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The wrong way to do polls

One of my biggest online newspaper pet peeves is user polls.

I brought this up the other day in a meeting. I thought it might be worth pointing out here as well because it applies to probably the majority of papers with online polls (at least the ones I’ve come across).

Things that annoy me about newspaper Web polls:

  • Why bury it at the bottom of the home page?
    I will never understand why the majority of these polls are tacked on to the bottom of the first page on the site. Think about it. When was the last time you scrolled to the bottom of a newspaper’s Web site, especially on the first page where the day’s top headlines, photo galleries, multimedia, special projects, forums, blogs and more entice you to click long before you ever reach that far. Chances are, it’s been a while. And chances are, if you actually did get to the bottom, you were looking for something in particular that you couldn’t easily find on the home page. I can appreciate that the home page is like the front page: valuable real estate. But, why bother if you’re just going to bury it? At least shuffle it so when it’s a particularly important topic, the poll gets higher play.

  • Why is there almost no context given to the question?
    You want to ask me how I feel about the head football coach resigning, fine. But, link me to the story so I can read it and feel I’m making a semi-informed decision. Or at least so I can follow up my vote with that story as you’ve now piqued my interest. Don’t make me do the work to find that story. Don’t make me think/search/go out of my way to find the article, event or whatever that sparked this question.
  • The polls don’t get included/mentioned in the stories themselves.
    Seems to me logical to include the poll with the story not just on the front page. I know this may be more technically difficult, but it would also get a lot more votes because anyone reading the story would see the poll. They’ve already expressed interest in the topic by clicking through to the story. They would probably vote just to see what their peers had to say. (Well, I would.) Even more of a pet peeve on this is when the sidebar on the story says, “Take our poll online.” And there’s no link or anything.
  • Publishing the results
    I think it was because representative samples was pounded in my head by my stats teacher in college. I don’t know, but publishing the results of the polls with out a disclaimer about how unscientific and unrepresentative the results are seems misleading. I don’t see them being quoted in stories or anything, but yeah. Actually, I remember the Record-Courier quoted a Stater poll once about students preference for semesterly graduation. No joke. Not only did they quote a highly unscientific poll (If I recall correctly it had only about 200 votes on it.), but they used the poll results from a different publication. When I read that in their story (which had lazy reporting anyway), I almost choked. Don’t do that.

I’m glad to get that off my chest.

3 Responses to “The wrong way to do polls”

  1. Dana Says:

    Great great great blog. I sent it to our Web coordinator to steal ideas from to make our online polls better. Thanks!

  2. Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » IndyStar does polls right Says:

    […] You’ll remember my previous post about the wrong way to do polls. […]

  3. Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » How do you play the print-edition stories online? Says:

    […] I found a photo gallery of photos from Edwards’ visit to Cleveland, including the one prominently displayed on the front page. But it had no link to the story. (A huge pet peeve of mine. Why would you not link to the story from the photo gallery? As with polls, I’ve already expressed interest in this topic. Make it easy for me to find out more. Yet many places omit that simple step.) […]