Sunday, January 4, 2004

Comics: 15,000 readers help guide changes

By Sara Pearce
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After all the surveying, e-mailing, calling, mailing and faxing, our comics page changes debut today.

To recap: in the fall, we asked you to tell us which comics you read and which you don't. We had a record-setting response of slightly more than 15,000 readers to our highly unscientific survey.

We published the overall results in early December, and followed them up by asking you to read a week's worth of five comic strips we were thinking of adding - and to rank those strips in order of preference.We heard from close to 1,000 of you.

After pouring over all the results, here's what was decided:

• Out: Agnes, Cathy, James, Boondocks and Mary Worth.

• In: Red & Rover, Flo & Friends, The Hots, Frazz and Tina's Groove (read more about them below).

Changing comics is never easy. After all, every comic has its constituency - even comics that might not fare well in surveys. Even comics that are tired and no longer drawn by their creators. Even comics that you might loathe.

One person's laugh fest leaves another scratching his head. Personally, I adore Agnes. Apparently, I am among the few. You can see that on the chart below, which shows the rankings by age group.

In the past, when a comic did well in one age group that often helped save it. Mary Worth is a good case in point. In our last survey, Mary did well among readers of a certain age, so we kept the strip. This time, Mary did not fare as well.

For those wondering why we have kept the two strips with the lowest overall ratings - Doodles and You Can With Beakman & Jax - an explanation is in order. Those are Sunday-only, interactive comics aimed at the youngest readers - readers who typically do not fill out surveys. We may revisit the decision if we find better strips to engage those readers (feel free to send recommendations).

And for those outraged that the low-rated Doonesbury survived while Boondocks didn't, we made the decision to drop Boondocks because we did not want to keep publishing a comic that we regularly needed to censor. During the past year, Boondocks was substituted a number of times because it was deemed inappropriate for a family newspaper. And not just this family newspaper. Editors across the country were making the same decisions.

Our policy is that we publish a comic strip or we don't. Once we start pulling specific strips, as well as entire weeks' worth, it is time to drop that strip. Although Boondocks has its fans, many of you were uncomfortable with it, and at times we were, too.

Inevitably, readers also wonder why we don't carry some very popular comics, such as Get Fuzzy, or the daily version of Dilbert. The answer is simple: our competition, The Cincinnati Post, bought them first and nabbed the exclusive rights in this market. (To save our time and yours, a list of the Post's comics can be found below.)

To the hundreds of readers who will be writing me during the next few weeks, I offer this bit of advice: give a comic a six-month tryout, and then let me know whether you still hate it or love it.

In the Post

Before you ask, here's the "we can't publish them because the Cincinnati Post has them" list:

• Adam

• Betty

• Born Loser

• Curtis

• Dilbert

• Doonesbury (on the editorial page)

• The Family Circus

• Frank & Ernest

• Get Fuzzy

• Listen Honey

• Lola

• Luann

• Mixed Media

• Moderately Confused

• Mother Goose & Grimm

• 9 Chickweed Lane

• Non Sequitur

• Peanuts (classics)

• Sally Forth

• Slylock Fox

• Ziggy

Your ratings

We offered a mini-tryout of our five new comic strips in early December and asked you to rank them. We received 1,018 responses.

Here is how you rated them in order of preference:

1: Red & Rover

2: Flo & Friends

3. Frazz

4. The Hots

5. Tina's Groove


Sara Pearce
Assistant Managing Editor/Features
The Cincinnati Enquirer
312 Elm St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Fax: (513) 768-8330

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