Survey says: Set the right example for generations to come |

Survey says: Set the right example for generations to come

It was almost a decade ago that one of my favorite comedians ever, Mitch Hedberg, was found dead in his New Jersey hotel room, a victim of a cocaine and heroin overdose.

Notwithstanding his ill-advised demise, the man was a comic genius. His never-ending string of one-liners and non sequiturs was stand-up at its best, and his unique delivery to make people laugh is one to be remembered forever.

One bit of his I always recall with a good chuckle is about escalators, which goes like this: “An escalator can never break — it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs.’ Sorry for the convenience. We apologize for the fact that you can still get up there.”

I was reminded of Mitch’s joke this week when a recurring issue popped up again. As some may know, from time to time I like to dip into my digital notebook and share random editor-reader communications and some “behind the scenes” work that goes into our daily operations.

I’m also a firm believer that it never hurts to revisit issues in an effort to explain things and remind readers of decisions, should our reasons get lost in translation over the months and years.

I had an interesting exchange Monday with a reader who sent me the following opinion via Facebook messenger: “It is very annoying that in order to read articles on your web page, readers are required to answer a stupid survey.”

The surveys he’s referring to are Google Consumer Surveys, which we launched on our website,, in June 2013.

Basically, when you click on one of our articles, Google asks you a couple questions. Once you answer, usually by two clicks or a few seconds of typing, you’re done for the next 24 hours. Sometimes, you can answer several, and then you’re not bothered by the surveys for a week or more.

In the months that followed, we got some calls and emails chastising our decision, and the word “annoying” was by far the most-used adjective to describe the surveys.

You know what? I agree. They are annoying. I mean really — does it matter if I do or do not use A1 Sauce on my meat? Or if I prefer a tablet over a smartphone when viewing celebrity photos?

I’ll be honest, when I get prompted to answer these questions (whether on our site or countless other media outlets), my first thought is of inconvenience, and I barely read the questions before blindly answering them.

But I do answer them, because I know I’m getting what I seek, and I don’t have to pay to get it.

Here was my response to Monday’s comment: “My apologies for the inconvenience these surveys have caused. We implemented the Google Customer Surveys several months ago as a way for us to gain a bit of revenue, while also not erecting a paywall. I know the questions are annoying, but we feel they are necessary, especially in lieu of charging for our digital content.”

To expand on that, as we informed readers last June, our intention is to continue providing a free service to our readers, rather than moving toward a “paywall” model, whereby previously free digital content requires a paid subscription to be viewed.

Further, according to Google, your answer is, “anonymous and … aggregated with all other anonymous answers to the question. It’s not connected with any information about you, and is not used to develop a profile or to deliver ads. Like ads on the web, some surveys may be delivered to you based on the interests and inferred demographics associated with your browser.”

Still, despite these explanations, I can definitely understand how things like pop-up ads, surveys and video ads that start playing audio as soon as you launch a page can be frustrating to negotiate.

But, as is often the case in this world — no matter if it’s a survey or a broken-down escalator — there are times when things we see as a convenience are altered. Some refer to them as “First World Problems.”

It’s how we choose to overcome those obstacles that can make a difference for generations to come.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. Reach him for comment at

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