Thursday, November 15, 2007
Maybe it’s this new aftershave I’ve been wearing.
Lately I’ve been attracting all these know-it-alls who feel compelled to tell me how to run a newspaper. Last week I’m sitting in a restaurant and the owner comes over to tell me all about how the Weekly ought to change our food section to have shorter, more frequent reviews. Then this ad agency owner calls and in the course of the conversation suggests that we should launch a glossy magazine to give her clients more marketing options. A couple of hours later I’m getting a new motor for the bathroom fan and the repair man offers his critique of the photo captions with the cover story and then tells me that we should run ads in Spanish to capture that audience. As the week wound down I was at a board meeting and this attorney colleague leans over and tells me that the Weekly should really have a comment section on our website so that people can tee off and vent their spleens.
More about this aftershave: it’s the latest from Paris, it’s got a distinctive (my wife might say pungent) scent, it’s called Arrogant SOB. So naturally my first thought when offered good advice is to get defensive, furrow my brow and ask them if they have me confused with some kind of a summer intern. I mean, I still harbor the illusion that I look young and everything, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Then I usually chill out and give the ideas some consideration.
It turns out I like know-it-alls. It takes one to love one. I got a lot of good advice last week.
In this week’s edition, the Weekly is conducting a survey of our readers. We are actively inviting your feedback. The Weekly wants to hear from all the know-it-alls that I didn’t get a chance to visit with last week. To that end we have hired the leading research firm for non-daily newspapers, Verified Audit Circulation, to solicit all kinds of information from you so we can continue to improve the paper that you pick up. The survey has been randomly inserted into 50 percent of the copies of the paper and will take about 10 minutes to complete. To get the folks who don’t naturally volunteer their time and ideas to survey-takers to take part, we are conducting a drawing and will give away $100 gift certificates to Whole Foods Market and Cost Plus World Market, as well as two domestic round-trip tickets on American Airlines.
The survey starts out asking questions about where you pick up the paper and what section you read most often, what other papers you read and then, at the end, gives space for free-form feedback about the content or delivery or writers or whatever. In the middle are a bunch of nosy questions about where you shop, what you buy, how old you are, how much money you make, etc. In publisher’s jargon these are questions about your demographics and psychographics. The survey answers are confidential. As you will see on the postage-paid mailer, the surveys go to Verified Audit in Marin County – they do not come to the Weekly. All the answers will be provided to the Weekly only in aggregate – that is to say we’ll get results from the auditing firm that reads something like “68 percent of Weekly readers graduated college.”
In many ways, the “Letters to the Editor” section of the paper serves as an ongoing forum for feedback from readers. This survey serves another purpose, as well – we get to take the data to our advertisers and potential advertisers and tell them who our readers are, so they can better tailor their ads to your needs. In addition, if it turns out that – like it has in every other survey we’ve ever conducted – our readers are as smart and sassy as we think they are, that allows us to sell some more ads, which helps us fund the newspaper that brings more content your way.
If neither your love of the paper, nor your love of free trips is enough to spur you to fill out the survey forms, then we’ll urge you to do it for the homeless dogs and cats. For every survey Verified Audit receives, the Weekly will donate $1 to Animal Friends Rescue Project. This Pacific Grove-based nonprofit finds permanent adoptive homes for stray and abandoned animals in the community. The nonprofit has been doing great work locally since 1998 and we are proud to make it the beneficiary of this fundraising effort.
If you have a few minutes and want to complete a survey to tell me how to run a newspaper, I invite you to do so. In the meantime, as I await the reader feedback, I’ve decided to forgo the fancy aftershave – in fact I’m going to stop shaving altogether – at least until Mrs. Cushman says otherwise.
ERIK CUSHMAN is publisher of Monterey County Weekly.