Sunday, July 06, 2008

Yes, I Agree Moderately

Fossilized Man died trying to find news in his newspaper.Operating a newspaper these days has to suck. Having done a short freelance gig in my city paper's creative services department, I can attest that subscriptions are way down and the online side of the paper is a never-ending circus of weird and wacky ways to make money. The web presence of most newspapers wants to be everything from a recipe resource to a place to find a mate or some used garden equipment.

I don't take the local paper at home because finding the news among all the ads is a chore and a hassle. Even the plastic bag in which they toss the thing on rainy days is covered in ads. When you do find the news, it's about a local boy who stupidly went swimming in a gator-infested body of water and lost a limb, or it's a "heart-warming" story of a local couple's attempts to get quality health care for their dying dog that saved them from a burning bus a decade ago. They'll also cover salacious local celebrity gossip and boring county zoning meetings, but if I want actual news, Google headlines suffices. Locally, I'll more often than not turn to a TV station's website. Papers are dying.So it was interesting to find this innocuous request for my assistance from the LA Times on a recent visit to their site. (The Times is owned by the same group, Tribune, that owns my city's paper.) I liked the request seen above because they weren't shouting at me. They were asking, quite nicely, in simple text, if I might want to help them in their "brief" survey. I stupidly obliged.

Brief it wasn't. They wanted to know how often I came to the Times. Why? What did I like? Dislike? Did I find the Times Cluttered, Appealing, Comprehensive, Boring, Easy-to-use, Convenient, Modern, Hip, Innovative, Informative, Fun, Sophisticated, Trustworthy, Fresh, Smart, Outdated, Relevant, Colorful? What did I want to see more of? Less of? Where do I live? What is my income? Education? Age? Do I come to the Times for environmental news? Sports? Southern California news? Lifestyle news? Cars? Weather? Jobs? Endless.

Finally, they thanked me thusly: Thanks for your time! Your answers will help us improve the homepage and the rest of the site. We like hearing from you. We will occasionally run short surveys such as this one; however, please feel free to contact us anytime by using our feedback page.

I distrust surveys, focus groups and market research as a means of improving anything. For starters, I did not take the time to carefully answer the questions the Times asked me. I just wanted to get through the stupid thing. I checked The "mildly disagree" category for most of the questions. Which brings me to another point: Can anyone really distinguish between "sort of not really disagree" and "kind of agree to a degree"? on these things? Must there be five degrees of agreeability?

So let's say 45% of visitors who even bothered to take your survey think the LA Times is mildly "sophisticated." Now what? Or 13% of visitors (who, again, even bothered to take the survey) "somewhat agree" that they come to the LA Times for weather information. What can you do with that information?

I understand the desire to create a "positive customer experience," but at some point you have to realize, "Hey, we're all professionals here. We read newspapers and go to news sites. What do WE want to see more or less of?" Trust your instincts. Go with your gut.

When you rely on the market to dictate your product, you end up with a watered down product. How many people can you possibly please? How many people angry enough to tell you they hate you do you even want to keep? It's like creating an ad. If the client, planner, AE, legal and the Senior VP of Political Correctness all have their say, there isn't really much left for Creative to do. You end up with a shitty ad that probably won't be effective.

Hey, LA Times: do what you want. Don't ask me. I will go to your site when I need you or when a link from Google News takes me there. Report the news. Sell ad space. Give me the occasional picture of a celebrity attacking a photographer. Make your site easily navigable. You'll never be my homepage. The most you can expect is that when I think of Los Angeles and information pertaining to the City of Angels, I will think of you.

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  • Good heavens, Man! You believe there's such a thing as a "brief" confidential survey? By the way, I've come to think of information as property off wich others make money.

    By Anonymous everysandwich, at July 8, 2008 at 9:08 AM  

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