Online polls another form of reader participation
The writer had a point and evidence to back it up. "Look at the results of the News Tribune's May 6 online poll, which asked, 'Do you support Rep. Mike Jaros' attempt to impede the Duluth schools' red plan?' " read a May 11 letter, "Evidence is c...
The writer had a point and evidence to back it up.
"Look at the results of the News Tribune's May 6 online poll, which asked, 'Do you support Rep. Mike Jaros' attempt to impede the Duluth schools' red plan?' " read a May 11 letter, "Evidence is clear that the community wants to vote."
"Sixty-five percent of respondents voted 'yes.' Aren't those results, as well as other poll results, evidence enough of what the residents of Duluth really want?"
I'm not sure to which other polls he was referring. But when it comes to results of our polls at duluthnewstribune.com, the simple answer is: Don't take them to the bank.
Our online polls, like those of most other Web sites, are far from scientific. Readers who respond vote voluntarily. And the sample size can vary from a few dozen to thousands on a hot subject.
They're not the kind of polls youoccasionally see in our paper that we take pains to make statistically significant. That means ensuring a random sample. It also means collecting enough respondents to say the results would be the same, within an acceptable margin of error, as if we had asked everyone in town.
So no, our online poll results aren't evidence of what Duluthians really want. Then why do we do them?
The issue has been debated in our newsroom and others for as long as newspapers have had Web sites. Somewhere along the way, in an effort to create content that was different from the paper, someone got the idea to create online polls.
Reader participation is something newspapers have been offering for decades -- from the crossword and Cryptoquip puzzles to letters to theeditor. Our reader polls are an online-world equivalent.
Obviously, no newspaper Web site hires a professional pollster to make its daily surveys scientific. We think up a question, link the poll to the story and let you rip.
Irresponsible? A waste of time? Interesting? Fun?
Maybe all of the above.
And even if they're not scientific, it's interesting to see what some people in our community think on certain issues.
That leads to the question of whether our polls can be hacked with people voting more than once.
Again, the answer is yes. Again, we're OK with that at some level. And again, some people find that totally unacceptable.
But the bottom line is that we need to strike a balance. If we went to the extreme of locking down our poll and making it difficult -- could we ever say impossible? -- for users to manipulate it, would it also become so cumbersome that no one would bother to vote?
"People don't typically waste their time trying to hack a newspaper's online poll," said Chris Welle, online content development manager for Forum Communications Co., our parent company. "It has happened on some hot-button issues or in cases of people just playing around."
But Welle questioned the wisdom of putting polls behind bars.
"We could shore it up and require people to log in before participating," he said. "But I see that as too much of a gate for something that should be as accessible as possible."
Trust is an important issue for us. Our journalists take time to get all sides of a story and to get the facts right.
But just as we have comics and puzzles and letters in our paper -- items that aren't hard news -- we have similar elements online that readers participate in for fun.
Seventy-three percent -- maybe -- agree.
Back up the Shore
Starting Monday, the News Tribune will again be sold at 16 retail outlets from Silver Bay to Grand Marais. Earlier this year, we discontinued sales in that area because of the high cost of printing and shipping papers.
"But people said they wanted their newspaper, and we heard them," said Tim McLoughlin, manager of our Circulation Department. He and his staff came up with a plan to get the papers up the North Shore in a way that makes business sense.
All of us at the News Tribune want our paper to get to as many of you as possible. Congratulations to McLoughlin and team for finding a way to make it work.
Rob Karwath is executive editor of the News Tribune. You can reach him at (218) 720-4177 or email@example.com .