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Stanford Report's popularity increases over the past three years

A recent readership survey showed that the majority of people who read the daily email found it "useful," "easy to read," "engaging" and "inclusive."

Despite email boxes filled with missives from near and far, Stanford Report is more popular today than it was three years ago when the university converted the daily newspaper to an online publication, according to a recent readership survey.

"It is encouraging to report that response to Stanford Report is more favorable now than it was in 2010 in almost every way measured," wrote Jerold Pearson, the director of market research at the Stanford Alumni Association, who conducted the survey on behalf of University Communications and analyzed the survey results.

Pearson said readership is "greater and more thorough now than it was three years ago," with 84 percent of staff, faculty, emeriti and postdoctoral scholars opening Stanford Report "every or most days," compared with 72 percent in 2010.

"And 50 percent now say they open it every day, compared with 40 percent three years ago," he wrote in an 18-page analysis of the 2013 Stanford Report Readership Survey.

Pearson said the readership figures may give an overly rosy picture of readership, since recipients who don't read Stanford Report are more likely than readers to have simply not participated in the survey.

Stanford Report, which is delivered to email boxes Monday through Friday, generally includes three feature stories – with brief summaries – illustrated with photos.

In addition, the publication includes campus announcements; highlights from the university's events calendar; an "In the News" link to a story about Stanford in the outside press; and The Dish – a blog about Stanford people "on the move and in the spotlight." It also includes display advertisements and a link to the Stanford News Service website, as well as links to classified ads and jobs.

Today's Stanford Report readers are more likely than their 2010 counterparts to read most or all of the feature story summaries; to discuss stories with someone else; to forward Stanford Report or a particular link to someone else; and to visit the Stanford News Service website, the survey showed.

The university officially launched the online edition of Stanford Report in the fall of 2009, after the print edition of the same name ceased publication in June of that year. It is sent automatically to faculty, staff, emeriti and postdoctoral scholars. Students, parents, alumni and other community members can subscribe voluntarily.

Invitations to participate in the survey – conducted Jan. 24-Feb. 11 – were sent to a random sample of 5,284 Stanford Report recipients, including staff, faculty, emeriti, postdoctoral scholars, students, parents and alumni, as well as people with no Stanford affiliation who subscribe to the publication – a wider audience than those surveyed in 2010.

The Stanford Report audience of 2013

A total of 1,631 recipients participated in the 2013 survey. A random sample of 1,631 has a 95 percent confidence interval of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points about any one reported percentage.

Among those who responded to the survey, 61 percent said they held staff jobs at Stanford and 13 percent held faculty positions.

The survey showed that most readers opened Stanford Report in the morning, and that reading the email was an "every day" or "most days" ritual for 85 percent of respondents.

"Eighty-two percent of readers say they usually read at least some of the feature story summaries, including 28 percent who said they usually read most or all of the summaries," Pearson wrote.

"Eighty-three percent of readers say they clicked on a feature story in the past week or so – and no other link comes close to enjoying such widespread usage," he added.

While all respondents were included in the overall results, Pearson only compared responses from staff and faculty, because there were too few respondents in each of the other categories to look at them as discrete groups for purposes of analysis.

"Staff are more likely than faculty to say they open Stanford Report at least most days (86 percent vs. 75 percent) and they are also more likely to say they open it every day (53 percent vs. 35 percent)," he wrote.

Most readers who responded to the survey – 94 percent – said they read Stanford Report on computers, followed by smartphones (28 percent) and tablets (16 percent), such as an iPad. While the likelihood of reading Stanford Report on a smart phone decreased sharply with age, the likelihood of reading it on a tablet increased with age. The likelihood of reading Stanford Report on a tablet is also greater among faculty and men.

"It is really gratifying that Stanford Report continues to be a credible source of information for staff, faculty and other members of our community," said Stanford Report Editor Elaine Ray, who is also director of campus communications. "We will pay close attention to the suggestions that have emerged from the survey, whether regarding content, balance or the mobile experience."

Readers share perceptions of Stanford Report

More than 80 percent of readers said the publication was "easy to read," "useful" and "engaging," and 60 percent agreed it was "inclusive."

The survey asked readers if they wanted more, less or the same amount of coverage in eight topic areas: research, controversial institutional issues, dissenting views on institutional issues, health and wellness, human interest stories/profiles, university affairs, arts and athletics.

"Although the exact figures differ, the underlying story is the same for all demographic groups – the majority of readers within each group feel the amount of coverage Stanford Report gives the areas tested is about right, and the rest are much more likely to want more rather than less coverage – except of athletics," Pearson wrote, noting that 21 percent of respondents said they would like less coverage of sports, compared with 13 percent who indicated that they'd like more.

The survey also asked respondents to rate how well Stanford Report was meeting its editorial objectives in 10 categories.

"At least 8 out of 10 readers feel it does at least a good job at all 10 of the objectives tested, and 95 percent rate it excellent or good overall," Pearson wrote.

Respondents rated Stanford Report as excellent at:

  • Highlighting the impact Stanford scholars have on the world (44 percent)
  • Presenting an interesting mix of stories (32 percent)
  • Serving as a credible and balanced source of Stanford news (29 percent)
  • Informing them about campus developments (27 percent)
  • Informing them about campus events (26 percent)
  • Informing them about the ways that faculty, staff and students engage in community and public service (24 percent)
  • Reflecting the diversity of people, interests and points of view on campus (24 percent)

Those with university affiliations said Stanford Report was excellent at enhancing or reaffirming the pride they take in that affiliation (35 percent) and at enhancing or reaffirming a sense they are part of the Stanford community (32 percent).

Open-ended comments from readers

The last question in the survey was: "Are there any ways Stanford Report could better meet your needs, or do you have any other feedback to share with us?"

It was an offer 475 people couldn't refuse.

Some longed for the days of the Stanford Report print edition; others were grateful for the ability to read the publication on smartphones. Some said they would be more likely to read the publication if it came less frequently; others said they were happy it landed in their email boxes every weekday morning.

Some readers said they wanted more coverage of specific topics, ranging from more stories about staff to more up-to-date information about construction projects.

"Letters to the editor might be interesting," one reader wrote.

"I think it would be interesting to have some articles highlighting 'pro-con' views on campus or academic issues once in a while," another reader wrote. "Open dialogue and exposure to varying opinions are inherently valuable to our growth as an institution."

"There has been an increase in stories highlighting the work of humanities faculty at Stanford, but I would like to see more," one reader wrote. "While the work going on in the sciences is of course exciting and sexy and our professors win awards because of them, I feel there is an overwhelming preponderance of these articles and, dare I say it, I get a little tired of seeing so many articles on every latest scientific breakthrough. More stories highlighting the work of our historians, philosophers, classicists, linguists and literary scholars, please!"

"I admire Stanford biological research, especially the expanse that it covers," one prospective student wrote. "So I would like more stories involving those advancements. Plus, I enjoy getting an inside view into seminars or interesting courses taking place! I want to walk onto the Farm and feel like a current student!"

Some readers said they wished Stanford Report would address controversial issues.

"A touch more attention to controversy would help, as would greater coverage of scholarly debates and disagreements," another reader wrote.

Parents who subscribe to Stanford Report said reading the publication helped them feel connected to their children's lives on campus.

"It keeps me up to date with the activities of the school and makes the family part of the Farm," one parent wrote.