Brief editor Gayla Marty
Brief readers reply
Report on the 2004 survey
By Gayla Marty
From Brief, March 16, 2005
Writing for a potential readership of 21,000 employees at one of the best public universities in the world every week, for me, is like walking a high wire. When I push the button to send Brief on Tuesday afternoon, I admit to some vertigo. But it's also an honor. I was a Brief reader for years, and I always liked it and found it valuable.
So when a reader survey was conducted last November, any trepidation on my part was overcome by the desire to know how this newsletter meets its readers' needs and how it can meet them better. My only real concern was that not many people would take the time.
I need not have worried. Nearly 2,900 completed the survey and hundreds wrote comments.
Target length: 1,500 words
Back issues: On the UMNnews Web site and at University Archives
Editors: Maureen Smith (1970-2000), Rick Moore, Pauline Oo, Jason Sanford, Gayla Marty (since February 2004).
Campus: Twin Cities 85.4%, Duluth 6.7%, Morris 2.1%, Crookston 1.0%, Rochester .6%, other (research stations and extension centers statewide) 4.3%
Type of employment: Civil service 36.9%, P&A 24.6%, bargaining unit 15.3%, faculty 11.9%, other (mostly graduate assistants) 11.2%
Years at the U: less than a year 8.6%, 1-2 years 12.3%, 3-5 years 21.2%, 6-15 years 25.9%, 16+ years 31.6%
These numbers match actual U employee demographics closely for most areas.
The survey was administered on the Web for one week, November 5-11, 2004. It had been four years since the last survey, and a little more than a year since the paper edition of Brief was discontinued in September 2003.
The good news is that Brief received positive ratings from a large majority--84.4 percent of all respondents and nearly 90 percent of those who said they read it regularly. It also ranked high in importance among various campus sources of news and information. Of the respondents who wrote comments in response to the question, "How would you like Brief to change?", 144 asked that no changes be made or they gave positive comments.
"I always look forward to reading Brief and enjoy learning about what goes on all around the U in the different campuses and departments," wrote one reader. "And I'm happy that quite a bit of news is available in one central place with links. Thanks for organizing the news this way."
Still, some readers--even regulars who were glad to see the paper go--miss the old coral-colored sheet. "I could read it while walking up the stairs from my mailbox," one reader wrote. "The e-mail Brief competes with dozens of other e-mails every day, so I give it only a few seconds out of the time I reserve for e-mail." Loss of the paper edition was the most common complaint among the 199 respondents to the survey who said they don't read Brief. But that was less than one percent of the survey respondents.
If I had hoped for a great consensus about how to improve Brief, I didn't get it. What I did receive and welcome was a broad range of suggestions for many small and not-so-small ways to improve:
- write features about research and outreach, including the U's research stations and extension offices statewide
- reorganize headings and footers to make linking to the Web edition easier to see and use
- provide tips for viewing and for submitting news items
- develop ways to interact with the Faculty & Staff Communications page of UMNnews
- find ways to highlight the accomplishments of many of the people "who are dedicated and work so hard for the U"
- work to reduce the number of pages required to print Brief from the Web
- consider department-focus features and "more insider analysis, some perspectives on policies and decision-making"
It's important to put Brief in the context of how communications have changed in the past decade. While a large part of the readership has worked at the University for more than 16 years, Brief remained largely unchanged for 30 years. But with the advent of e-mail and the Web and media technology--and with U employees at the forefront--we now get more news and information than ever before and receive it faster. Expectations about timeliness and other factors have risen.
Brief has become a way to deliver information that often is published in detail and readily available on the Web. Brief is also a way to deliver the kind of content that is now part of the Web-based UMNnews. Some things about Brief will continue, at least for now. It will continue to give a big-picture snapshot of the U for the people who work here, and to be the primary employee update for the Twin Cities campus (Crookston, Duluth, and Morris all have additional employee e-mail newsletters).
Over the next few months, you may notice changes to Brief that we'll make based on survey results, and we will appreciate your feedback.
- Among all respondents, 61.6 percent rated Brief satisfactory overall, and 22.8 percent rated it excellent--a total of 84.4 percent positive. Among those who identified themselves as regular readers of Brief (2,694 respondents), 65 percent gave it an overall rating of satisfactory and almost a quarter (24.3 percent) rated it excellent--bringing the total of positive ratings to near 90 percent. The remainder said they were not sure (6.1 percent) or rated it as poor (4.6 percent).
- Readers also rated Brief very high in importance among various campus sources of information. If "very important" and "somewhat important" ratings of 11 publications and types of communication are combined, e-mail from the department head or dean ranks first (89 percent), followed by Brief and e-mail from the president and other University leaders (each 85 percent), memos or letters (81 percent), department and college publications (77 percent), daily newspapers other than the Twin Cities campus Minnesota Daily (71 percent), Web sites other than UMNnews(70 percent), the Minnesota Daily (58 percent), eNews (45 percent), UMNnews(39 percent), and bulletin board notices (36 percent).
- Nearly 700 people wrote responses to the question, "How would you like Brief to change?" Of these, more than 600 were regular readers and 72 were nonreaders. Nearly a quarter of the readers (144) asked that no changes be made or gave positive comments; about half (309) made a broad range of editorial suggestions; others made suggestions for design (64), technical aspects (45), circulation (29) (especially to avoid overlap with other publications), and frequency (15).
- The largest number of respondents (38.4 percent) said they read some of the items and click the Web links for more information. The next-largest group (24 percent) reported reading some of the items and rarely clicking on Web links, followed by those who skim only (18.5 percent). Some thorough readers (12.2 percent) report reading nearly all the items and clicking the Web links for information. Nearly 7 percent (199 respondents) selected "Don't read Brief."
- When regular readers don't read Brief, it's most often because they don't have time (56.4 percent), while nonreaders describe themselves as not interested (37.7 percent), disliking e-mail for news (26 percent), and not having time (26 percent).
- Readers said the most valuable types of information in Brief are campus-specific news (62.8 percent), top stories (61.2 percent), University-wide news (60.8 percent) and events, seminars, and workshops (58.5 percent).
- Among changes suggested in the editorial category, most were mixed on any given subject. For example, for each person who wanted less content about the Twin Cities campus, another wanted more. The most common design suggestion was to "change the layout," with a majority advocating for more color, fonts, and other publishing-quality features.
- Some readers asked for clearer brand identification among University Relations publications or complained of overlapping content.
- Respondents who reported technical problems often requested text-only format. Many of these problems may have been solved already by a change in distribution software since the survey was completed.
Gayla Marty is a senior editor in Communication Services, Office of the Vice President for University Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.