Looking for Answers

Ken Del Rossi

In our data-driven society, where number crunchers try to divine the fortunes of everything from presidents to peanut butter, the survey has become the standard method for measuring success. By now, is there anybody in the country who hasn’t been asked for his or her opinion by a polite person guaranteeing “this will only take a few minutes?” (Usually around dinnertime.)

Thank goodness, some folks still answer their telephones. We’re grateful to the 600-plus Stanford alumni who participated in our reader survey in September.

Stanford magazine conducts the survey every three years to gauge readers’ preferences and assess how well we’re meeting their expectations. Most of the answers have been remarkably similar since we first did the survey in 2001. But rather than bore you with all of the ways in which you praised us—92 percent rate the magazine “excellent” or “good”—let’s spend a moment or two discussing areas where you thought we could improve.

The appetite for stories that convey activity going on in the University’s labs and institutes is voracious. Almost a third of the survey respondents said they would like more articles on research. This mirrors closely percentages from previous surveys, which tells us that despite devoting additional pages and attention to research, we can do much more. There is no shortage of stories to tell.

About one in five readers said they would like more stories about Stanford history and traditions. About one in five said they wanted more sports (and 14 percent said they wanted less). And another one in five were eager for more about alumni authors and artists. All of which points out one of our inherent challenges—satisfying the diverse tastes and sensibilities of 195,000 readers whose primary point of convergence is their Stanford association. Those readers span an 80-year age range, represent every imaginable political, religious and ethnic background, live in all U.S. states and dozens of foreign countries, and are pulled in many directions by family, work and civic obligations. We can’t give all of them everything they want, but we can strive to hit a sweet spot in coverage, tone and personality that makes the magazine engaging and relevant.

Taken in total, our survey results validate what we have always believed—that our magazine must exemplify the University that births it. Like Stanford, our pages must be populated with interesting, accomplished people. It must boil with ideas. It should have a sense of humor. It should respect and honor what has come before, but keep its eye fixed on what’s around the next corner—just like Stanford. And we need your help to do that.

So thank you to those who took time to answer our questions and offer suggestions. It helps us get closer to that ideal place.

Apologies if we interrupted your supper.

E-mail Kevin