What do our customers think?

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This is the second interview in the series. The first is here. Please sign up to be interviewed here.

This week I queried Vicki Boykis on her news consumption habits. Vicki is 23 years old, married and lives in the Washington D.C. metro area. Vicki and her husband both work and they have no children. Publishers, pay attention. These are your young, upwardly mobile, urban folks. They are your target audience in many cases as they are the most able to afford your products. They are literate, well-read and interested in the world around them.

So here we go. My questions are in bold and Vicki’s answers are below them.

Q: Have your news consumption habits changed over the years or have they stayed about the same?

Rapidly changed when I discovered how efficient Google Reader is about 2 years ago. Back in the old days of newspapers, I’d read the local newspaper we subscribed to at home every Sunday. 

In college, we had NYT and USA Today for free every day in many locations around campus, so it would be a combination of that and Google News.  

Once I started working about three years ago, it became strictly Google News and websites and now it’s just my Google Reader and random websites. 

Q: Where do you usually get your news from on a daily basis? Specify print or online or both for each source you list.

BBC – Online

New York Times – Online

New York Magazine – Online

Christian Sciene Monitor – Online

Jerusalem Post/Haaretz – Online

Gazeta.Ru – Online [“Gazeta” means “newspaper” is Russian by the way]

Atlantic Magazine – Online

Al Jazeera – Online

L.A. Times – Online

Washington Post – Online

Mashable/TechCrunch – Online only publications

NPR – Radio

I would say those are on average the sources I read every day, but it’s hard to pinpoint where a majority of my news comes from because my newsflashes/breaking news come from Twitter, which are from a variety of sources and usually whatever news I get, I get from just scrolling through my [Google] reader. I also tend to get lots of more in-depth news (for example, for one of my regional interests, Eurasia) from the specialized blogs that I follow. 

Q: What are the things you are most interested in reading about? Are your needs being met by what’s available to you?

The global economy, global trade/international development and the U.S. economy; news from Israel, news from Russia, news from Eurasia (Iran/the ‘stans, Georgia, etc.), tech news and also, if you consider various blogging communities sources for news outlets, those as well.  My needs for economic news are often met, and my need for Israeli news is met by reading a combination of three Israeli newspapers, each with a slightly different political slant, but sadly regional news for Eurasia is often awful. I find this to be true with smaller, more specialized news topics as well. For example, an AP blurb will read:

“100 killed in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is a country in Central Asia and its capital is Bishkek.” 

And that’s all it will have, or something extremely similar to that effect. So for that, I’ll have to dig much deeper. Why were these people killed? What are the regional conflicts in Kyrgyzstan? What are the implications of the fall of the Soviet Union on the country, and how is it impacting development in the country today?  Etc. Etc. That kind of background, you should have on-hand when you begin reporting a beat and be able to have several paragraphs on to insert in the stuff you write. 

 

In my feed reader, I have different layers of sources depending on what level of seriousness I’m looking for from a news source. I realize completely that journalists are on deadlines, but sometimes it’s ridiculous how little information they have before they spew it out in the MSM [mainstream media].

Q: What is your top complaint about the news media?

My general complaints are that the print/tv news media treats the Internet as some disgusting thing under a microscope that it has to handle with kid gloves all while not knowing anything about it (see any mainstream report on Twitter, tumblr, etc, which are always way behind the curve). It’s painful, like watching a baby deer trying to walk for the first time. 

 For online media, my complaint is that often the writers don’t understand the topics they’re covering. Best recent example of this is this post (or “news item”) because they’re on such short deadlines that they don’t stop to examine and analyze why what they’re writing about is important to the news consumer. You could be writing about a new toaster that cures cancer for all I care. Please put some context behind what you write.  
 

My overall complaint for both print AND online is the bias. Oh, God, the bias. As a writer, I realize it’s impossible to write without bias. But if I have to read CNN AND BBC AND a local paper while referring to this handout to find out what the problem is with the oil spill, you’re doing it wrong. 

 

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On a personal note, even though I will turn 30 later this summer I share many of Vicki’s sentiments. Perhaps it’s because we’re technically still of the same generation, we are both married, well educated and, as it so happens, both of Eastern European descent. 

Specifically, I agree with her assessment of how the news media treats the whole of the Internet. “It’s painful, like watching a baby deer trying to walk for the first time,” she said. I cannot think of a better metaphor. 

Writers not understanding the topic they’re covering is another oft heard complaint. My husband is a trader and he frequently says that the so-called financial press have no clue what they’re talking about. A CNBC reporter at a recent conference he attended basically admitted as much. Speaking of my husband, he is himself an astute media critic and has brought my attention to at least one notable matter thus far.

Other insights to be gleaned from Vicki’s interview can hardly be called insights. She consumes all her content online with the exception of NPR. News consumers younger and older than her are doing the same. Publishers have obviously not ignored this, but there is still a great deal of confusion about what should go in print vs. online, whether online should be the first or last priority, how reporters should interact (or not) with their audiences and much, much more. In all these areas and others, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. 

Vicki also pointed me to a comment thread on a website where problems with the media were being discussed. This comment in particular caught her attention (and mine as well):

I stopped listening to news when I was about 4 and I saw the headline “Teen plays Grand Theft Auto; Kills Cab Driver”. Now, if you read the rest of the article, it says they found a GTA game in his room and assumed it was his, he played it thta morning, and that was why he killed the cab driver. The newspaper could have just as easily said “Teen eats breakfast cereal; Kills Cab Driver” but no. The media is so ridiculoulsy full of crap and biased it’s not funny. Recently we had a commercial for the “7PM Project” in Australia, saying “This laptop is waterproof, indestructable, solar powered and free. And we’ll show you how YOU can get one.” If you watched the actual show, you’d find out that the government was giving them to poor Aboriginal students in outback communities. So, unless I wanted to deliberately lose all of the money my family has, move to the outback and somehow change skin colour, I can’t get one. Thanks, helpful news program!

I’ve also seen “public opinion” studies about football teams. They had a poll on which AFL team had the worst anthem. They held the poll in Melbourne. At a football ground. At a Collingwood Vs. Carlton game. Now if that isn’t a biased selection I don’t know what is.

Since all of that, I have listened to the news every day, just so I know what didn’t happen. “Gang attack kills 2” probably means “2 pasty white guys with a baseball bat died trying to attack a police officer”. Yes, that’s actually been on the news. Since when was 2 people a gang, and how do their deaths increase the amount of people they killed?

Another example: “Australia most obese country on Earth.”. Now, if you do research, you’ll find the article is trying to say Australia is the most obese Western Society surveyed country. Of which there were 5. Do some more research and you’ll find that it’s percentage of overweight people they based it on. However, if you take the average BMI (the standard they used for the test, which is flawed(A muscly person will have a huge BMI)) America is nearly 1.5 times more obese as Australia, which would have come 4th out of the 5 countries. Do even more research and you’ll find that Australia is actually fairly close to “healthy” weight (i.e. a low deviation). However, America and, to a lesser extent, England have not only a large amount of obese people, but also even more incredibly skinny and bulimic/anorexic people. Whereas Australia has a relatively small number. 

And I know I’ve gone a little bit off-topic, but I really need to show how full of crap news programs are. In EVERY aspect.

 


 

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