Survey results show support and room for growth

The Charlotte News is all about community, and this community came through when we asked about the issues facing this town, and how the paper is covering them.

Thank you to the hundreds of people who responded to our survey about the issues, the paper and the future for this town. Nearly 200 people, to be precise, which means we have an extremely high confidence level that the results reflect the views of our entire readership.

Folks were generous with their write-in comments, which added important detail and context to their answers. 

The board and staff are analyzing the survey results now and deciding how your views will shape the paper and website. In the meantime, we want to share these findings with you, as we promised when we began this process.

Respondents were overwhelmingly happy with the current mix of articles (84 percent), and they offered dozens of opinions on topics we cover too frequently or too infrequently, as well as additional story ideas to explore. For example, one reader said, “I would like to know more about local businesses in our town.” Another wrote, “There is very little, if any, coverage of what the planning commission is up to.”

Of course, many of these suggestions are particular to the individual respondent. For instance, we heard from some who usually read the outdoors and gardening articles and some who usually skip them. Nonetheless, a few themes emerged from the write-in suggestions.

  • Many Charlotters want fewer “soft” articles and more “hard” coverage of the news, especially town government. 
  • Quite a few people are uninterested in school sports, although some acknowledge that parents with school-aged children may feel differently.
  • Generally, respondents enjoy profiles of fellow Charlotters, pieces on town history and information about upcoming events. There is interest in more stories on farming, long-time residents, younger people, people doing key jobs in our community and local businesses.

We asked how people read The Charlotte News because we want to know how important the hardcopy version of the paper is to our readers, particularly because printing and mailing are two of our biggest expenses.

  • Nearly half of respondents say they read the paper both online and in print. Almost 43 percent read only the hardcopy version while 8 percent read it only online.
  • When we asked if you would read the paper if it were available only online, almost 90 percent said they would. Ten percent said they would never read the paper online.

Slightly more than half of respondents had no opinion on whether The Charlotte News is doing better on conflicts of interest. Perhaps this is unsurprising since most of the changes are more about how the paper manages itself than front-page stories. For those who did have an opinion, about a third saw improvement while 8 percent noticed no significant change. Two percent said the paper had declined in this regard. To learn more about our conflict-of-interest policies, you can check out the paper’s masthead and the website’s “about” page.

A whopping 80 percent feel the paper’s quality has improved — from reporting to layout to design. Nearly 20 percent say it remains about the same whereas fewer than 2 percent say the quality has declined.

A series of our questions were designed to help us plan for the paper’s financial future. An overwhelming number of Charlotters say they are willing to donate, volunteer or both — or that they already do — to help keep our nonprofit paper alive and thriving. Seventeen percent are unwilling to donate or volunteer.

For those willing to donate, almost 70 percent say they would give between $1 and $100 annually, and 18 percent would give more. Fewer than 14 percent are unwilling to donate.

Just under 80 percent of respondents say they are willing to pay for some form of The Charlotte News — hardcopy, online, or both — if it becomes impossible to continue providing the paper for free. Still, over 21 percent say they would not pay for the paper in any form:

  • For those willing to pay to keep the paper in operation, two-thirds replied that they would pay between $1 and $10 a month, with an additional 11 percent willing to pay more.
  • Almost 12 percent said they would not pay any amount for the paper. It is unclear why this figure differs from the 21 percent mentioned above.

We concluded the survey with a few demographic questions. Our town tracks with the rest of Vermont by trending older: More than 75 percent of respondents are 61 or older while less than 20 percent are more middle-aged:

  • We had only one respondent under age 20, and we applaud her for her civic engagement and constructive suggestions.
  • Most respondents — over 60 percent — are long-time residents and over three-quarters are permanent residents. Nearly 20 percent have lived here for fewer than 10 years.

We will continue to keep you, our readers, informed on how we factor the survey results into the paper’s content and management. We welcome a continued dialogue with readers on how to make our paper even better — more responsive and more relevant — to your lives.

We wish to reiterate our thanks to all who completed the survey and congratulations to the five people who won prizes in a random drawing designed to encourage participation. A final thanks to these Charlotte businesses for their generosity in offering the prizes:

  • Richard Stowe — a $100 discount on a cord of firewood from R.H. Stowe Firewood
  • Richard Tenney’s — a $30 gift certificate from Tenny’s Snack Bar & Bottle Redemption
  • Diana McCargo and Peter Swift — a $250 gift certificate from Philo Ridge Farm
  • Peter Trono — a $100 gift certificate from Fat Cow Farm
  • Bill Regan — a one-hour kayaking, cycling, or cross-country ski clinic from Regan Leadership LLC.