By Ben Riggleman
Have you ever wondered who reads this paper besides you? It’s a riddle that has kept us Beacon staff up at night, too: Who reads us? Are students our main audience? Professors? Millennials, baby boomers? Liberals, libertarians? What do our readers get from The Beacon, and what more would they like to see? And then what about those faceless multitudes that don’t read us: What turns them off, keeps them away? Is it us or them?
Desperate for answers, I wrote up a survey and broadcasted it to everybody with an SMCC email address. I took a risk: It was finals prep time, and really, who ever has time to fill out a survey when there’s no chance to win a new jet-ski?
But in the end, the SMCC community pulled through, with a hearty 147 responses.
I’m taking Statistics with Professor Adrian Ayotte, and the first thing you learn in that class is that voluntary-response surveys are crap. They guarantee a biased sample, because respondents will tend to have an active interest in the topic. But since this isn’t Soviet Russia and forced participation wasn’t an option, I had to make do.
Aside from their presumed interest in The Beacon, we can make several more guesses about this sample group: Since they cared enough to spend time on a questionnaire of no direct benefit to them, they’re either conscientious or eager to vent (or procrastinate). Also, they use their SMCC email, which could mean they included a disproportionate number of faculty, staff and high-performing students.
The first question of the survey asked, “Before this survey, did you know about The Beacon?” About 12 percent said they did not.
The next question asked respondents’ connection to SMCC: student, faculty, employee or other. As expected, faculty were overrepresented: 28 faculty members responded, making up about 22 percent of the 129-person core sample. It’s worth noting, though, that an equal number of non-faculty employees also responded. Aside from two individuals who selected “Other,” the remaining 69 respondents were students.
The most common age groups were 18–22 and 58–62, into which 31 respondents and 20 respondents fell, respectively. The age distribution clustered around these groups and sagged in the middle, with only three respondents between ages 43 and 47. This tells us something important: We’ve got a generation gap. It appears that two discrete, very different populations — with different outlooks, life experiences and tastes — together make up the bulk of our readership.
The survey sorted responses in one other main way: It asked how often respondents read The Beacon. Based on their reply, each respondent was assigned to either the “Infrequent reader” or “Frequent reader” category. The groups were similar in size: 69 frequent readers and 60 infrequent readers.
Infrequent readers were asked why they don’t read the Beacon often. Fifteen picked “I don’t have time to read for pleasure,” nine each picked “I don’t read the news” and “The Beacon’s content doesn’t interest me,” seven picked “I don’t know where to find The Beacon,” and one lonesome soul picked “I don’t like the writing.”
Frequent readers were asked the question, “Why do you read The Beacon?” Responses included the following:
“I’m an older student and I like to see what is happening on campus. I feel as though that it’s part of being a student and staying connected. It’s like watching the news, I like to know what is going on while I’m working full time and being a student!”
“I like to know what’s going on from the student’s perspective as opposed from the faculty/administrative perspective.”
“The Beacon is one of the ways I can get a pulse of the SMCC community.”
The last two of these expressed common themes. Many respondents said they valued the student-directedness of The Beacon, and many others said they read it for the news — or, as one put it, “To see what’s happening!”
Oh, and then there was, “Just to see the cringe.” No comment.
Campus News was the best-liked section by a landslide, with almost 50 percent of respondents picking it as their favorite. Opinion and Editorial came in second with 16 votes. Sports seemed to be unpopular, picked as least favorite by 22 respondents.
When asked what kind of content The Beacon should run more of, the top choice was “News about SMCC events,” (44 votes) followed by “News about local events” (30 votes) and “Reviews of local food, art, music and culture” (23 votes). (Respondents could vote twice.)
There’s demand for more online content, too. While only 16 respondents said they read The Beacon online, 25 individuals said they “would.” We hear you, and we’ll definitely be building up our online side next year. “More live links in WordPress,” one student suggested; we can do that.
The last question got political. It simply asked respondents to pick a political party or designation that best matched their beliefs; 13 options were provided, plus “Other.” Over 24 percent identified themselves as “Independent (unaffiliated)” — 19 out of 78 responses collected for that question. The next most popular category, “Democrat (Sanders/Warren type),” was chosen by 10 respondents. “I’m not political” and the general Republican and Democrat designations were tied for third place.
Our readers are not as liberal as I would have guessed, if this survey is any indication. The Beacon’s alleged liberal bias was singled out for criticism by a handful of students. It’s something we’ll try to keep an eye on.
Thanks to everybody who responded!