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News and Observer begins final comic strip polling

The News and Observer has begun it’s final polling after running seven guest features this last year. Also up for reader feedback are 10 regularly featured comic strips. The results will be published in January and they mention that they’ll keep an open spot for more trial features that they’ve wanted to get arond to such as Little Dog Lost, It’s All About You, Cul-de-Sac, Family Tree.

The features in the current poll include the following guest comics: Agnes, Candorville, F-Minus, Mallard Fillmore, Mother Goose & Grimm, Sherman’s Lagoon, and Tundra and the following regularly printed features: B.C., Curtis, Family Circus, For Better or For Worse, Hi & Lois, Marmaduke, Peanuts, Shoe, Sylvia, and Watch Your Head

As much as polls for comic irk syndicated cartoonists, this poll is not limited to their readers and it appears that it is not restricting multiple votes.

UPDATE: It does appear that they do try to limit each vote to just one person.

Community Comments

#1 Cory Thomas
November/29/2007
@ 12:04 pm

Always a joy kneeling under the guillotine.

#2 Darrin Bell
November/29/2007
@ 1:14 pm

I’m almost afraid to ask how we’ve discovered they try to limit votes to one per person.

It shouldn’t be too hard to limit votes to people in their circulation area. Just create some program that weeds out IP addresses from out of state (even my free website stats tracker can tell me where IP addresses are located, so I know it’s possible). Why don’t most of these papers at least do that much? As it is now, we could get a few dozen fanatics in New Zealand determining what readers in Raleigh get to see.

#3 Alan Gardner
November/29/2007
@ 1:29 pm

It appears they’re logging IP addresses when one votes. As I was looking for a way to exploit the poll this morning, I believe I was able to vote 3 times before I started to see a message saying that multiple votes would not be counted, so I’m not quite sure how it’s working.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the New Zealanders unless Alex Hallat’s Arctic Circle was one of the comics in the poll!

#4 Mike Cope
November/29/2007
@ 1:53 pm

Darrin makes an excellent point. Unfortunately, IP tracking doesn’t help if you’re out of town or behind a good firewall.

I suggest taking comic polls one step further and only allow paying subscribers to participate in the voting process. After all, these are the individuals that receive the paper daily (not just live in the area).

But what if you’re a regular newsstand buyer? IMHO, restricting comic polls to subscribers would be like the added benefits one receives for being the member of a fan-club (or like the voting privileges one has as a shareholder).

Since subscriptions are all handled electronically, this can easily be implemented.

For example, our local paper used to restrict access to its digital PDF edition to its print subscribers only. In order to access the PDF’s, you had to create user account linked to the print delivery address.

One benefit is that subscribers could only vote once. There would also be a better chance that votes would only be submitted by those who really care about their particular paper’s comics section, rather than individuals trying to skew the results. The negative side would be multiple readers in the same household, and senior citizens who can’t operate a computer without their grandkid’s help :)

#5 Barlogea
November/29/2007
@ 2:29 pm

Mary Worth sucks

#6 Wiley Miller
November/29/2007
@ 2:45 pm

I have an idea… maybe editors can look at the various comics available and make a decision on which one(s) will be best suited for their newspaper. You know, to actually do their job.

This process of having readers choose a new comic feature is beyond stupid. If the readers had the sales kits for each feature and were able to look at all of them at the same time, AS EDITORS DO, then perhaps it might make some sense. But this process is like trying to select a new syndicated columnist by reading one paragraph of their columns. Why this is such a difficult task for editors is quite beyond me.

#7 Darrin Bell
November/29/2007
@ 3:15 pm

I agree, and even though I’ve been lucky enough to come out on top in some important polls, I wish editors would choose new comics themselves and stick with them long enough for their readers to get to know them, before taking feedback into account. But if they’re going to abdicate this decision to their readers, I wish they’d at least make sure it’s THEIR readers.

#8 Alan Gardner
November/29/2007
@ 3:32 pm

This process of having readers choose a new comic feature is beyond stupid. If the readers had the sales kits for each feature and were able to look at all of them at the same time, AS EDITORS DO, then perhaps it might make some sense. But this process is like trying to select a new syndicated columnist by reading one paragraph of their columns.

A couple of counterpoints:
1. Sales kits generally contain only a months worth of dailies and a couple of months worths of Sundays – about the same amount a newspaper’s reader would be exposed to during a trial run preceding a poll. Editors aren’t getting any more special information to make an informed choice as a reader just using the sales kit.

2. I’d contend that not all editors are the most vested/knowledgeable person to make these decisions. I’ve seen a good number of editors drop “Wizard of Id” and “Frank and Ernest” citing that the cartoonist had died and the quality of the strip had suffered not knowing that the original cartoonist had LONG since stopped working the strip and their sons had taken over so issues of quality are completely unfounded.

Another point against the editors: I have received a few emails from editors asking me who had taken over on “For Better or For Worse” because the style had changed so radically – never mind that Lynn’s announcement regarding the hybrid had been made 9 months prior PLUS subsequent announcements disputing her retirement. They should know what’s going on in the comic industry, but not all care to.

I say let the readers who actually, I don’t know… READ the comics have a choice in what goes into them. My main objection to polls is how they’re administered. I think it’s fundamentally unfair to the cartoonists (and readers) if the poll/survey allows multiple votes or doesn’t limit the voting to actual readers of the paper.

#9 Dawn Douglass
November/29/2007
@ 4:21 pm

The Oregonian used to do a call in vote, which made more sense than opening up voting to the entire world via the Internet.

#10 Anne Hambrock
November/29/2007
@ 8:56 pm

Believe it or not, some papers still use the good old “cut out” paper ballot. Such ballots are found inside a newspaper that has been bought and paid for (subscription or newstand) by someone who actually reads that paper.

#11 Alan Gardner
November/29/2007
@ 9:05 pm

The cut-out paper ballots heavily favor the “older generation” that will take the time to mail in the ballots. Web based voting is probably more inclusive, as far as age groups go, but my guess it favors the middle age to younger audiences (not to mention those darn New Zealanders).

#12 mike witmer
November/30/2007
@ 8:47 am

This process of having readers choose a new comic feature is beyond stupid.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea at the core. Most of the people who are going to respond are going to be avid comic fans. But Darrin is right…they have to weed out the out-of-towners and taylor their choices to wha the readers want to see. And you’re right, Wiley, it should include a bit of editor intervention.

#13 Wiley Miller
November/30/2007
@ 9:27 am

“I donâ??t think itâ??s a bad idea at the core. ”

Neither is communism. But when you start to apply it to the real world, it falls apart.

The readers don’t have the amount of information about a new feature that editors have. You can’t send out a sales kit to every reader. And the ones who respond are generally the ones who respond to all comics polls, the ones who have the most time on their hands and still read newspapers… retired people. This is NOT the demographic you’re trying to attract with comics.

That being said, I’ve always contended that if you randomly grabbed someone off the street, they would make a better comics editor than 99% of editors operating newspapers today. So maybe that would be the better alternative than running these idiotic polls.

#14 Dawn Douglass
November/30/2007
@ 9:41 am

I like the idea of getting readership input, but it shouldn’t be via a poll that gives them the power to decide which cartoons get picked up and which get axed. I agree with Wiley…that’s the editor’s job.

Papers could present the same kind of idea just by saying, “These are a few of the strips we’re considering. Please give us your input by noting your comments on each cartoon.” So comments could be collected like blog posts. Then editors and everybody else could read what people think about them and decide if they agree with the analysis.

With a poll, you’re just saying I like this or I hate that, with no reason given. You can say it multiple times and never have to back it up with anything. Lame system that offers no real value.

#15 Mike Cope
November/30/2007
@ 10:00 am

Imagine if elections were settled by blog comments rather than votes. I agree that an editor should be the one making the final selection, however, I see nothing wrong with presenting a series of options to the paying subscribers. A numbers poll does give them an idea what the majority favours … What’s wrong with that?

We’re living in an increasingly consumer-customized world … Dictating what readers should read just doesn’t fit this perspective.

#16 Thad Ogburn
November/30/2007
@ 10:43 am

I’m features editor at The News & Observer. And maybe I’m in the minority among my features editing brethren, but I genuinely like the comics, keep up with new comics and believe in trying new things.

A couple thoughts:

1. Nowhere have we said that readers alone are making these decisions through the poll. We’ve said we will use reader responses as ONE factor in making decisions. I and three members of my staff make the final calls. We’ve done that all along. But I don’t see anything wrong with soliciting this opinion.

2. When I became features editor last year, our comics hadn’t been changed (save for the addition of Get Fuzzy and Boondocks) in 10 years. Last November, we made the call to drop four â?? Cathy, Hagar, Drabble and the ending Boondocks â?? and pick up four â?? Pearls Before Swine, Frazz, Watch Your Head and Edge City.

3. We started the guest comic program Jan. 1, in the spot where Fox Trot had been. Since then, we’ve tried new strips for four weeks each, asking readers to comment in the “Comics in the N&O” forum at share.triangle.com. It’s our most popular forum. Because of positive reader response and our own takes on the guests, we’ve added three of them â?? Pickles (replaced Edge City), Lio (replaced Gil Thorp) and Red & Rover (took the Kudzu spot).

4. We put seven other guests up for vote in the poll, allowing with picking 10 of our 33 existing comics to get feedback on. We selected the 10 for various reasons â?? either we’ve heard complaints about them or they are really old or they are reruns or they are in the midst of change (For Better or For Worse, B.C.) Our other 23 current strips (including Non Sequiter, of course!) are safe.

5. We also had a print ballot in the paper that people could â?? and did â?? use. What’s interesting is that so far the likes and dislikes of the online and print voters is almost identical.

Even if I wasn’t a comics fan before, I would be now. Readers care â?? and care deeply â?? about them.

#17 Barlogea
November/30/2007
@ 10:51 am

Mary Worth still sucks

#18 Dawn Douglass
November/30/2007
@ 11:03 am

Way to go, Mr. Ogburn. Good job. Great to hear that you’re taking it seriously.

#19 Rich Diesslin
November/30/2007
@ 11:49 am

Thad, kudos on giving a d**n! Sounds like you have a good approach and one I wish more papers would model! Ever consider freelance submissions )?

#20 Corey Pandolph
November/30/2007
@ 12:28 pm

Barlogea, you are my hero.

#21 Pab Sungenis
November/30/2007
@ 12:54 pm

Thad, thanks for your input. It is good to hear an editor taking such an interest in the comic page.

My strip is still available, too, by the way. (wink).

Oh, and I’m with Corey and Barlogea, too. Mary Worth does still suck.

#22 Larry Levine
November/30/2007
@ 2:13 pm

Thad, don’t forget to check the web for the next generation of strips.

#23 Tom Heintjes
November/30/2007
@ 2:21 pm

Thad, thanks for the look at how the process works. It’s similar to how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution managed the process. Just out of curiosity, what would happen in a case where you just adored a certain strip but poll results ran strongly against it?

Although I philosopically oppose comics polls, I always participate, making me a hypocrite, I suppose. Still, I always wish I had opportunities to vote on the composition of other sections of the paper so I could help shove George Will and Charles Krauthammer off the plank.

#24 Thad Ogburn
November/30/2007
@ 3:21 pm

Tom, that’s easy â?? don’t put those you just adore up for voting. Many readers (all of them over a certain age, I think) are mad at me that they can’t vote against Lio, which they just hate beyond reason.

But we know Lio has some very loyal fans, it’s one of the most original strips out there and it’s growing nationally. (AND, we just adore it, to use your term.) We know we’re not going to get rid of it, so why put it up for a vote? It’s staying.

#25 Eric Burke
November/30/2007
@ 4:51 pm

Good call on Lio replacing Gil Thorp. I like the idea of Lio dispelling his wisdom to impressionable students like Gil did…

…and thankfully, Lio is drawn better.

Although how a mute kid dispels wisdom is beyond me. Hope he has an affordable text messaging plan…

#26 lefitte
November/30/2007
@ 5:36 pm

stay strong, thad. Good work. Lio is a great new strip.

#27 Rich Diesslin
November/30/2007
@ 6:50 pm

Thad, what is your take on the importance of the comics page in terms of sale of papers? Of course, we are heavily bias on this blog in thinking it is a major factor in the sales equation … how do you regard it … and how do you think the rest of the paper regards (or disregards) it???

#28 Malc McGookin
November/30/2007
@ 9:12 pm

“We know weâ??re not going to get rid of it, so why put it up for a vote? Itâ??s staying”.

Thad, this is what cartoonists want, or at least I do. Editors making up their own minds. You don’t take a reader vote on your feature writers, so why do it on your cartoon strips? Stand or fall by your own decisions, and don’t even use the reader input, it’s a waste of time.

I know editors who have dropped strips purely of their own volition and who have never regretted it, and I have been contacted by a cartoonist of a dropped strip who asked me to send in fake letters! The same guy then contacted bloggers in the area where his strip had been dropped nd whipped up a letter-writing campaign to get his strip back in the paper.
It worked!

I am trying to get editors to deal direct with cartoonists, to see if any of them will take on a strip they think has particular appeal in an exclusive deal, i.e. pay bigger to stop that strip appearing in any paper within 200 miles.
The strip then becomes associated only with the (say) News and Observer,- people can’t read it in the local freesheet OR on the internet. The cartoonist is free to publish his own work in books.

The cartoonist is also free to carve out the same deal with a big paper in another state, but once again, nothing must appear on the internet.

The right strip would end up making money much more quickly than with a syndicate, the paper has a unique feature that increases readership, it’s a win-win, surely?

#29 Chris H.
December/1/2007
@ 4:30 pm

Malc, readers’ opinion should still be a factor in editors’ decisions. After all, if they don’t have polls like this they probably would not be able to know if a strip that they’re paying to run is disliked. However, I agree that editors should have the final say on these things.

Mr. Ogburn, my cousins live in Raleigh and, after growing up with the same old stuff running in the paper, they were thrilled by the changes that you made. They especially liked the new strips you were bringing in, like “Pearls Before Swine” and “Frazz”; more recently they have been enjoying the guest comics they you have presented. Please keep up the good work!

#30 Dave J.
December/3/2007
@ 11:05 am

So, wait, NO ONE sees a problem with every strip in a newspaper being determined by a majority vote?? No one sees a problem with every strip having to appeal to the lowest common denominator?

I thought the reason that they ran dozens of strips was so that they can appeal to a vast cross-section of the audience. If the same 51% of comics readers votes for the same kind of strip over and over again, then you’ll end up with one kind of strip only and lose almost half your audience. Obviously that’s an extreme scenario, but it’s defended by the numbers.

But if you have some strips that appeal old and some young, some male and some female, some intellectual and some emotional, then you can get closer to pleasing everyone at least a little bit.

But these polls end up being about what people want to keep OUT of the comics page as much as anything else. Nowhere is it written that you have to like everything in the funnies, as much as you have to like everything that’s in the rest of the paper, or everything on TV or in a movie theater. That’s why there are many sections and channels and screens, so there is a selection. And that’s why there are editors and programmers and managers to make those decisions.

A good editor will have a certain amount of different types of strips to appeal to different types of readers. But, as in the poll in question, if you just lump all the strips together, then the ones that appeal to the broadest audience will win, at the expense of the strips that have a more niche appeal.

And that’s the editors job to know what appeals to whom, who is reading the paper, and what he or she can do to get those readers. Polls just let the inmates run the asylum.

#31 Wiley Miller
December/3/2007
@ 11:30 am

Well said, Dawn.
My question for editors has always been, if this is such a good idea, why is it only applied to the comics? Why not subject everything, including the editor’s performance, to a generic, unscientific poll like that conducted with comics.

No matter how much tap dancing they do around this subject, it all comes down to laziness on the part of editors regarding comics. Rather than taking the time to learn anything about the art form, much less make an analysis on why they carry comics in the first place, editors across the country continue to use the copout of polls to do their work.

#32 Beniamin Pachidermeanu
December/3/2007
@ 4:33 pm

Hey, I totally agree with Barlogea Corey and Pab. Mary Worth sucks. Does anybody else have the same opinion?

#33 Rich Diesslin
December/3/2007
@ 4:52 pm

Wiley, I would agree with you except that doesn’t seem to be the case here based on Thad’s comments. Do you see a problem with editors asking for feedback if they are just using it as one measure of effectiveness? I love the idea of applying it to the rest of the paper … I think it would be an eye-opener for most papers (and a hoot).

#34 Wiley Miller
December/3/2007
@ 6:49 pm

I was speaking in general, Rich. But if one is going to conduct a poll, it should be done in a serious manner as is done in marketing. Such is not the case in the how these comics polls are conducted. You can’t derive any legitimate information from them.

The first thing editors need to understand is what function comics serve. This will lead them to understanding why they carry comics. Once they understand that, it will lead them understanding the demographics that will help the paper build readership. Coupled with learning about the art form, then choosing new features, and which ones to drop, will be an easier task. Then if they still feel the need to conduct reader polls, they will be able to conduct them properly and be able to decipher them correctly.

These are things that editors long ago knew and understood and used the drawing power of comics to help build the newspaper industry. After all, comics were the creation of editors and publishers, not cartoonists. Precious few editors today, if any, have any understanding of comics and what function they serve as it’s not taught in J-schools. If any editor was truly serious about learning how to do their job regarding comics, they would get in touch with the NCS and ask for help. But editors never ask for help, as they fear it will be seen as a weakness. They would rather run meaningless polls to make it look like they know what they’re doing.

Again, I’m talking in broad generalities here, but it comes from many years of working in newspapers and with editors.

#35 Rich Diesslin
December/3/2007
@ 11:31 pm

Makes sense. Thanks for clarifying the issue. I guess we had a good, quick tutorial in the history at the recent festival of cartoon arts at OSU. I can somewhat understand them not asking for advice, but it’s unfortunate. I have the feeling that is symptomatic of the entire newspaper industry on all fronts. Perhaps they are proudly sticking their heads in the sand. I get the sense though that the News and Observer is at least sympathetic to the comics section and trying to reach it’s readers. I gather you feel that it’s still not being used as an integral strategy for the paper as a whole, thus they (the upper management) is missing an opportunity to optimize their use of cartoons (in a sales and advertising sense). Am I close?

#36 Wiley Miller
December/4/2007
@ 9:10 am

“I get the sense though that the News and Observer is at least sympathetic to the comics section and trying to reach itâ??s readers.”

Yes, and I neglected to mention in post that Thad is apparently the rarity with editors today, as simply being here indicates his willingness to learn more about the art form, which will make him a better judge of comics. Good on you, Thad.

#37 Marjorie Walsh
October/6/2008
@ 8:30 pm

I like “Mark Trail”; and sometimes I go bring in the paper just to see the next episode. I could do without “Heart of the City”, or “Over the Hedge”.

But I will really miss Mark Trail.

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