Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Reader's Surveys Important for Weekly Newspapers and Other Small Market Publications
Doing a reader’s survey for a publication is one way to involve the public in the evolution (and improvement) of a publication.
The use of reader’s surveys (or focus groups) to improve a publication is nothing new. Publications in larger markets have been doing these for decades. But the idea of doing a reader’s survey at a smaller market publication (or weekly newspaper) is fairly new.
One reason why reader’s surveys were not as prevalent (or maybe even as relevant) for weekly newspapers and small market publications was because those publications practiced real community journalism. The owner or publisher was active and visible in the community. Staff members lived in the same community, sent their children to the public school, shopped at local stories and went to a local church – the same as the people they wrote about. If a reader had an idea (or complaint) about the newspaper they were able to easily pass that information along to the owner, publisher or editor.
Now, small market publications have more turnovers in staff and owners. Plus, the staff and owners are too busy in other areas to be very active in the community. The dynamic with the community has changed (in many cases but not all). That change makes reader surveys more important now than ever before.
Readership surveys are important for any publication (online or in print). Time is probably the single biggest factor for not doing a reader’s survey but if done right, the information gained from the survey could save the editor time and increase both circulation and readership.
The goal of the survey is to find out why people read the newspaper/publication, why they do not read the newspaper/publication, what they like to read, what they hate about the publication and what information they need the most.
Experts on this topic, including one that spoke recently at the annual conference of the Ozarks Press Association, say focus groups work well for reader surveys. The other option is to put a publication survey in the newspaper itself and offer a significant coupon, prize or gift to persons who complete the survey and turn it in. One person suggested giving one-year subscriptions to readers who answer the survey.
Some important questions to ask in the survey include the following:
- Have you looked in a newspaper during the last week?
- If so, which newspapers do you read?
- What time of day do you read the newspaper?
- How long do you spend reading the newspaper?
- How often to you read the newspaper?
- Do you find this newspaper to be accurate?
- Are mistakes corrected?
- Please rate the job this newspaper is doing with covering local government, public schools, elections (and other topics important in your community).
- Are the editorials fair, conservative or liberal?
- What could we do better?
- How interested are you in the following: columnists, school news, sports, government news (and other top items in your community).
- What would be one change you would like to see made at your newspaper?
- How much of the news in this newspaper do you find to be accurate?
- To what extend to you find this newspaper to be fair?
If you have done a reader’s survey in the past post a comment here. I’m sure other publications would be interested in both the questions you asked and the results of those surveys.