical order by breed?

Question 2: How do you select and deselect your comic strips? Is it a totally subjective process? Is it done by more than one person? Is there any scientific base of research of your readership's opinions involved? Why are some strips included in your Sunday edition that do not appear daily? Why are some strips larger in size than others? -- Charlie Morris, Spokane

Answer 1: You have brought up an issue that we have been wrestling a lot with lately. As you correctly point out, there is a fine balance between meeting the reader's needs and the advertiser's wishes. In the past couple of weeks, we have been talking about the pet section - particularly #500 Dogs, to see if there can be a "keyword" organization alphabetically by breed. Since the column is organized aphabetically, ads that begin with "Collie" would come before "Great Dane."

This will cause concern with some advertisers who see being at the top of the column the best placement for response or pet store who have multiple breeds of dogs they want to advertise. But, you bring up the reader side that shows that properly organized classifieds offer the best response. We will put this issue at the top of our list to resolve. Thank you for calling it to our attention. -- Marlene Anderson, advertising department

Answer 2: The comics process is subjective. We don't rely on statistically valid surveys because the cost would far outweigh the benefit. There are national comics surveys available, and we do look at those. Typically, regional trends don't differ significantly from the national. Also, as in television, the most popular strips make themselves known through "viewership." A top strip, such as "Doonesbury" will appear in 1,000 or more papers. A less popular strip, such as the cancelled "Piranha Club," might appear in a few hundred or even far fewer.

Several editors will weigh in on comics decisions -- the features editor, the managing editor or others. But, in the end, it's the editor's decision.

We carry some different strips on the weekend for purposes of variety, mostly. Also, some strips, such as "Opus," are available only on Sunday.

Some strips run larger because of contractual obligations -- "Opus" is one. But usually it's just a matter of fitting the strips on the page. It's like putting a jigsaw puzzle together and sometimes some of the pieces have to be larger to make it all work. -- Steve Smith, editor

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