ITHACA, N.Y. — In May, we asked our readers to let us know what we can do better here at The Ithaca Voice and wanted to know what people like best about what we are already doing.

By the end of the month-long survey, 188 people responded to our 11-question readership poll.

As you can imagine, some of the feedback was outright rude, like this one:

I believe your reporting represents the current state of “journalism”. Driven by agenda not by news.

But most of the feedback was great with gems like this:

You have become my first “go-to” source of local news. Your timely coverage means that I usually see things first on TIV’s site. Thank you!

Aside from the bashing and ego-stroking though, there was a lot of information in the survey that was really useful to us.

Here are the five takeways from our readership survey:

1) You overwhelmingly think we’re fair — unless you don’t think so

For the most part, our readers said The Voice does an above mediocre job at ensuring our stories are fair, with more than half of most people ranking us as at a 7 or higher. A score of 10 means that we are very fair.

And comments people left us were, for the most part, really nice, like this one:

In these days of “fake news” and “biased reporting,” it’s refreshing to find a local news organization that reports the facts and let’s the people make up their minds.

But for the people who had otherwise to say, less than 30 people, the complaints were very similar to this one:

“Too liberal! Where is the balance of just reporting the facts. Your opinion pieces dominate what should be pure and simple news. Let the readers decide on issues with the facts that are presented to them.”
It can be hard to see this perspective especially because it always feels like we try really hard to be fair. It’s a little easier to respond to individual stories though, and we want to remind people to reach out to us at our email addresses at the bottom of stories to give us feedback and story idea.
Some of the people who thought we were biased toward the left did have helpful comments, though. For instance, another repeated comment was that we run opinion pieces from one perspective and leave out opposing opinion pieces.
To be clear, that’s generally not intentional. Nearly every time we run an opinion piece, it’s because somebody has taken the time to write a well thought out article and sent it our way. Then, we don’t selectively not run opposing viewpoints. We just don’t always get those submissions from readers. But to be honest, that’s not an excuse.
We’ve discussed how we could reach out to people with opposing views in the future, and hope this can help add more variety to the kind of voices in The Voice.
There were also people who were able to provide specific stories they thought were biased, and we went back and took a look at those. The comments are definitely noted.
Here’s what the response to this question looked like in numbers:

2) You see that we are accurate!

This was refreshing to see. Nearly everyone noted our accuracy when telling stories, which is something we hugely strive to do here.

This comment was great and definitely encompasses how we strive to fess up on the off-occasion when we get something wrong.

I appreciate your willingness to publish corrections when you haven’t been accurate.

It should be noted though, that these comments yielded another kind of comment that said, in short, that while we are accurate, we don’t always necessarily dig deep enough into an issue for people to understand the nuance of a situation.

This is a fair critique. It would be completely untrue for us to say that we have always dug very deep on every single story or remembered to follow up on every single issue. There are just too many stories for us to do that and not enough time in the day. So while we may know it would be a good idea to write a story about insert-topic-here, our day-to-day coverage usually gradually ends up needing our attention more, as do new stories that seem more pressing.

How do we try to do better here?

We have recently started a new way to keep track of stories we want to follow-up on or tidbits of information we never really got from officials. It’s essentially a white board with these ideas written on them, displayed publicly for everybody to see. We hope it helps keep us more on task and accountable to our readership.

Please let us know if you feel a story we’ve written is missing something you think would make it more comprehensive.

3) You hate our typos as much as we do

Since we’ve been so quick to mention the good comments about us, let us get this one out of the way:

Typos and grammar are quite bad. I keep telling myself I’m not going to read you anymore because the quality is low, but the timeliness keeps bringing me back. It is frustrating. I know you don’t have enough $$ for a copy editor, but I would much rather see an article that has been looked over for errors a few hours later than an immediate one that will need a dozen corrections.

Two of this person’s comments are true. Typos and grammar can be quite bad sometimes. One typo in a story is bad. But there have been times, although not frequently, when we find several in one story.

It’s awful and we’re sorry.

The second comment about copy editors is also true. We do not have money for copy editors.

But the last comment, about readers being willing to wait several hours for news, is not true. We can see with our analytics data that it’s not true that people are willing to wait for news.

Now, being a few minutes or even an hour behind the competition isn’t really a big deal. But being several hours behind the local competition is atrocious. By that point, another news organization has probably nailed down additional interviews about something, posted an update, and has two stories floating around with dozens of online shares.

Being first matters. Being accurate matters. Having a typo-free story matters.

We have a pretty good handle on the first two.

As for the third one, we are doing what we can with what we have. Having an office again helps. In January, we moved into an office in the Commons. Rather than working from coffee shops or our homes, we are all now in the same room most days. That gives us the opportunity to shout out to each other for a proofread when a story isn’t pressing.

We genuinely think that has helped the quality of The Voice a lot over the past few months and hope our copy will continue to become more error free.

4) The stories you enjoy are likely the stories somebody else hates and vice versa

Other than sports – which The Voice generally does not cover, much to the pleasure of almost our entire readership – people are divided about what news is important.

For instance, 52 people want to see more opinion pieces in The Voice while 41 people want to see to less opinion pieces.  And 34 people want more coverage of restaurants while 44 people want to see less of it.

It becomes hard for us to make a choice about what to cover differently with numbers so slim.

But a few things do stick out.

Readers definitely want to see more in-depth pieces, business or development pieces, and local government coverage.

That’s loud and clear to us and we will work hard to deliver.

5) This was interesting!

We knew people would want to see somebody solely dedicated to writing interesting feature stories. How could you not like positive local news like that?

But the idea of having a community outreach person had been casually floating around for a while now. This person would help sort news tips (we seriously get hundreds of emails a week), set up more live events (which actually takes a lot of time and energy) and maybe help with youth oriented projects (We have ideas for this but not enough hours in the day.). This person would also help keep up with an online calendar of events.

So it was interesting to see that a nontraditional role in a newsroom would also have a lot of support from readers.

We are not ready to hire another full-time person on board, yet. But we will keep these results in mind.

Did you not get to take the survey? Send us an email at tips@ithacavoice.com with your feedback!

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.