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Brief editor Gayla Marty in her office

Brief editor Gayla Marty

Brief readers reply

Report on the 2004 survey

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, March 16, 2005

Writing for a potential readership of 21,000 employees at one of the best public universities in the world every week, for me, is like walking a high wire. When I push the button to send Brief on Tuesday afternoon, I admit to some vertigo. But it's also an honor. I was a Brief reader for years, and I always liked it and found it valuable.

So when a reader survey was conducted last November, any trepidation on my part was overcome by the desire to know how this newsletter meets its readers' needs and how it can meet them better. My only real concern was that not many people would take the time.

I need not have worried. Nearly 2,900 completed the survey and hundreds wrote comments.

Brief profile

Circulation: 21,000
Target length: 1,500 words
Back issues: On the UMNnews Web site and at University Archives
Editors: Maureen Smith (1970-2000), Rick Moore, Pauline Oo, Jason Sanford, Gayla Marty (since February 2004).

Survey respondents

Twin Cities 85.4%, Duluth 6.7%, Morris 2.1%, Crookston 1.0%, Rochester .6%, other (research stations and extension centers statewide) 4.3%

Type of employment: Civil service 36.9%, P&A 24.6%, bargaining unit 15.3%, faculty 11.9%, other (mostly graduate assistants) 11.2%

Years at the U: less than a year 8.6%, 1-2 years 12.3%, 3-5 years 21.2%, 6-15 years 25.9%, 16+ years 31.6%

These numbers match actual U employee demographics closely for most areas.

The survey was administered on the Web for one week, November 5-11, 2004. It had been four years since the last survey, and a little more than a year since the paper edition of Brief was discontinued in September 2003.

The good news is that Brief received positive ratings from a large majority--84.4 percent of all respondents and nearly 90 percent of those who said they read it regularly. It also ranked high in importance among various campus sources of news and information. Of the respondents who wrote comments in response to the question, "How would you like Brief to change?", 144 asked that no changes be made or they gave positive comments.

"I always look forward to reading Brief and enjoy learning about what goes on all around the U in the different campuses and departments," wrote one reader. "And I'm happy that quite a bit of news is available in one central place with links. Thanks for organizing the news this way."

Still, some readers--even regulars who were glad to see the paper go--miss the old coral-colored sheet. "I could read it while walking up the stairs from my mailbox," one reader wrote. "The e-mail Brief competes with dozens of other e-mails every day, so I give it only a few seconds out of the time I reserve for e-mail." Loss of the paper edition was the most common complaint among the 199 respondents to the survey who said they don't read Brief. But that was less than one percent of the survey respondents.

If I had hoped for a great consensus about how to improve Brief, I didn't get it. What I did receive and welcome was a broad range of suggestions for many small and not-so-small ways to improve:

It's important to put Brief in the context of how communications have changed in the past decade. While a large part of the readership has worked at the University for more than 16 years, Brief remained largely unchanged for 30 years. But with the advent of e-mail and the Web and media technology--and with U employees at the forefront--we now get more news and information than ever before and receive it faster. Expectations about timeliness and other factors have risen.

Brief has become a way to deliver information that often is published in detail and readily available on the Web. Brief is also a way to deliver the kind of content that is now part of the Web-based UMNnews. Some things about Brief will continue, at least for now. It will continue to give a big-picture snapshot of the U for the people who work here, and to be the primary employee update for the Twin Cities campus (Crookston, Duluth, and Morris all have additional employee e-mail newsletters).

Over the next few months, you may notice changes to Brief that we'll make based on survey results, and we will appreciate your feedback.


Gayla Marty is a senior editor in Communication Services, Office of the Vice President for University Relations. She can be reached at

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