Back in February -- you know, a million years ago -- we conducted the largest, most comprehensive reader survey in our short history. You can view the survey results here. Nearly 2,900 readers across four counties took the time to help us become a better news organization. The results of the survey, combined with in-person interviews and site analytics have already driven initiatives and change within the Source and the sites across our network, Ashland Source and Knox Pages.
We promised to report back to you on what we learned, so here we go.
Who are you, anyway?
Survey respondents were largely older than 40, female, married, and white. Those over forty comprised 78% of respondents, and 95% were white.
Respondents were also highly educated and have a higher than average income. 74% had at least some college education and 54% made between $50 - 150k.
Racially, respondents lined up pretty closely with the largely homogenous population, especially in Knox and Ashland counties. More than 94% of respondents were white.
In Mansfield, however, where 20% of our neighbors are communities of color, only 11% of respondents identified as such. This made us question how well we were representing a big chunk of our neighbors in our coverage.
Our response: The goal is to be representative of our communities, which in some cases we aren’t. That’s evident in the racial data from Mansfield, and it also speaks to growth opportunities with younger residents and folks who live in rural areas. Carl Hunnell is leading a team building systems that help us better represent these communities in our storytelling. We need to step outside our known circles when we source stories, and to be more thoughtful in our outreach. His team will work to achieve these goals and report back on progress. If you would like to help or make suggestions, drop him a line.
We’re happy to report that respondents trust the information across the Source media network. There was no question more important on the survey and the results were heartening, especially when compared to the dismal statistics for national media.
The survey showed 86% of respondents trust the reporting on Richland Source “a great deal” or “a lot.” The same was true for 82% of the readers of Knox Pages and 81% of Ashland Source readers.
Less than 1% of total respondents said they trusted us only “a little” or “not at all.” That’s 15 times better than the national average for local news and 38 times better than national news organizations.
In other questions around accuracy, listening, and responsiveness, ratings were also very high.
Our response: We know trust doesn’t just happen. Trust is a result of attention paid to things like empathy, listening, curiosity, accuracy, and responsiveness. In our case, we’re doubling down on opportunities to be transparent and do journalism with our readers, even during this profoundly strange time.
You’ll see more online events and opportunities to do journalism together. Brittany Schock, our Solutions and Engagement Editor, is leading a team to help us find better ways to let you ask questions, get them answered, and be part of the action. If you would like to talk further about ideas for building trust through collaboration, you can reach Brittany here.
Overwhelmingly, you just want to know what’s happening; preferably as soon as possible. Solid breaking news coverage topped the list along with local business, the justice system, history, and entertainment.
More of this and less of that
When we asked you what you wanted to see more of, the largest response asked for more coverage of what to eat and where to go for fun. You followed that up with business news and local history.
You were a lot less interested in wedding announcements, Cleveland and Columbus sports, and user-submitted news. This tells us that you’re getting news about milestones in a different way, that we ought to stay local for the majority of our coverage, and that the work of professional journalists is valuable to you.
Across the network, two things stood out: Speed and accountability. You want us to report the news faster. Many respondents also want us to be more aggressive watchdogs of government and power.
This was not surprising. We have never chased ambulances and we don’t walk into government meetings determined to find incompetence and graft. That shows up in our coverage, and sometimes we haven’t been the first to report on these types of issues.
Breaking news often involves public safety. Think flooding, fugitives, etc. Speed matters as long as we’re 100% accurate. We’ve always valued accuracy because it builds trust. Sometimes that means we waited to confirm details before publishing. We’ll look for ways to be faster, but we will always prioritize accuracy.
Our response: Our news mix should reflect your interests while it aligns with our values To begin with, we’re measuring everything. In addition to the survey, we’re looking closely about how users move through our sites and what they are reading. We’re also evaluating the emails we send and will soon overhaul the whole program to focus on what you’ve told us is interesting.
For example, why don’t we have a monthly newsletter focused on local business? It’s widely read reporting, but there’s no way to get it all summarized in one place. We’ve gotta fix that and it is on the agenda in 2020.
As far as speed and breaking news coverage is concerned, we’re treating more stories as developing stories where we report what we know and updating the story as more information gets confirmed. We like this method because it’s transparent, up front and can be applied to everything from floods to football games.
And now to the watchdog reporting. There’s a balance to be struck here, and frankly, it’s complicated. We’ve never tried to be the hard-boiled, stick-it-to-the-man newsroom romanticized in both journalism schools and popular films. We don’t think that kind of journalism -- done in that way -- is a big part of our future, either.
That said, we hear you. Hard questions are part of our job. Analysis and tough stories that make public officials uncomfortable are also part of our job. We all agree that more of that sort of work is part of our responsibility as the media landscape changes before our eyes.
The question for us lies in how we do it.
Accountability (or watchdog) journalism that aligns with our values of collaboration and forward progress probably looks a lot more like the Citizens’ Agenda and Talk the Vote than All the President’s Men.
Larry Phillips is leading a team focused on our content mix, and he can be reached here if you would like to talk.
Begin (and end) with gratitude
That’s one of our core values, as well, so it seems an appropriate way to wrap up.Thanks for caring enough to take the survey. Thanks for checking in to find out how it went. Thanks for reading and supporting our independent local newsrooms.
If you haven’t become a member yet, please consider it. 100% of membership income goes directly to sustain the work of our newsroom. In other words, it helps pay the reporters you told us are so important, and every member counts. There are great benefits and discounts at local businesses, too. It’s a great deal and you can join here.
And since you’ve read all the way to the end, you can save 20% on all memberships if you use the code “SURVEY” at checkout.