Why not do a comics survey?

Question: Why doesn't The Spokesman-Review run a survey asking its readers which comics they would like to see? And exactly where does this "positive buzz" come from -- the nation, the community, the S-R offices? Don't misunderstand. We like Berke Breathed and read "Opus" every Sunday. But it is a matter of priorities: it just isn't worth cutting out some other good strip just to make it fit. There are several current strips that we really don't care about and all of your other readers would surely say the same. But it would seem only fair that the subscribers have some say in the comics we see. Is a survey so difficult? Seems to me I remember a couple of "big-city" papers running them. Please consider it. -- Lynn and Eric Walker, Ritzville

Answer: Comics surveys are notoriously unreliable. For one thing, they tend to skew heavily to older readers. For that reason, the classic comics, including the old soaps, will always score near the top in terms of positives. Newer, edgier strips will score near the bottom on positives and near the top on negatives. For example, in nearly every comics survey of recent years, "Dilbert" has recorded relatively heavy negatives in relation to positives. But how can any contemporary newspaper not run "Dilbert?"

By survey standards, we would not be running "Doonesbury" (or "Mallard Filmore" daily). Yet that strip will be the most important strip to a great many readers. A well-intentioned decision earlier this year to drop "Doonesbury" and Mallard" from the daily paper produced a relatively large number of subscription cancellations. No one has dropped the paper to date because we dropped "Piranha Club" on Sundays to make froom for "Opus."

I stopped trusting comics surveys some years back when, at another paper, survey results persuaded me that "Cathy" had run its course. My decision to cancel resulted in more than 3,000 calls and letters and an admonition from Oprah Winfrey.

In the end, the best course is to trust the what we hear from folks through e-mails, phone calls and letters, to follow national and industry trends and to try to respect all of our readers, not just the loudest few. As I've said before, it is an imperfect process, not a science. And there is no way to satisfy everyone.

As a journalist, I've always found a certain irony in the fact that no decision we make -- from determining front page content to endorsing presidential candidates -- generates as much response, passion and anger as comics decisions. -- Steve Smith, editor

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