From the December 2005 Idaho Observer:

We asked and you responded—magnificently

With the November edition we sent out a questionnaire asking IO subscribers for feedback about "The Aurora Project." The questionnaire was to "Our real friends and family—subscribers to The Idaho Observer." That wasn’t just words to us, it’s how we feel and, judging from the responses and the amount of thought that obviously went into many questionnaires that came back, there is a real sense of family among us. Some of us have been together from the beginning (January, 1997); some of us have been with each other for several years and some of us have only just recently become acquainted. In all cases, we are growing and learning and puzzling our way through these very strange times. We all want to be more effective and among us is this phenomenal array of intelligence, compassion, honor and experience. Though we were ready to expand and become more innovative in our approach to solving the riddles of this increasingly perverse world, it was inconceivable that we would do so without first consulting you. And, bless you all, you gave thoughts, comments and advice to us like the family you are. ~(ILC, HH, RS, JDW and DWH)

compiled by The Idaho Observer

We were thankfully flooded with responses to the questionnaire we inserted in the November 2005 edition of The Idaho Observer. Although most of the responses appeared to be favorable to transitioning to a new name and format, many responded as though the decision was already made and were supportive with "whatever" we decided to do—trusting that we had enough resources to make it work. On the other hand, many of our loyal subscribers were not only apprehensive about a name change but shared their heartfelt appreciation for The Idaho Observer in its present format and at its current price.

One of the reasons for seriously considering a name change, one that has been on the back burner for three years now, is the amount of support we have received nationwide, which also keeps us in print. We have also wanted to establish regional reporters and be a newspaper that networks positive activism. We have been told that having "Idaho" in the title of our newspaper has prompted some would-be readers to respond to Idaho Observer distributors with comments such as, "That is an Idaho paper, and I want news from Pennsylvania (or wherever)." (We simply respond by stating that we are "observing" and reporting nationally and internationally from Idaho).

Nevertheless, it is also apparent that our name and reputation as The Idaho Observer, is established and so, as several subscribers said, "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

We received over 150 returned questionnaires (and they are still coming in). Many respondents did not answer all the questions in terms of "yes" or "no" and a few questionnaires ended up being sent out without a 2nd page (sorry about that). All in all, we are gratified that so many subscribers responded so honestly. There was such a thick thread of mutual trust, respect and experience connecting the entire project that we expect all involved to benefit from the exchange—for as long as the ink flows and the postman delivers.

The results

1. In order to have a more national appeal, is "The Aurora" a good name change for The Idaho Observer?

63% — YES ; 37% — NO

2. "The Aurora" is intended to transition into a magazine format (in several steps) and eventually cease to be printed as a newspaper. This will entail more pages of content and a higher quality publication. A magazine is more attractive and a longer lasting communication medium than the newspaper format. Would you like to see this format change?

78% — YES ; 22% — NO

3. Transitioning The Idaho Observer to a magazine format will involve higher publication and mailing costs. Would you be willing to pay more for a magazine format?

72% — YES ; 28% — NO

4. Our plan is to stand out in the vast array of highly colorful, graphically impressive, magazine racks by presenting a simple but enticing black and white cover with "olde tyme" style. Does this approach appeal to you?

77% — YES ; 23% — NO

5. If "The Aurora" had broader-spectrum appeal, would you be willing to help promote its placement on magazine/newspaper racks in your area?

33% — YES ; 67% — NO

6a. One of our visions is to host a nationwide campaign to hold reporters personally accountable for their stories. Would you locate and forward provably inaccurate stories to "The Aurora"?

73% — YES ; 27% — NO

6b. Would you be willing to respond to journalistically-inaccurate stories by inundating the culprits with faxes, letters, emails and phone calls intended to shame them back to honest reporting?

70% — YES ; 30% — NO

6c. Do you think that deluging deceiving reporters with phone calls, faxes, emails and phone calls while publishing their correspondence on the Internet would begin to shame them for prostituting lies that harm people?

39% — YES ; 61% — NO

6d. Would it be a good idea to turn the accumulation of "corrected" stories into a monthly column, highlighting certain reporters and publishing their faces and contact information?

88% — YES ; 12% — NO

7. If "The Aurora" contained more cartoons, more contests, more satirical humor, more historical revisionism, more eloquent quotes and some interesting recipes, would your circle of friends and family members be more encouraged to read it?

42% — YES ; 58% — NO

7b. Would it be easier for you to introduce it to them?

34% — YES ; 66% — NO

8. "The Aurora" plans to develop an extensive interactive web site including archives, articles, activistic methods of engagement, and a web site video program. Would you use "The Aurora’s" online interface?

41% — Frequently ; 21% — Rarely ;

38% — Never

Regarding the proposed name change, we received a lot of feedback and some interesting alternatives to The Aurora:

"Although the name Aurora sounds good to me, in Wisconsin Aurora is an ever-growing chain of hospitals, and growing fast. They buy out small drug stores, small clinics and even battle to compete with large hospitals to gain their business."

"The name Aurora is okay but I’m not wild about it. In fact the U.S. government has a new secret aircraft named The Aurora. It has a hybrid pulse engine that leaves a vapor trail that looks like donuts on a rope."

A couple people likened the proposed name to a high school yearbook, while one subscriber found it such a jumble of vowels that he imagined "Aw-rah-ruh" as a response to a dental hygienist when your mouth is being worked on, or a rah-rah cheer that would be used at a football game.

But the main complaint was that The Aurora had no meaning for the masses, hence the appeal of the publication would not be enhanced by the name change. While over a dozen people preferred our current name, The Idaho Observer, several came up with renaming our publication The National Observer, The Patriotic Observer or The American Observer. There were other suggestions too numerous to list all of them, but the most humorous one, submitted in all seriousness, was "The Penetrator."

The most thought provoking for not transitioning to a magazine format was from Kansas:

"There are just too many magazines out there such as The American Prospect and Mother Jones. Mother Jones is fine for a magazine but that is part of the problem, they are just magazines. And newspapers are newspapers. Solid. It could be such a thing as they, newspapers, are so much a part of our social makeup, we Americans don’t recognize that! But there is a solidness about newspapers, that not only implies a certain image of believability, and this is the weakness also. For if a newspaper, then one tends to account what is read as gospel, much to the disinformation experts advantage. ‘I read it in the paper, therefore, it must be true.’ And magazines, no matter how fine or classy, like the old Look or Life magazines, just are in a different category and do not have that credibility behind them."

Regarding the possibility of increasing the cost of subscriptions if we went to a magazine format, there was a lot of concern indicated that our presently failing economy, coupled with the fixed revenues of many subscribers, would not support such a publication. We were reminded over and over again of what happened to Media ByPass and the number of magazines and newspapers, that have gone out of business.

There was a lot of excellent and sobering feedback in this area of consideration. It is clear that a lot of cool heads think this is not the time to make any major changes but, instead, focus on networking important resources for our readers.

Many suggested that we provide a networking page, posting conferences and events nationwide along with important Internet resources and suggested reading for specific topics. This is something Ingri has wanted to do for a longtime so this will be a new page for the January 2006 edition.

Regarding holding mainstream reporters accountable, many felt that it was the wrong approach to flood deceiving reporters with phone calls, faxes, letters and emails. Afterall, it is reactionary rather than proactive, and most mainstream writers have editors who are compromised. Don’s experience as a reporter for The East Oregonian is a testimony to this being the case. However, many appreciated the idea of citing provably incorrect information in dominant media articles and doing a monthly column showing their errors by countering them with fact-based information.

Many took offense to the idea of "The Aurora" possibly appealing to more people by having more cartoons, satirical humor, more eloquent quotes, interesting recipes and historical revisionism.

"Stay objective and away from sensationalism. Keep it clean, smart, true and informative. This is serious business. Don’t compromise or cheapen it. Keep integrity in reporting."

While many people liked the idea of more historical revisionism and eloquent quotes, it is clear that most subscribers prefer "a no frills" approach, with more energy put into accurate reporting of news they won’t find elsewhere.

Many people also commented that it is difficult to get the masses, including their family and "friends" to read anything, let alone a publication that counters what they hear on the nightly news or in their local newspapers. As one subscriber put it:

"As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, and most people are so damn brainwashed by big media lies that they can’t seem to recognize truth."

The heartfelt appreciation we received from our prisoner subscribers must be mentioned. It should be noted that the majority of our prisoner subscribers are provably innocent; in for a drug-related, victimless offense; framed and/or railroaded into prison.

"I have been a subscriber to The IO for two years now. During that time I have shared my newspapers with many fellow inmates. Their response has been overwhelmingly positive. Black, white, Muslim, Christians – all tell me what a great publication The IO is, and ask to be put on the list to read the next one. There are currently 15 – 20 regular readers, all supporters. Keep up the good work."

"The torture Irwin Schiff is experiencing is cruel but far from unusual. His conditions will not improve once he is moved to the allegedly ‘soft’ conditions of federal prison. From grim experience I know that zero consideration is given to prisoners because of age or infirmity. Medical (lack of) care is third world caliber and many prisoners go home in boxes because of it. A cardiologist prisoner who watched three people die needlessly told me, ‘if you get sick here, you will die here.’ Chains, leg irons, handcuffs and strip searches are common, even for ‘low’ and ‘camp’ prisoners, during transfers, as are extended stays in administrative segregation, known as the ‘hole.’ No misbehavior necessary."

This last quote from a prisoner’s response was added for a reality check. We also wanted to let all our prisoner subscribers know how much we value their contributions to The IO and will not raise our "special" rates for them unless our printing and postage costs increase.

Finally, the questionnaire was not intended to be used as a democratic vote for us to decide what we will do next. What it was intended for, and clearly accomplished, was to give us the kind of feedback we needed before we took another step into actualizing Greg Szymanski’s dream of a magazine, and using The Idaho Observer subscriber base as a means to get his magazine off the ground. We have learned a lot in this process, and not just from your feedback.

Finally we want to say "thank you" from the bottom of our hearts for the time and energy many of you put into answering our questionnaire. So many of you went beyond just simply answering the questions with a check by "Yes" or "No", but put much critical thought and analysis into your detailed responses. We read every single one of them and have incorporated each response into our final decision, which is to put The Aurora project and any major changes on hold.

Thank you—for everything. We could not exist if it were not for you and there would be no reason to stay in print if it weren’t for you.

At this point it is appropriate to end with this thought: If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what your plans are.

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Hari Heath

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