Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Panelists Take Polar Positions on Polls

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Panelists Take Polar Positions on Polls

Article excerpt

ARE THEY HELPFUL? Unscientific? Irrelevant to younger, tripper readers? "They" are comics surveys, which were both praised and prodded at the recent American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) convention in San Antonio.

Jane Amari of the Kansas City Star said her newspaper, like many others, polls readers about their comics preferences via an in-paper ballot that anyone can fill out.

The managing editor for new media, features responded to a 1994 and production acknowledged that this method is "nonscientific," but said it would be "quite expensive" to do something more formal.

Amari added that the Star's surveys do give the paper an idea of what many readers think. She noted that more than 10,000 readers poll, and over 12,000 to a 1996 one.

And the AASFE session panelist said the surveys help her paper respond to readers who complain about their favorite comics being dropped -- because the Star can explain that a particular strip or panel finished low in the poll.

"If you're going to find the new Bill Watterson, you have to make changes, "Amari commented, referring to the "Calvin and Hobbes" creator.

"I read maybe six comics a day," added another panelist, "Tank McNamara" cartoonist Bill Hinds of Universal Press Syndicate. "Most of these six have been created since 1985. They would not be there if older comics hadn't been dropped."

But a third panelist expressed little fondness for unscientific comics surveys.

Philip Meyer, Knight professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said newspapers with declining circulations need to convert occasional readers into daily readers. Giving them the comics they want is one way to do this.

But in-paper comics ballots, he added, tend to be filled out by frequent newspaper readers "with time on their hands," rather than by people who peruse a paper once or twice a week.

"Find people who read newspapers occasionally via a phone survey, and get them to agree to accept a questionnaire," suggested Meyer, a former Knight-Ridder Washington correspondent and Miami Herald reporter.

Hinds said, "Comics surveys are a good way to tell the opinion of people who fill out comic surveys. They may not be the average person. I trust the judgment of feature editors over the people who fill out surveys."

He added that if only the most popular comics among poll respondents ran, there would be less diversity on funny pages. He,said some comics that do poorly on surveys are "jewels that shouldn't be dropped."

Meyer also discussed and decried the shrinkage of comics during the past few decades. …

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