Last week, we conducted a formal survey of our readers just to check in and see how we’re doing. And by and large, you all seem to be pretty happy with Midwest Energy News. We’re grateful for that feedback.

The full results can be found here, below is a summary that hits the high points.

Granted, only 141 people completed the survey, that’s a decent response but still a pretty small slice of the thousands of readers we reach every week. But the demographic information you provided matches pretty closely to our own internal analysis of our email digest subscribers, so we consider the results to be more or less representative.


Not surprisingly, most respondents had some connection with the energy industry, and were from the Midwest. The top six states for responses were:

Minnesota, 32%
Illinois, 21%
Wisconsin, 10%
Ohio, 8%
Iowa, 4%
Washington DC, 4%

California, Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota had 2% each; Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington state had 1% each.

And by occupation (total is only 99% due to rounding):

Policy / advocacy / NGO: 29%
Other: 25%
Other energy business: 14%
Utility, co-op or other energy provider: 9%
Media/communications: 8%
Government or regulatory: 7%
Academia: 7%

It should be noted that some of the “other” responses include occupations that fit the other categories.

Also, 73% of respondents do not follow Midwest Energy News on social media — 17% are on Twitter, 5% on Facebook, and 5% follow on both.

Overall impressions

80% of respondents agree or strongly agree that Midwest Energy News is useful in their professional lives.
81% agree or strongly agree that MwEN is accurate, 95% agree or strongly agree that we are timely.
63% agree or strongly agree that MwEN is fair and unbiased, only 10% disagree or strongly disagree.
63% of respondents read the email digest daily, another 23% read it more than once a week.
75% agree or strongly agree the email digest is useful in their professional lives.
74% agree or strongly agree that the daily digest is comprehensive.
70% agree or strongly agree that the daily digest is their primary source of regional energy news.
83% agree or strongly agree that the daily digest is engaging to read.

Daily digest format/timing

82% like the story summaries as they are, 12% want them longer, 3% would rather have just headlines
91% say to continue sending the email digest at (or near) 8 a.m. Central Time, 4% say earlier, 1% say later

Bottom line: It ain’t broke, so we have no plans to fix it.

Room for improvement

Finally, a lot of people offered additional comments and suggestions. I’ll address some of them here.

Comment: “[Send email digest at] 6-7 a.m. before business gets rockin’ “

Response: The email digest takes about two hours to compile and format each morning, I’m afraid to see what the results would look like if I tried to write it after getting up at 4 a.m.

“Better copy editing”

As a former copy editor, I’m tempted to be offended, but I 100% agree. It’s a good idea to have at least two sets of eyes on every article, but typically I’m the only editor on everything we publish. Our long-term plan includes hiring a second editor.

“Create an easy way for current readers to encourage others to subscribe.”

Just recently, we’ve started including a link at the bottom of each day’s email digest where new subscribers can sign up, there is also a box on the home page. Referrals make up a significant chunk of our new subscribers each month, thank you to everyone who’s suggested Midwest Energy News to a friend or colleague.

“How about an editor’s column by Ken? Would like to hear his opinions on topical issues.”

Flattered! Longtime readers may recall the Highwire blog, upon which I regularly pontificated on the energy issues of the day. But that was a time-consuming effort and, relative to our readership, I’m not really an expert in the subject matter. As we added more reporters and redesigned the site, we dropped the blog so I can devote more attention to editing.

“More information on legislation and potential legislation.”

Agreed. This is, like most things, a resource issue, but we’ll try harder on this one.

“Get more public feedback regarding the issues, take accurate polls from the public.”

Scientific polling is very expensive and a stretch even for big news organizations. I don’t see anything like this in our near future.

“Make it easier to search the website and the digest history, to sort stories by topic. Consider tagging headlines from digest stories by topic (e.g. coal, clean energy, efficiency) so that an archive of the headlines can also be searched.”

This was something we did with our original format — each digest story we aggregated had its own page on the website. But it was also time-consuming, so we let it go to free up staff time as we added more reporters. Each day’s email digest is archived on the site, though. And we’ll keep this idea in the hopper to revisit in the future.

“Perhaps some ways beyond the comment section for interaction with readers?”

At the moment Facebook and Twitter are the only other channels we use (we have a Google+ page but haven’t updated it in a long time). Readers are also free to email me anytime they have a question or concern. We’ll keep looking for more and better ways to stay in touch with readers. Ideas?

• “The coverage feels a bit biased toward the left. Also, more coverage of North Dakota oil production would be nice.
• “Less biased.”
• “Remove/address the obviously liberal, pro-man climate change bias. You would be more credible. Otherwise, I read and discount about 1/2…use your info as a starting point to find the truth.”

It’s no secret that Midwest Energy News is the product of a network of environmental nonprofits. My personal bias is toward clean air and a stable climate (although I’m fairly agnostic as to how we achieve that), and I make no effort to conceal that.

That said, we strive for credibility, and the survey results show we’re doing a pretty good job of that. Interestingly, diving deep into the survey data we found that even the handful of readers who consider Midwest Energy News to be extremely biased still find it to be a useful and valuable resource.

Everyone views the events of the day through a different lens, so it’s impossible to please everyone on the question of bias. Comments and feedback are always appreciated, particularly if we’ve done a story an injustice by overlooking key information.

And regarding the “pro-man climate change bias,” around here we call that “science,” and while other news outlets will attempt to balance science with non-science, we feel we owe our readers better than that.

Also, because our resources are limited, we try not to duplicate existing media coverage when possible. Outlets like the AP and Forum Communications are doing a great job covering the North Dakota oil boom, and we regularly link to their coverage in our daily email digest.

But again, I want to emphasize that the door is wide open to anyone to suggest stories we should either pursue on our own or include in the daily digest. I’m always grateful for these tips and guidance.

“Provide PDF formats for important stories to be copied and used in education/lobby work.”

Good suggestion. Since we don’t have any ads or much other site furniture, you can print directly from the website and get a pretty clean copy. But we’ll look into a more printer-friendly option.

• “The font size damn near kills me every morning. Is it 7 pt?
• “It is easier to read with spacing between topics.
• “Your email strips out apostrophes. In today’s, for example, ‘won’t’ became ‘wont.’ Can you fix that? Thanks.”

It’s difficult to anticipate how different email programs or web browsers will display the digest. It displays fine for the vast majority of users, but if you have an issue with the format, please let us know – if something appears to be a recurring issue we’ll try to resolve it.

“More coverage of [insert topic here]”

It’s a daily balancing act to make sure we don’t lean to heavily on particular topics, and I regularly refer to our email and site analytics to get a sense of the things that people are most interested in.

Again – suggestions on story ideas, as well as links you feel should be included in the daily email digest, are always welcome.

“Keep up the good work!”

By far the most common feedback was some variation of this, and I want to thank each and every one of you for helping make Midwest Energy News successful. We can’t do it without you.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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