Surveyed in An Alternate Newspaper Universe

Just as the news broke that the New York Post and Daily News might cooperate in production to save costs for their print editions, I was called at home, randomly I suppose, to participate in a phone survey about my newspaper reading habits. I normally would hang up on something like this -- their callback number and company affiliation was masked from my caller ID, which I on principle find wrong. But I participated out of curiosity, and thinking I might get something  out of it. The survey made me feel like I was answering questions from more than a decade ago. If this is the kind of research newspaper companies are commissioning, I fear they’re in even more trouble than we all think. The ways I was being asked just didn’t seem relevant to someone in the modern flow of media and information.

A representative from a company called American Opinion Research Group, subcontracting for Discovery Research, asked me about my newspaper preferences, and what I thought of the Post (whom I suspect was commissioning the survey),  the Daily News and sometimes The New York Times, as if picking up the print editions were still the way I read the papers. (The lady on the line seemed positively flummoxed when she asked how I got my print copy of the Post, and I said when I read it in print it was almost always because I'd been handed it for free; it was as if there were no check box in her survey form for that -- as opposed to “at work,” “newsstand,” or “subscription at home”.) There was also an implicit strain in the questions that I read the papers the way people used to: pick it up, flip from one page to another, go through it systematically, or at least jump to the section I like and flip through -- rather than the way I’m just as likely to now: find something through an RSS feed, or a blog or Twitter link, or randomly in a search, then perhaps poke around the site(s) as I look for more in a sort of serendipitous flow limited only by my attention span or time.

A lot of the survey taker’s questions centered on what I think about the Post and/or the Daily News, including, which:
  • is more “fun and lively”
  • is most compelling
  • has better sports
  • has better columnists
  • know sthe boroughs and in touch with New York
  • has the better
International News (I couldn’t say “neither”)
  • Front Page
  • has stories that made me most interested in sharing with family or friends.

She also asked if I considered the Post “conservative” or “liberal”. (Guess which I picked?)

Other questions concerned my buying or reading habits (which are really two different things, though the survey seemed to conclude that “read” meant “buy” -- which as we all know isn’t the case). Nary a question about blogs, online preferences, RSS readers, whether I looked at the papers on a mobile device, click on any ads, prefer to read in print or online, would like the edition emailed to me ... etc, etc. It was as if the online universe didn’t exist.

The woman kind of had a hitch in her voice when I answered that the Post was less reliable but more enjoyable than the News. For many of us New Yorkers there's an enjoyment and amusement factor in reading the Post, as much as there is an information consumption one. Even if we suspect something isn’t all true, we enjoy the vivaciousness of the prose and the speculation that what’s written has an element of veracity. And I know from discussions with folks far and wide -- not just in the media biz -- that I’m not alone in this way of reading the paper.

I’m still waiting, too, for the email component to the phone survey I participated in, but it hasn’t come -- or the spam filter ate it.

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