New research on the nature of letters and their writers.Late last year, some of my colleagues at Ohio University Ohio University, main campus at Athens; state supported; coeducational; chartered 1804, opened 1809 as the first college in the Old Northwest. There are additional campuses at Chiillicothe, Lancaster, and Zanesville, as well as facilities throughout the state. and I finalized See finalization. a national telephone survey project intended to find out what demographic groups are the most likely to write letters to the editor and see their letters published. The survey itself was conducted in 2003, and asked 1,017 adults about their newspaper reading habits, their letter-writing habits, and basic demographic information (age, sex, income, education, etc.). Keep in mind that the findings are general to the entire U.S. population, and may not describe your specific community (unless your community is statistically average).
Among the more interesting findings of the survey were:
* People over the age of 45 were twice as likely to have written a letter to the editor as were people under 45. The most active letter writers are between 45 and 54 years old (42 percent of respondents In the context of marketing research, a representative sample drawn from a larger population of people from whom information is collected and used to develop or confirm marketing strategy. in that age group claimed to have written letters, compared to 35.3 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds and 17.8 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds). That same 45 to 54 age group is also the most likely to have had their letters published.
* People with household incomes above $40,000 a year were the most likely to write letters, with about 30 percent of those with incomes of $40,000 to $60,000 and 30 percent of those with incomes of $60,000 to $80,000 writing letters, and 40 percent of those with incomes above $80,000 writing. Although a similar percentage--36 percent--of people with incomes below $10,000 also wrote letters, when looking at people whose letters get published, higher income seems to be a major factor: 25 percent of those with incomes above $80,000 had their letters published, compared to just 13 percent of those with incomes below $10,000.
* Education level was a very significant factor in determining letter writing and letter acceptance, with the rates of both increasing considerably when compared with education levels. Only 9 percent of those with some high school wrote letters, and just 4.4 percent had their letters published, compared with 32 percent of college graduates writing and 18.5 percent of them seeing their letters get published. The most prolific--and successful--letter writers were people with advanced degrees: 45 percent of people with advanced degrees had written letters, and 27 percent had their letters published.
* Rural residents were marginally more likely to write letters than their suburban and urban counterparts (32 percent of rural residents reported writing letters, compared to 26 to 28 percent of urban and suburban residents). However, rural residents were twice as likely to have their letters published than were urban residents (20 percent compared to 10 percent, respectively).
* Partisan and ideological differences had little bearing on letter writing. Republicans were only slightly more likely than Democrats to have written letters and have them published, and liberals were only slightly more likely than conservatives to have written and have gotten published. (Interestingly, we found that there are a fair number of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats In American politics, a Conservative Democrat is a Democratic Party member with conservative political views.
21st century Conservative Democrats are similar to liberal Republican counterparts, in that both became political minorities after their respective political parties .) A more telling factor was the strength of ideological positions--strong liberals and strong conservatives were a bit more likely to write than were centrists.
* As expected, newspaper readership habits had a strong impact on letter writing and letter acceptance. People who read newspapers at least four days a week were considerably more likely to write letters than people who read only three days or fewer (34 percent to 19.5 percent). Readership has a dramatic effect on letter acceptance: 20 percent of those who read newspapers at least four days a week got their letters published, compared to just 8 percent for light readers.
* Whites are much more likely to write letters than racial minorities, 31.4 percent compared to 11.2 percent (the remainder did not identify their race). Whites had their letters published 28.5 percent of the time, compared to just 4 percent for minorities.
We also ran some analyses of people who hadn't written letters. Half said they wouldn't write letters under any circumstances, but just over a third--35 percent--said they would write letters if their names could be withheld. Among that subgroup sub·group
1. A distinct group within a group; a subdivision of a group.
2. A subordinate group.
3. Mathematics A group that is a subset of a group.
tr.v. of "did not write letters" people, we found:
* Some 37.5 percent of women who did not write letters would write if their names could be withheld.
* Nearly half (44 percent) of city dwellers who hadn't written said they would consider writing if not for "must sign" policies.
* Nearly half of those aged 18 to 44 (44.5 percent) said they would consider writing if their names would not be published.
* Considering income, about half of those with low incomes (below $25,000) and half of those with high incomes ($80,000 or above) expressed interest in writing "name-withheld" letters.
* Racial minorities were much more interested in writing "name withheld" letters than were whites, with nearly half of non-whites who didn't write--46.1 percent--saying they would write letters if their names could be withheld.
Overall, the findings support what past research has found: that most successful letter writers tend to be middle-aged, upper-middle-class college graduates who are avid AVID Cardiology A clinical trial–Antiarrhythmics Versus Implantable Defibrillators that compared the effect of implantable defibrillators vs the best medical therapy–antiarrhythmics for survivors of MI or those with nonsustained ventricular tachycardia newspaper readers--in a lot of ways, they fit the same demography demography (dĭmŏg`rəfē), science of human population. Demography represents a fundamental approach to the understanding of human society. as many editorial page editors (except, of course, for income--you all clearly deserve a raise).
Having been a letters editor myself, I know that being the "referee" of the forum is a constant struggle to try to be open-minded and as accommodating as possible to letter writers from all walks of life. I also know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to know about a person's income, education level, or race just from reading a letter (although one could argue that the better written a letter is, the more likely the writer has had a pretty good education). But as our survey indicates--and past research has shown--in the end it seems that our letters sections are not the egalitarian e·gal·i·tar·i·an
Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. , democratic forums many of us want them to be, but rather forums for the educated middle class.
As I have written before in The Masthead mast·head
1. Nautical The top of a mast.
2. The listing in a newspaper or periodical of information about its staff, operation, and circulation.
3. and elsewhere, I do believe that a major barrier to many under-represented letter writers are "must sign" policies. Granted, opening the doors to anonymous letters would generate activity among the wildly irresponsible ir·re·spon·si·ble
1. Marked by a lack of responsibility: irresponsible accusations.
2. Lacking a sense of responsibility; unreliable or untrustworthy.
3. and petty members of the audience (which is why I enforced a "must sign" policy during my days as an EPE EPE
equine pituitary extract. ), but relaxing a "must sign" policy doesn't remove the trash can In the Macintosh, a simulated garbage can used for deleting files and folders. The trash can keeps the files intact in case the user wants to restore them, but can be "emptied" from time to time to save disk space. as the best forum for libelous In the nature of a written Defamation ,a communication that tends to injure reputation. , vulgar, and irresponsible comments--whether those comments are signed or anonymous. But rather than focusing so much time verifying names, letters editors might be better off spending that time looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. the most interesting opinions, and be willing to run a "name withheld" letter now and again to make the forum more inviting for women, city dwellers, young adults, and racial minorities.
Those who are most likely to have letters published
* Age 45-54
* Income $80k+
* Advanced degrees
* Rural residents
* Read 4+ days per week
EDITOR'S NOTE Editor's Note (foaled in 1993 in Kentucky) is an American thoroughbred Stallion racehorse. He was sired by 1992 U.S. Champion 2 YO Colt Forty Niner, who in turn was a son of Champion sire Mr. Prospector and out of the mare, Beware Of The Cat.
Trained by D. : This article is based on research published in the Fall 2004 issue of Newspaper Research Journal, in the article "Age, Wealth, Education Predict Letters to the Editor" by Bill Reader, Guido Stempel III of Ohio University, and Douglass K. Daniel of The Associated Press Associated Press: see news agency.
Associated Press (AP)
Cooperative news agency, the oldest and largest in the U.S. and long the largest in the world. in Washington, D.C.
Bill Reader is an assistant professor in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism is one of five schools in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Its director is Thomas Hodson, who is also an associate professor within the school. at Ohio University. E-mail reader See e-mail program. @ohio.edu