Feature: October 11, 1995
OUR READERS RESPOND
PAW's Editor Reports on the Latest Reader Survey (with a Brief Word about our Budget)
BY J.I. MERRITT '66
For the last two years PAW has conducted a reader survey for 16 of its 17 issues (excluding the somewhat anomalous July issue, which is devoted to Reunions and Commencement). The results of our 1994-95 reader survey have been tabulated, and they show-yet again-what a remarkably diverse, engaged readership you are.
After each issue went into the mail, we followed it up with a questionnaire randomly sent to 200 readers. Our response rate was 24 percent, a hefty increase from the 17 percent logged for our 1993-94 survey (this year our return envelopes were postage-paid). Overall, 84 percent of respondents said they had read or scanned the issue or planned to do so. Of those who had read the issue, 47 percent spent less than half an hour with it, 47 percent between 30 minutes and an hour, and 6 percent more than an hour. Some 87 percent judged the overall quality of the issue as "excellent" or "good."
The readership of the magazine's sections remained fairly constant from 1993-94. As with every survey the magazine has done, Class Notes topped the ranking, with an overall readership of 98 percent. In descending order, the other regular departments and their readerships were Notebook, 83 percent (up from 55 percent in 1993-94); Memorials, 77 percent; Letters, 75 percent; Sports, 54 percent; On the Campus, 49 percent (down from 58 percent); and Books, 36 percent. (The percentages indicate respondents who said they had read some or all of a particular department.)
In last year's Notebook, the best-read news stories dealt with plans for the new campus center, the shredding of the infamous nude posture photos, binge drinking among students, admissions results, and student fees. Our survey showed you were also interested in the plans to raze Palmer Stadium, Professor of History James M. McPherson's efforts to preserve the Civil War battlefield of Manassas, Bruce Miller '93's negligence suit against the university, and alumni elected to Congress.
Among On the Campus columns, the clear favorite was "Tiger Times Two," Liz Vederman '96's piece on student twins, followed by columns on working at Reunions; D. Allan Drummond '95's "Denial," about seniors facing thesis deadlines; and "Cowboy, Physicist, Actor, Activist," about the summer activities of four students.
The leading Sports stories were a wrapup of the 1994 football season, our preview of the men's basketball season, and articles about the university's decision not to reinstate wrestling as a varsity sport, basketball coach Pete Carril's 500th career win, and ex-Tiger running back Keith Elias '94's first year with the New York Giants.
In the Books department, the best-read reviews were of The Catcher Was a Spy, a biography of Moe Berg '23; physicist Kip S. Thorne *65's Black Holes and Time Warps; Edward Packard '53's Imagining the Universe (on the relative size of things, from atoms to the cosmos); William K. Selden '34's Club Life at Princeton; and What I Lived For, a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, a teacher of writing and the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities.
Readers also rated articles in the "occasional" departments like First Person and Opinion, which appear on the last page of the magazine. Among these pieces, "Honoring Honor," Frank C. Strasburger '67's suggestions for revitalizing the Honor Code, had the highest readership. Other favorites in this category included "Amis," Professor Uwe E. Rein-hardt's remembrance of American GIs at the close of World War II, and "Iraq in the Aftermath," physician Michael V. Viola '59's plea for medical care for Iraqi children.
Features garnered a 70 percent readership (up from 57 percent). Topping the list was "Lost Years of a Laureate," our March 22 profile of Nobel mathematician John Nash *50 and his struggle with schizophrenia. The other most popular features were "A Divine Reunion," about Dante scholar Professor Robert Hollander *55; "Princeton and the Bomb," the recollections of five faculty members who took part in the Manhattan Project; "Season of Discontent," about the Class of 1970's senior spring; and "Einstein: The Movie," about the making of the film I.Q.
Our 1993-94 survey showed a clear preference for covers depicting campus scenes, followed by portrait photographs of people. In 1994-95, campus scenes and people again led the list, with approval ratings of 70 and 74 percent, respectively. In descending order, the four most popular covers (ranked "excellent" or "good" by readers) were a winter campus scene (February 8), a photo of John Nash (March 22), a tableau of tropical birds painted by Guy A. Tudor '56 (January 22), and students conversing on Firestone Plaza (October 26). Placing fifth and sixth were the covers for our story about "Princeton and the Bomb" (a photo of the Trinity blast) and Professor Richard D. Challener '44's "How World War II Changed Prince-ton" (a close-up by photographer Nat Clymer of the names of war dead engraved in Memorial Hall).
We asked readers to judge issues on overall quality, rating them "excellent," "good," "fair," or "poor." By combining "excellent" and "good" rankings, we arrived at the six "best" issues for 1994-95. Leading the pack were our May 10 pre-Reunions issue (which included our stories on Robert Hollander and the Class of 1970), December 7 (whose feature profiled Professor of Sociology Sara Mc-Lanahan and her work on single-parent families), January 25 (profiles of evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, and bird-book collaborators Robert S. Ridgely '71 and Guy Tudor), March 8 (women in science and engineering), March 22 (John Nash), and June 7 (Princeton and the Bomb).
This year, we asked all readers surveyed two general questions, one concerning the length of Class Notes and the other about PAW's frequency of publication.
Class Notes columns are limited to 300 words, or about 5,100 words a year. This limit applies to every class, no matter what its size. A few officers of some of the younger classes-those that graduated after 1970, when enrollments jumped due to the advent of coeducation-have argued for more space because they have more members. But when we asked readers for their preferences, nearly three out of four (74 percent) opted for no change to the word limit. Some 23 percent said they'd like to see the length increased, and only 1 percent suggested a decrease. (Percentages do not tally to 100 because of rounding and "no response.") Among older alumni (defined for our purposes as those whose classes graduated in 1969 or before), 80 percent opted for no change, while 17 percent favored more words per column and 1 percent favored fewer. For younger (post-1969) alumni, the comparable figures were 67, 30, and 1 percent.
Although PAW ceased being a weekly in 1977, it is published biweekly for most of the academic year, and its frequency of 17 times a year is off the charts for alumni magazines. (The runner-up is the Cornell Alumni News, which publishes 10 times a year.) When we asked readers if they'd like to see more or fewer issues, assuming the annual total of words devoted to Class Notes remained unchanged, 75 percent elected for no change, while 10 percent said they'd like to see frequency increase and 12 percent said they'd prefer it to decrease.
For the record, PAW at present has no plans to change either the length of Class Notes or its frequency of publication.
As PAW's editor, I find reader surveys lots of fun to peruse, and they are helpful at the margins when it comes to making decisions about what stories to publish and how much space to allot to them. Some of the conclusions gleaned from our last two surveys are interesting, if not terribly surprising-for example, that older readers spend more time with the magazine and are less critical of its contents, that the typical female reader is more likely to read Books than Sports, and that male readers prefer Sports to Books. My own rankings of best stories, covers, and issues are markedly different from those of our readers, at least as reflected by this latest survey. As I suggested in a similar report last year, PAW's diverse readership makes it impossible to think of any one archetypal reader. We try to provide enough variety over the course of a year to keep most readers happy most of the time.
To change briefly from my editorial to publishing hat, I'm pleased to report that PAW's 1995-96 base subscription rate for classes has gone up only 2 percent. Our actual operating budget went up 3.8 percent, due largely to a steep hike in paper costs, but we were able to keep the base subscription rate low by allotting to the classes a portion of a surplus in last year's operating budget. Our current operating budget is $1.16 million. Of this amount, 53 percent ($611,000) comes from alumni subscriptions, 28 percent from advertising, 11 percent from a university subsidy to the classes to offset their subscription bills, and 8 percent from university and other subscriptions. The bulk of PAW's revenues comes from subscriptions paid by the classes, which in turn depend on class dues to meet their PAW bills. Be sure to pay yours!
Paw is self-incorporated and continues to be published on a break-even basis, by alumni and for alumni. It is editorially, structurally, and to a large degree financially independent of the university. The magazine is overseen by a board of trustees that includes alumni professionals in journalism and publishing.
We welcome your suggestions and appreciate your support, and we thank those 810 readers who took the time to fill out the survey forms and return them to us. We also thank the Research Strategies Corporation, of Princeton, for its help collecting our survey returns. Finally, we owe a special debt to class secretary John Stryker '74, who again served as our consultant in designing, compiling, and analyzing our reader survey.
The best thing about PAW is its letters, particularly those from alumni with strong and often irascible opinions. I look forward to that column so much-please do not censor it. Paw is one of the few places I can get a feel for the range of opinions of intelligent people-from those who condemn homosexuality to those whose respect for the First Amendment is so limited that they don't want to see letters condemning homosexuality printed. Though I'm a woman, some of my favorite letters have been those protesting women at Princeton, or arguing that we often "waste" our degrees.
That said, I often do not find too much else of interest. I usually spend about 30 minutes with PAW, as opposed to more than an hour with my husband's Harvard Magazine, which often has wonderful articles on the research professors are doing (but a very dull letters column).-1978
More about research by undergraduates and graduate students. I enjoy First Person and On the Campus. I'd like to see more about teams other than football and basketball. Your coverage of winning teams is good, but I like to know about them all. And please start using recycled paper-get rid of the glossy look.-1985
More articles about astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology. For the human race to survive, it is important to close the knowledge gap on those subjects.-1946
Articles supporting animal rights and exposing animal abuse within the university. In general, I find PAW too mainstream and politically cautious. Get more involved in movements for social justice-including justice for members of other species.-1974
More stories on student life.-1986
Swimming, water polo, lacrosse, Tiger Inn. History department. Less football. Famous professors. Book reviews. More pictures of Princeton.-1991
I don't care. I don't read PAW.-1981
More outgoing inspiration and less adolescent griping! Please keep publishing those inflammatory letters-the responses are wonderful.-1982
More attention should be given to minor sports.-1928
Much less sports, much more arts, current issues, and details on how Princeton's academic programs have changed over the decades.-GS, 1965
As a member of the Alumni Schools Committee I interview applicants, and I appreciate a current view of campus life. Can we have more, but shorter, articles about professors and research? I'm liberal and partied as an undergraduate, but I get tired of so many articles about drugs and drinking.
I always read The President's Page.
The President's Page should be half as long.-1956
I like the features and the letters they provoke, and articles on odd things that alumni or students are doing, like tracker John Stokes '74 and Hong Kong entrepreneur Gordon Wu '58. I didn't read this issue's feature about race relations on campus because the whole subject seems dreary and hopeless, albeit important. Nothing in the article's title suggested that folks at Princeton had anything new to say on the subject.-1968
More articles on Princeton's history and traditions.-1949
Articles written by Princetonians who are major figures in the world. I believe a quarterly format would lead to more substantive articles-less is more. Paw is too often filled with fluff and nonsense.-1969
If frequency were to change, I would urge more rather than less frequent publication.-1954
I commend the editors for their efforts to include a wider range of opinions than I ever heard at Princeton. Please continue to include commitment ceremonies in Class Notes.-1990
More on new courses.-1956
Why aren't there more articles on women's issues, or on work and family?-1975
Typically I spend 15 or 20 minutes scanning the issue and will read in full any article that catches my eye. If the costs of PAW are too high to justify the current publishing schedule, I wouldn't object to its becoming a monthly.
Considering your diverse audience, I believe you cover a lot of areas nicely. I read articles about subjects that don't even interest me and always learn something.-1976
Music, art, films, religion.-1970
It arrives late. Best wishes.-1979
Less on diversity, multiculturalism, women, and gays and lesbians.
I would like to see the name of Jesus Christ glorified.-1974
Given the ultraliberal trends on campus and PAW's leftist bias, I read little of what you report. Every issue seems to raise my ire a bit more, with the possible exception of letters to the editor, class news, Memorials, and the Princeton Exchange.-1953
Please exercise more stringent editorial judgment regarding the publication of negative letters from narrow-minded, readers, who generally are among the older alumni. In my first few years out, such letters seemed quaint oddities, but now I'm tired of them. They do us all a disservice.-1980
I urge the editor not to print any ungentlemanly, unladylike, impolite, or scurrilous letters from some ill-read recent alumni.-1950
More related to people of color.
Historical articles, especially related to Woodrow Wilson.-1992
I would like to see more extensive coverage of course offerings and intellectual trends in various departments. I don't approve of PAW's relentlessly positive view of Prince-ton. I wish it were more independent, more challenging to the status quo.-1976
I rarely read PAW and feel guilty about tossing it, but do anyway.-1970
How about an article on the new brew pub in Princeton and on home brewing on campus?-1992
Articles on topics of intellectual substance, ongoing research by Princeton faculty, staff, and students. Book reviews.-1975
In January I married an alumnus. The majority of those in our wedding party were Princeton graduates. I have sent this information to my class secretary at least five times, but to no avail.
More emphasis on swimming. Prince-ton has had the best men's and women's swimming teams in the East for years, yet PAW usually reports on them in just one issue a year.-1939
More on student life, especially coed dorms. I have a granddaughter who I hope will enter Princeton this year.
I'd love to see an issue devoted to the Third World Center, with alumni from different years providing their perspectives on it.-1992
Articles about Princeton grads in foreign countries.-1977
More rugby articles, dammit!-1976
Paw should be less of a mouthpiece for the administration. How about stuff on alumni who dislike or even hate Princeton?-1978
More on the Chapel and its various activities and personalities.-1991
Box scores for football and basketball.-1940
Articles on the way Princeton is adapting to the changes in the outside world in which its graduates must live.-1938
I like intelligent commentary on current issues-e.g., Uwe Reinhardt on health-care reform-as well as profiles about interesting professors and their projects.-1978
I also receive the alumni magazines of Harvard and Oxford, but PAW is the only one that I read cover to cover. I find it interesting and of manageable length.-1974
It's incredible that PAW did not do a better job of covering men's hockey's first winning team in 27 years and its advance to the ECAC championship. The team deserved a cover story and a banner headline.-1964
Thank you for the fair and even-handed coverage of the wrestling debacle.-1985
What I read relates to the Princeton my grandfather (1867), my father (1896), and I knew and loved. I don't read President Shapiro's page because I believe in the melting pot, not multi-culturalism.-1939
More coverage of research in science, government, law, and society. I find PAW helpful in interesting high school kids in Princeton.-1961
I never have time to read anything except The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Looking forward to retirement.-1961
A quarterly would be sufficient. Paw is too thick with advertising directed to stereotypically wealthy Ivy League graduates. Hello, out there ... some of us are poor.-1983