Dear friends

  • High Country Cody, named by reader after HCN

    Photo courtesy Jamie Green

"Depressing ... diligent"

Last spring we asked you to "give us a piece of your mind" by filling out our ninth annual reader survey.

We asked for it and you delivered: 1,820 replies (10 percent of the paper's readers) telling us what you liked, what you thought stepped over the line, what other newspapers and magazines you read, and giving suggestions for stories to cover and how to further develop our Web site.

First, a huge thanks from all of us here. All the surveys were passed around to staff, and associate publisher Linda Bacigalupi would round us up periodically to talk about what we were learning. Then the real fun - and occasional pain - would begin, as we'd take turns reading the hand-written comments aloud:

From Island Park, Idaho: "I will admit that I am often depressed after reading HCN. Your coverage of Big Sky, Mont., for instance, really got me down ... but I'm better off for knowing what's going on there. Just wish we weren't always going uphill. Finally, we like you guys so much we named our dog after you. His name: High Country Cody."

"I am obtaining a graduate degree at the Yale School of Forestry," wrote a reader in New Haven, Conn. "The only thing wrong with Yale is that it is not in the West. Whenever I get lonesome and homesick, I pull out a back issue of HCN and reread it cover to cover. Thanks for publishing a reminder of why I love my home."

From Missoula, Mont.: "I like the feature articles but find them too long and too detailed. This has turned my husband off the paper, but I still like it."

From Alpine, Texas: "I believe HCN has recently become too cutesy radical. You once had the reputation of being fair, but I can't say that anymore. Am not renewing my subscription - sorry."

As the surveys came in, they were tallied so that we could put together some statistics:

11 percent responding work as teachers or professors, while 3 percent are students; 8 percent are biologists or other scientists, 3 percent are attorneys and 14 percent have retired, some from federal or state agencies;

98 percent said they would not give up their subscriptions to read High Country News on its Web site;

77 percent said access to the Web site should remain free, though only 18 percent of those responding said they used the HCN Web site;

8 percent of readers responding said they always read National Geographic; almost 5 percent named Utne Reader their "must read;" 4 percent picked Audubon and close behind were Amicus Journal, Harpers, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Wildlands Review, Sierra, The Nation and The Economist, while almost 4 percent read a weekly news magazine such as Newsweek or Time;

59 percent said they gave to HCN's Research Fund;

72 percent said they "might" use information at the end of stories to learn more about an issue, or to become involved by commenting on an environmental impact statement or regulatory change; 24 percent said they do use the information at the end of a story.

No shrinking violets

What did the surveys reveal? Readers who responded have strong views, vivid personalities, a way with words, a sense of humor and a wide knowledge of things Western.

They told us to keep our base of support among readers rather than corporations and to keep making links on the Web to other groups. Washington, D.C., columnist Jon Margolis won some kudos for his quirky take on the lords of the universe, and readers slipped in some advice about expanding our coverage: "How about covering Texas?" "More on California." "Please cover Canada." "Please cover Alaska."

A sampling follows:

From Tucson, Ariz.: "I'd like to see a story on the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson. Who are these guys really? How much science; how much ideology?"

Boulder, Colo.: "I have only one caveat: sometimes your writers inject themselves too much in an article."

Santa Fe, N.M.: "Love your paper. It does tend to raise my blood pressure."

Ennis, Mont.: "You're our neighbor across the mesa."

Ajo, Ariz.: "Tsk, tsk, why did you publish a Navajo-Hopi land dispute article by a Navajo Times writer with no Hopi account?"

Albuquerque, N.M.: "I read High Country News for both information and entertainment. It is a special afternoon when I see the gray paper beneath a pile of mail."

Toledo, Wash.: "I believe your approach may help find some common ground and move away from the extreme polarity that exists today."

Palo Alto, Calif.: "You have a unique publication, and while I don't agree with you on all the issues - particularly mining - I appreciate the diligence and diversity."

Evanston, Wyo.: "Someday I'll stop by, buy you coffee and bend your ear."

Novato, Calif.: "My generation was lazy, self-absorbed and, sadly, just plain ignorant or greedy. Within my lifetime I have seen the damage and fought and grieved. Keep on fighting for the environment because no victory is ever complete."

Wilson, Wyo.: "It is painful to watch Western communities struggle to control rapid growth. I feel preserving ranchland is important to saving some areas from development. I know some ranchers want to have their cake and eat it, too, but I think grazing is less harmful than concrete."

Pacific Palisades, Calif.: "My favorite spot to read you is when I'm camping out 'in the West,' east of here."

Fraser, Colo.: "In the last year I have been disappointed in the declining quality of the paper; it seems as if the stories are becoming superficial and that the paper is printing sound bites."

North Hampton, N.H.: "You remain my main link to the West."

Paonia, Colo.: "Why is the news so depressing? Sometimes I have to take a break from it."

Salt Lake City, Utah: "Thanks for the coverage of the evangelical environmental movement. I hope that caring for our planet can be the vehicle for uniting people all over the globe. Your article encourages me that this will be the case."

Ward, Colo.: "I still read every word."

And we read every one of yours. We appreciate your feedback more than we can say.

*Betsy Marston for the staff

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