ITHACA, N.Y. — Earlier this week, we asked readers to help us understand what they’d like to see more of from the Ithaca Voice.
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About 200 people responded to our poll, which asked 16 questions. Dozen of readers also took the opportunity to leave thoughtful, lengthy comments — the vast majority of which evinced a sincere desire to see improvements in a publication they’ve come to read daily over the last 15 months.
We appreciate that. And we’re mindful that our small organization’s success — tenuous as it is — is predicated on the support of the Ithaca community. So, thank you for taking the time to read and write.
— Jeff Stein
Editor | Ithaca Voice
5 conclusions from poll
Below are five conclusions from reading through the report. (You can see the poll’s results another section down.)
1 — Every typo hurts our credibility.
The most common complaint appeared to be the frequency of typos in our copy.
“I find a typo almost every time I read an article,” wrote one generally supportive reader.
My first reaction to these remarks was defensive: We have an editorial staff of two people, so if we spend more time editing we also have to dramatically cut down the number of stories we publish. At the end of the day, that’s a pretty zero-sum equation.
My second reaction is: It’s a fair criticism. As a consumer of online news myself, typos can be an infuriating distraction from otherwise enlightening and entertaining content. A short staff is no excuse for sloppiness. A chef can’t blame burnt food on a shortage of kitchen hands.
We should do better. And we will.
2 — We’re too focused on downtown Ithaca. But the laser-like focus on Tompkins County is appreciated.
One of the questions we asked in the reader poll was, “Would you like to see more coverage of any of the following areas?”
A significant plurality of readers urged us to do more reporting on towns and villages in Tompkins County outside of the city of Ithaca. Many of these same respondents thought we were probably too focused on the city’s downtown area.
This is probably a somewhat unfortunate reflection of my personal life. I live a block from downtown Ithaca, work on the Commons and spend practically all my free time here. So I’m just more in tune with this part of the county.
That doesn’t mean the Ithaca Voice should be, however. The injunction to do more reporting on Tompkins County beyond the city of Ithaca is one I take to heart, and one I will try to incorporate into our coverage in the weeks and months ahead.
On another note, only a smattering of readers — seven, to be precise — thought we should do more to cover counties outside of Tompkins like Seneca and Schuyler.
I think that’s encouraging, because it affirms our basic editorial strategy of focusing almost exclusively on Tompkins County, Ithaca and the universities. (It also means I can save money on gas. Hooray!)
3 — Some people think we’re soft on Mayor Svante Myrick.
A friend said this to me the other day, and I told her I thought the complaint was unfounded. I still do. To my mind, we’ve done lots of stories that look critically at the policies or decisions made by Mayor Myrick — over affordable housing; over decisions related to policing; over his record on Black Lives Matter issues; and over other topics.
Still, about 10 different readers accused us of bias in Myrick’s favor in some fashion, which suggests that my friend was — at the very least — far from alone in thinking it.
Part of me wonders if this perception is, paradoxically, the result of the mayor’s personal popularity on social media. In general, the mayor shares on his Facebook page the stories that cast him in a positive light — what politician wouldn’t? — and this may, in turn, lead some city residents to think we only write positive things about him. The negative stories don’t tend to get as much circulation.
Whatever the cause, I don’t think it makes any sense to criticize Myrick just because some people think we’re soft on him. But insofar as that belief is out there, it’s important for us to be mindful of.
4 — Readers’ desires often contradict.
As you can see from the pie charts below, readers offered very different assessments of what they want us to report on more frequently and what they want us to report on less frequently.
Unsurprisingly, a large number of people want us to do more “In-depth series.” That requires a significant commitment of manpower — or, in the case of our best series yet, woman-power — that’s often difficult to find. But it’s good to know that many readers value this work as much as we do in the newsroom.
A few other quick observations about this part of the poll:
A — Editorials seem pretty unpopular. A full 10 percent of readers want us to do them less frequently, and almost nobody wants to see them more often. That’s personally disappointing — I like writing editorials! — but I’ve gotten the message loud and clear.
B — Sports are even more unpopular. 43 percent of readers asked us to do less coverage of sports, which I find odd because we almost never have sports coverage.
C — Readers also seemed split pretty sharply on the category of “Crime and courts,” with 18.2 percent urging us to report on the topic more often and 18.4 percent urging us to do it less frequently.
How do you square that circle? More brooding required.
5 — The trolls are outnumbered.
This was perhaps the most encouraging result of all. Despite a few responses written in ALL CAPS, and a few with swear words, the vast majority of commenters were serious and articulate — stressing points of commonality and appreciation amid suggestions for improvement.
A handful of the written reactions we received, both positive and negative, are republished at the bottom of this story.
Overall poll results
The poll drew 196 responses. It was posted to our Facebook page twice, on our homepage and on Twitter.
Here are the results of the part of the questions which asked readers to evaluate us on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being for the best performance and 1 for the worst:
Does our reporting tend to be fair to all sides? | 7.8
Is our reporting timely? | 8.7
Do you find our reporting to be accurate? | 7.9
Are our stories well-edited? | 7.6
How would you rate the ease of using our website? | 7.7
And the results of what stories IV readers want to see more and less of:
Assorted written comments
I’ve pulled out a handful of reader comments here, both positive and negative:
— “I can’t deny you have typos. Are your stories littered with them ? No. Not bad enough to the point i can’t understand what you are trying to say. It would be a problem rhen. My irritation is with readers who feel they have to criticise every single typo. They are annoying!”
— “It has been my experience that sometimes you don’t bother to get all the facts. You just run with the most sensational ones.”
— “You all are doing an outstanding job. I read most of the articles every day with great appreciation. The in depth reporting has been top notch. I really value the incredible service to our community that your coverage of Ithaca-area happenings (the good, the bad, the controversial, the inspiring, the fun) provides. Jeff and Jolene, your editorials have been thoughtful, complex, and stimulating of meaningful reflection and conversation. I have been very impressed with the work of your intern Nicolas. I benefit everyday from the work you do and feel more connected with this community because of it. Thank you!”
— “Tends to be a bit biased against larger corporations,development and sometimes feels a little anti-Cornell.”
— “At one time it seemed to offer a pretty fair view of Ithaca news, but over the past several months it’s seemed more and more biased with hints towards potential sponsorships or city-driven incentive. While I find this true more or less across the board, it has especially shined through on several of Jeff Stein’s editorials.”
— “Everything is Ithaca Ithaca Ithaca. I get it. It’s the Ithaca Voice, however, the rest of Tompkins County has very poor new sources. Less Ithaca politics, more local Tompkins County news.”
— “Ithaca Voice seems to cover a wide variety of view points which I appreciate. I’ve really been enjoying the in depth look into the drug / prostitution problems in Ithaca.”
— “Your stories are always accurate according to the information available to people. When somethings turns out to be inaccurate, you always correct it and move on.”
— “Hiring Jolene = Smart move.”
— “I just want to say great job. Finally something in town worth reading. I think you guys do a good job of hitting a bit of everything that is going on.
Your the first source I check in the morning.
Keep up the great work.”
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