We wanted to share with readers some of the highs and lows of the reader survey we included in the Autumn 2002 issue of Earth Island Journal. By our deadline of July 1, we had received 328 completed print surveys
and responses from 92 forms filled out on the Web. Many more trickled
in after that time.
Our two “open” questions, “What do you like most about the magazine?” and “What do you like least?” provoked telling answers. The issue that received most comment in this section was EIJ‘s role in directing people to take action. Many readers mentioned the “What you can do” section at the bottom of articles (since renamed “Take Action.”) There was strong praise for our inclusion of phone numbers, names and addresses “so people can jump right in and help where it’s needed” as one reader put it, or “information I can actually use, rather than just get angry about.” In fact, of our categories of articles, “constructive solutions to environmental problems” was the most popular (86 percent of readers naming this).
We received high marks for the variety of material in the publication. One reader told us “you run the gamut of issues in a way that makes readers realize everything is connected.” Several mentioned the Journal‘s international scope. Others commented on the uniqueness of the material and that it included information they could not find elsewhere, particularly in the mainstream media.
One glowing comment ran: “I find the extent and variety of issues covered just staggering! More succinctly than any of the many other publications I read. Excellent Journal.”
Many respondents admired EIJ‘s “uncompromising” or “honest” approach or its “integrity.” Its environmental reporting was called “hard core” “no fluff,” “radical” and “not afraid to tackle controversial issues.”
On the negative side, the most common criticism was that the content was “depressing” or “overwhelming.” “Oh God, can’t be helped: all the bad news. It can be a downer,” sighed one reader. “Bad and sad news piled on more bad and sad news. We need more silver linings in the clouds.”
The next major criticism was the lack of rigor in some of EIJ‘s harder-hitting pieces. Readers disliked “sensationalizing issues or propaganda approaches to issues,” one saying “articles leave me wanting more impartial discussion of the ‘other’ side.” One reader used the term “flakey,” meaning “too partial, not optimally persuasive.”
Layout and design—before our Winter 2003 redesign—came in for significant criticism under this unprompted question. Many readers complained that the print was too small or too faint. Some readers objected to faint fonts against dark backgrounds (as had been the case for some sidebars). Several readers requested more white space. We kept the outpouring of design-related comments in mind during the redesign process.
We received some thought-provoking minority comments. There was criticism that we were “too West Coast oriented.” High on the list of criticisms was that EIJ was published too infrequently: Younger respondents especially suggested more issues per year.
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