Results from 2014 Midwest Energy News reader survey

Thanks again to everyone who took our reader survey this year. We had 302 responses, more than double last year’s participation.

The big picture: Not a lot has changed from the previous year. Our internal metrics show we’ve had strong readership growth in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, and that’s reflected in the responses somewhat. Overall we got strong marks once again for accuracy, timeliness and overall quality.

The caveat – this is a self-selected survey group and not a scientific poll. It makes sense that regular readers who strongly value the service would be most likely to take the survey. But it’s good to know that we’re keeping our best customers happy, and you’ve also provided some useful constructive criticism for us going forward (I’ll address some specific comments later in the post).

We also eliminated questions about the format of the email digest (biggest complaint was how it displayed on mobile, which we’ve fixed by switching email providers). Instead we asked a couple of questions about how/when readers share news stories with colleagues, with some interesting results.

Below is a quick snapshot of the responses (numbers may not total 100% due to rounding); the full results are here, and you can compare to last year’s survey here. And as always, please feel free to contact me directly if you have additional feedback.

Demographics:

Like last year, most respondents were from the Midwest and had some connection with the energy industry. This year we saw a significantly higher response rate from Michigan and Indiana (2% each in 2013), while Ohio was much lower, down from 8% last year.

Minnesota: 27%
Illinois: 21%
Wisconsin: 12%
Michigan: 6%
Iowa: 5%
Indiana: 3%
Ohio: 3%
Washington DC: 3%

States with 2% response: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Virginia; 1% or less: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington; as well as Canada and other countries outside the U.S.

By occupation, again the results are largely unchanged, although we saw a higher response rate from the government/regulatory sector (12% vs. 7% last year).

Policy/advocacy/NGO: 29%
Other: 19%
Other business related to the energy industry: 18%
Government or regulatory: 12%
Utility, co-op or other energy provider: 8%
Media/communications: 8%
Academia: 7%

Once again several of the responses to “other” could fit in other categories, but probably not enough to sway the results significantly.

Overall impressions, the ‘bias’ question

89% strongly agree or agree that Midwest Energy News is useful in their professional lives
91% strongly agree or agree that we are accurate
96% strongly agree or agree that we are timely
72% strongly agree or agree that we are fair and unbiased, 20% were neutral, only 5 respondents, or less than 2%, strongly disagreed

These numbers were stronger across the board compared to last year. Again, readers were a little more lukewarm on the question of bias, which is understandable since we’re published by an advocacy organization and make no effort to conceal that.

Diving deeper into the data gives us a bit of context for this. Out of the 304 respondents, 22 indicated they felt our coverage was biased, and 7 of those 22 provided additional comments:

• “Drop the blatant anti-oil/gas bias.” (reader in energy business, Montana)
• “Do more balanced articles talking about impacts of policies and how they impact standard of living, specifically the impacts to wholesale / retail power rates when displacing existing resources.” (government/regulatory, South Dakota)
• “More balanced view on climate change.” (energy business, Illinois)
• “I think MwEN has become more biased and agenda driven. Maybe some of that is editorial content on purpose, but this should be made clear.” (energy business, Wisconsin)
• “Provide balance in the articles. Currently only advocates for environmental and renewable issues.” (government/regulatory, Iowa)
• “MORE INDUSTRY VIEW POINTS LESS ADVOCATES.” (energy business, location unknown)
• “For articles about distributed generation, and renewables, include more viewpoints. RMI’s eLab, and the Critical Consumer Issues Forum are good examples.” (utility/co-op, Wisconsin)

To be clear, we don’t have any sort of editorial policy or directive guiding our coverage other than acknowledging the science of climate change and the need to address the problem (whereas some news organizations still feel a need to “balance” this with a non-scientific perspective). Balance, in and of itself, does not necessarily bring one closer in line with reality.

Apart from that, there’s a pattern in these responses of concern that we are not inclusive enough of industry points of view in our coverage. That’s a subjective thing and difficult to quantify — we do reach out to industry sources all the time — but we’ll try to be more mindful of this going forward.

As always, if you have a question/concern about a particular story or coverage decision please feel free to contact me directly.

Impressions of the daily email digest

87% strongly agree or agree that the daily email digest is useful in their professional lives
81% strongly agree or agree that it is comprehensive
70% strongly agree or agree that it is their primary source of regional energy news
83% strongly agree or agree that it is engaging to read

Again, these are strong results and comparable to last year.

Sharing news stories

83% have shared a MwEN story or daily digest with a professional colleague, or otherwise used our journalism directly in their work.

This is a new question this year and the response actually caught me by surprise. We know anecdotally that a lot of people use our coverage in their day-to-day work, it’s good to see such a large number.

Here are a handful of more specific responses:

• “We were working on PACE securitizations, and Midwest Energy News gathered several interesting stories on PACE developments.”
• “I work at a 25-person solar installation company and it is my responsibility to read the MEN each day and disseminate relevant articles internally.”
• “I share news clips from Midwest energy often because they are timely and current.”

Also, 47% said they use email to share news, while 17% use Facebook and 17% use Twitter.

Miscellaneous comments

I’ve read every one of the comments on the survey and we greatly appreciate the feedback. Here are responses to some selected comments:

“Do more _____.”

We’re a very small operation — there is one full-time employee (me) overseeing five part-time freelance reporters. But we’ve been growing steadily and are courting new funders all the time, and your participation in this survey will help us make the case for more resources.

“Make sure that linked articles are not part of subscriber only content. Sometimes when I click through to read a piece it takes me to a NYT or Wall St. Journal subscriber only page and then I am not able to read the article. Otherwise I very much enjoy the digest!”

As a rule all links in the email digest should be outside subscription paywalls. Typically the WSJ will have a “free preview” version of an article and we have a trick to make sure our link goes to that version. Anytime that’s not working please let us know.

The New York Times (and a lot of other papers) have a paywall that kicks in after you read a certain number of articles. That’s something on the user end that we can’t control.

“I would like to see a “weekly digest” option. I have a hard time keeping up with a daily digest, and I get SO MANY e-mails already. Thanks for your efforts!”

There were several suggestions for this – we’ll consider it.

“Develop other free, regional newsletters.”
“Replicate versions for other regions of the country (Northeast, Southeast, West).”

We’re actually working on a funding request for this very thing. Hoping for some good news later this fall…

“I’d love to see the digest by 8 a.m. consistently! That would be so awesome.”

The email digest is routed off of multiple servers and 8 a.m. turns out to be a very popular time to send mass emails, so receipt times vary quite a bit. Some mornings I’ve had it ready to go at 7:45 but didn’t see it in my inbox until closer to 8:30.

“It’s very good now, but some news is missed.”

There’s no question we miss stories once in a while. But we also try not to cover the same ground more than once, so a story you’re seeing today may have been in the digest a day or two ago from a different source. Either way, always feel free to contact me if there’s a story we’re overlooking.

“I can also tell you guys are clean energy supporters, but I see you are making a concerted effort to be fair and unbiased. Good stuff.”

“I love that in any article that Midwest Energy News writes, the author is very transparent and calls out exactly if and how the site owners may be associated with parties mentioned in the article. The transparency, openness, relevance, and objectivity are things I love about Midwest Energy News.”

“Can’t think of much to improve upon… it’s a great service and includes interesting articles. It’s somewhat obvious that, as a member of RE-AMP, you are more likely to cover stories (or choose commentary) with an angle that includes/supports other RE-AMP members and their positions, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that (and you do a good job in disclosing that).”

Just wanted to include these to balance the balance discussion from earlier.

“Keep up the good work!”

As with last year’s survey, this was by far the most common response. Thanks to all of you for reading, and for providing us with valuable feedback.

 

Comments are closed.