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Newspaper survey missed the mark by a mile!

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Fri Feb 20, 2015

The local newspaper readership survey conducted by Systematic Marketing & Research Services Inc (Systematic) in December 2014 missed the mark by a mile!

If one believes that the readership of SEARCHLIGHT at the time of the survey (October 31, 2014 to November 21, 2014) was 68 per cent of total newspaper readership, as Systematic claims, then one also believes, as the people at Systematic seem to,{{more}} that the readership of a newspaper is limited to those people who read it in paper form.

If one believes that the readership of SEARCHLIGHT was 68 per cent, then one also must believe that nobody in St Vincent and the Grenadines reads I Witness News — a strictly online publication — whose readership locally is zero per cent, according to Systematic.

Between 2004 and 2014, again according to Systematic, the total local newspaper readership in St Vincent and the Grenadines went from 80,659 to 64,900 – a fall of 15,759 persons. There has been no similar fall off in the population according to the 2012 census, so are we to believe that 20 per cent of the population has stopped reading news? Far from it! They, like people all over the world, continue to read news publications, but not necessarily those bought at the news-stand; they read them online and on their mobile devices.

This is one occasion on which beating up on the messenger is absolutely justified, for in this case, Systematic, for reasons known only to them, continue to use a methodology to determine readership which has been abandoned by respected pollsters all over the world. Their position is unenlightened, to say the least, for according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism 2012 State of the News Media report, a more modern way to look at newspaper audience is to measure a paper’s total reach in print and online.

The Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS), which is the most definitive and respected benchmark in determining readership of the print media in Ireland, said in 2012 they began using a “new approach” to newspaper measurement and data collection. They say their questionnaire was “redesigned and extended in order to accommodate and differentiate between Print and Digital readership. It now includes online newspaper measurement….”

According to the JNRS, the first set of questions on the questionnaire are defined as being for printed newspapers, while online reading was specifically excluded, until asked for later in the questionnaire.

To measure online readership, the questionnaire prompts respondents with all of the ways you can access newspaper content online: “whether directly via a newspaper website or indirectly through links posted on other sites such as Facebook or Twitter or through newspaper apps on your mobile device, or looking at an electronic replica of the printed newspaper that a subscription is paid for.”

The JNRS say this represents a change from previous questioning, where the newspaper readership media platform was not defined. Prior to June 2012, “it was left to the respondents’ own interpretation as to whether they were referencing print, online or both, when answering these questions.”

Systematic still uses that outmoded approach.

SEARCHLIGHT has had an online presence since 2004. Since 2005, we have sold online subscriptions, and increasingly, these subscriptions are being bought for and by people living in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Our newspaper intensified its marketing of online subscriptions in 2013, when we launched our e-paper, which is an app that delivers — to smart phones, tablets and computers — an exact replica of our print edition. We also have a significant Facebook presence.

Between 2011 and 2014, the number of people living here in St Vincent and the Grenadines who purchased online subscriptions with SEARCHLIGHT grew by almost 100 per cent and according to Google Analytics, of online readers of SEARCHLIGHT during the period the survey was done, the third largest group – 15 per cent — were people who logged on from right here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Contrast this with the newspaper that topped the local newspaper readership according to the Systematic poll. They have ZERO online presence, so the outmoded survey conducted by Systematic captures their total readership, but short-changes the two other newspapers that publish both in print and digitally. It stands to reason therefore, that SEARCHLIGHT, the hard copy newspaper with the fastest growing local online readership, would see a corresponding fall in people who read the print edition.

SEARCHLIGHT intends to continue to encourage readers to subscribe to our online edition. Should Systematic not update their methodology to measure the TOTAL reach — both print and digital — of our local publications, we expect that future readership polls done by them will become more and more unreliable.

As for the Upper Income demographic deserting SEARCHLIGHT, as was screamed last week by a false and misleading headline, characteristic of The News newspaper, even with the shift in our readers to online platforms, we would hardly call having 92 per cent of that demographic (46 people) an act of desertion! That publication itself polled 47 readers in the upper income category (94 per cent). We guess they were deserted too! Speaking of desertion, why didn’t The News let on that, according to the survey, they have 7,100 fewer readers than they did in 2012? They can’t say these people went online. What’s their explanation?

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