I surveyed Premium edition readers to see what they might come up with to improve This is True — what would make it more of a “must-read” for them? This page reports on the results of the 3-question survey …and they had a lot to say — it’s long! There were a lot of comments, and a fair number of suggestions.
In all, there were nearly 1,100 survey responses, which represents a very large percentage of the Premium audience — certainly very “statistically valid.”
The survey was done on SurveyMonkey.com; the participants are anonymous unless they chose to identify themselves, in which case I included their first name if I chose to include their comment below.
About How Long Have You Been Reading This is True?
I wanted to get a general idea of how long each respondent had been reading True — free and Premium. (The last option was cut off in the summary screen: it was “Since it was called “This Just In”. [Why the name changed in April 1995])
Nearly 2/3 have been reading for 6-15 years. Wow! True readers like to stick around! Just a few upgraded less than a year in, but 12 percent are in the 1-4 years section.
What Parts of TRUE are “Must-Read” Sections for You?
(Not all sections are included every week.)
A multi-part question that asked what parts of the newsletter they typically read. They had the choices of “Always Read” (shown below as green), “Usually Read” (yellow), and “Rarely Read” (red).
The surprise here wasn’t that 98-1/3 percent read the stories. The surprise was that 14 (1.25 percent) “Usually” and 4 “Rarely” read them.
PHOTOS that Accompany Stories (e.g., mug shots)
Nearly 87 percent Always or Usually look at the pictures. (Some noted that their email doesn’t support such inline photos.)
…CLICK the Photos to See Larger
Only 49 percent Always or Usually click to see the photos larger.
Headline of the Week
Just over 96 percent Always or Usually read the Headline.
94.5 percent Always or Usually read the Author’s Notes in general.
Nearly 80 percent Always or Usually read the Reader Letters.
Just 62 percent Usually or Always click to read Blog Entries.
Randy’s Rants on Various Subjects
Fully 93.5 percent Always or Usually read Randy’s Rants.
Randy’s EMS (rescue) Stories
And 93.5 percent Always or Usually read the Rescue Stories; this was the most-commented-upon feature after the Honorary Unsubscribe.
Monthly Tagline Challenge SETUP
Nearly 87 percent Always or Usually read the Tagline Challenge Setup (where the story is given, so readers can submit tags for it).
Monthly Tagline Challenge RESULTS
And just over 88 percent Always or Usually read the results.
Just under 60 percent Usually or Always read Reviews.
The Latest Jumbo Joke entry link
Not quite 62 percent click through to the latest Jumbo Joke entry, though many commented that they see them elsewhere — links on Facebook, RSS, or signing up for the email notification.
Ten Years Ago in True link
Only 66 percent click through to read the story I chose from Ten Years Ago, though several commented they didn’t need to read it, they read it 10 years ago!
The Honorary Unsubscribe
Just three percent rarely read the H.U. They’re missing out on the uplift at the end of the issue!
Other (please specify)
Readers called out the Errata Page, notice of any new Get Out of Hell Free products or deals, True‘s Facebook page, the Subject line, and their expiration date (“Don’t want to miss out.”)
Optional: What Could Randy Do that Would Make TRUE Even More of a Must-Read for You?
(And any other comments you’d like to make, including what you DON’T like.)
**Your input is ANONYMOUS unless you give your name/email here.**
There are a lot of comments and suggestions below. The first section has replies to each, and are numbered so that you can see where you are, and refer to them (if you have a question or comment, for instance).
There were an astounding 495 comments/suggestions, and I read through every one. I’ve tried not to have any duplicates: after answering a question or suggestion, I’d often find a dozen more just like it, and they were skipped in an attempt to keep this somewhat reasonable in length (but most of you will think I failed in that!) In all I’ve included 79 of the comments/suggestions, and replied to the first 67.
A large number of the comments were along the lines of “perfect!” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There were many asking for even more stories (and a few with contrary opinions).
Note: I was three-quarters of the way through before I discovered that the survey company presents them in reverse order (newest first). I’m not going to try to reverse them now….
The second section has just a few other comments that stood on their own, without needing replies. Note I removed most of the gratuitously lovely compliments. -rc
- I will read every issue anyway, but I wish you could find a way to reach more of our younger (teens) people in order to promote the idea that independent thought is a valuable thing for all of us. Thank you for the years of entertainment and for encouraging old bastards like me to think too! –Richard
RC: Boy, me too. When True got started 20 years ago, college students made up a big portion of the Internet user base, and they subscribed in droves. Some are still reading, but “kids today” are less likely to use email. Pretty much, the best way to get younger folks to read True is to give them an issue to read — they tend to love it once they get past that it’s (ick!) reading.
- I am so glad to see you keeping ZT in the forefront of what you do. I have railed against this (and the idea that “self-esteem” is something that can be given instead of earned) ever since it became an excuse to not think. I don’t call to mind seeing you post any disagreeing comments after one of your ZT posts. It would be awesome if you could find anyone involved in the ZT incident who would/could attempt to present their side of the issue; somebody who would attempt to go to bat as to why ZT is a “good” thing.
RC: There has been disagreement, and praise for ZT, but not much, and not lately; it’s hard to argue with truly overwhelming evidence. There are a couple pro-ZT comments on my main ZT page — search that page for “Not all of it, however, was supportive” and read for a few paragraphs.
- An interesting addition could be when you discover an exceptional product or service that you have discovered. This would not be a regular component unless you regularly discover new products that you are impressed with. I don’t intend for your mention to be an endorsement, but if you mentioned you loved a new item, e.g. Sonic’s new flavor milkshake, or Heinz Siracha Ketchup, that would be fun.
RC: Well, that’s what “reviews” are, but they’re fairly rare. The most recent is here, and there was even a movie review once (for Avatar). I could do more, but indeed it’s hard to find a truly exceptional product!
- Of the above “always reads,” I have read some of the EMS stories multiple times, usually a quick read and later a more careful reading to catch the details. I also appreciate when you write in the newsletter that you have added updates to a prior story–any story.
RC: Indeed it’s hard to find updates to stories. There are few when I take the time to look, and I can’t take the time very often when there are 10-14 stories every week. But when they come to my attention, and the update is interesting and/or relevant, I do, at the very least, pop and update into the story file so that when the book is published, it’s included.
- I’d like to see a periodic compilation of some of the “unsubscribe” emails you get. You do include them on some subjects that garner many responses, but I’m sure you get many that would be entertaining or illustrative to your readers in their own right. Many years ago, there was a woman (I think) who unsubscribed in a huff. I no longer remember the context, but I’ve been waiting these many years to do the same.
RC: A compilation of cranky letters doesn’t sound very compelling to me (which response may make you go into a huff and unsubscribe!) When there’s one that’s amusing and/or illustrative, then I do publish them as part of the entertainment content. And then I move on….
- Font size. I find This Is True tougher to read because of the font size. If we could make the font larger on our end, that would be great.
RC: You can make the font larger on your end. I don’t specify any font size, and never have. Why not? Because that could override the settings YOU have on your mailer or browser. In other words, the font size defaults to what is set on your own mail reader or browser! And that is the proper way to do it, don’t you think? Try hitting Ctrl-+ (Control plus) for a “temporary” change in many programs. (Control-minus goes smaller, and control-zero goes back to default.)
- I’d like to see one of the old Stella items, as you do with Jumbo Joke, in each news letter. Guess I am pushing for a revival of Stella. 😉
RC: Not gonna happen, sorry. That means I’d have to take the time to post them online so that I could link to them, which means maintaining the web site, etc., for pretty much no pay for the time and work being done. And it might detract from sales of the True Stella Awards book, which is still available and the best place to read them, since they’re in context, with any updates available at publication time, and has my conclusions at the end. All in one place. The book says everything I have to say on the subject, which is why I let the project end in the first place.
- Simple[?] request. revamp slightly the subject title of each item, that you may alphabetize based on the first word. That way when I go back to reread what I should have read more thoroughly the first time [my bad] it is easier to find.
RC: No. That just stilts the titles or, worse, screws up the flow between stories, which is sometimes subtle, but (when there is a logical progression; not always the case) is definitely a part of the entertainment value of the full publication.
- I know that you are American, but True has a worldwide circulation, and often particular Americanisms or references make a piece nigh on incomprehensible. I’m not alone in this viz the Australian who asked about HOV lanes (I didn’t know what it stood for either, but guessed the meaning from context). I realise that we don’t always pick up on turns of phrase etc which are peculiar to our own country (unknown unknowns!), and there is always the risk of sounding patronising by over-explanation, but sometimes I have to go over a piece, or more often the tagline, more than once to try and get the intended meaning. Otherwise, my opinions don’t always coincide with yours, but I still enjoy True very much, even if frequently it serves to make me despair of the human race! The older I get, the more I feel that one lesson which seems to be missing from children’s education (by school or parents) these days is to take responsibilty for their own actions and lives.
RC: Yes, I know I make cultural references, and as an American, the culture I know is an American one. My goal has always been to have True be half U.S.-based stories, and half everywhere else, but I can’t find enough stories in English to do it. (I do accept story submissions and have often mentioned that I particularly need stories from outside USA, but I don’t get very many such submissions.) Too, my audience is 85 percent American. Yet even then, not all of them grasp every allusion and reference (but the ones who do typically love how it’s worked in!) All that said, if you don’t “get” a tag and can’t figure it out, it’s OK to write, just as the Aussie did who asked what HOV stood for — High Occupancy Vehicle, a typical U.S. designation for “car pool lane”.
- Hi. Love the weekly mental stimulation. One suggestion would be to put a link to source material. Sometimes I’d like to read the original article. Keep up the great work. –Marty
RC: Hi Marty. I did experiment with that several years ago. Readers generally hated it. They said they didn’t need to see the source, and when several readers did click the links to see the original article(s), found they were no longer available, behind paywalls, or other impediments, just making the whole exercise frustrating. Plus, more links increase the chances of unfair spam-filtering of the issues.
Worse, it was a lot of extra work on this end. I’d rather spend the work time on giving you all more stories, which is part of the reason that Premium went from 6-9 stories/week to 10-14 stories/week. I can bet that if I took a poll, the vote would overwhelmingly favor more stories than links on fewer stories.
- I really can’t think of a thing that would make TRUE more of a must-read. Good job! Love this newsletter (I’ve been subscribing since 2000 – the start of my office life). Some of these stories just make me foam (the stupidity!) but the comfort is in knowing that other people are also incensed. And sometimes, really, it’s a pleasure to know that there are other intelligent people out there (I currently live in Brownbackistan, and believe me, sometimes it’s quite easy to doubt the existence of intelligence. Or empathy). Thanks again! –Lisette
RC: For readers who don’t know, Brownbackistan refers to Kansas; named for Gov. Sam Brownback, Brownbackistan is “A pseudo-Christian fascist state where the arts are not publicly funded, women’s reproductive rights are relentlessly attacked, public school funding is drastically cut, voter suppression laws make it nearly impossible for new voters to register to vote, and social services are turned over to evangelical ‘Christian’ groups, all done with the backing of the Koch brothers.” (Urban Dictionary)
Yes, one of the attractions of True is knowing that 1) while we all do stupid things sometimes, “I’m not that stupid!” is a common reaction to many stories, and 2) it is nice to know there are a lot of others who also feel that way. And I’m glad to provide that assurance!
- Make it a webpage, include an option to download it as a pdf. Overall though I think you are doing a fantastic job with it, and I can live with it the way it is if it is too time-consuming to change. We all have to have lives! I do enjoy reading your rescue stories, so maybe you could add more of those? I really like the idea of making it a webpage with everything in one spot, but I know that would be a LOT of work, maybe too much.
RC: It could be done with software, but here’s the problem: I’d have to assign login/password info for every reader, because as a paid service I have to limit access to those who pay for it. So then we need an authentication system that knows what issues you’d be allowed to access, and then what would you see? The same format that those with HTML-able email (about 95-99 percent of readers) already see. So again, a lot of resources taken for minimal benefit.
- More positive stories. Sometimes reading about dumb criminals just gets depressing. There were some good examples in this week’s newsletter: the accidental wedding invitation, the young boy who was fascinated by garbage trucks. Having a balance makes This Is True more appealing to me. Thank you for all of your efforts with it.
RC: By its nature, “weird news” does tend to be more negative, with dumb criminals and stupid politicians (I know: hard to tell the difference!) But do read the blog post about True‘s Focus — if you’re depressed about dumb things in the newsletter, you may be missing its point. And yes, the next comment really is the next to come in after yours….
- Hi Randy, I’m Kamarulzaman from Malaysia. I have truly enjoyed reading This Is True for almost 11 years already. You have managed to inspire, make me laugh, cry – in short a whole gamut of emotions but most important of all, your entries made me think that this world is not made up of absolutes: black or white. There are shades of gray everywhere and it is up to us to figure it out. Wish I could contribute stories from my country which I know would fit exactly on the ridiculous ZT principle (Malaysia’s archaic Sedition Act) but I might be hauled up for sedition if I were to do so.(!) Lastly, keep the stories coming and my very best wishes to you and Kit.
RC: I’m going to guess you’re only partly kidding that you could be arrested. I do occasionally run stories from Malaysia, but I’d like more, just as I’d like more stories from just about every other country! Because indeed, humans act like humans everywhere.
- While you understand exactly what you have read and have a good idea about the characters and activities involved…. *sometimes* your rendered versions are really hard to follow about who is getting what done to who or what or why. It might be benificial to give your copy to a non-spouseal reader to see if the stories make sense and are easy enough to follow before sending them out. Yes I know you have a deadline and time is of the essence and this is only a suggestion.
RC: Yep, deadlines are pretty tight, and sometimes Kit misses things — and so does the other person I have do a readthrough. Neither of them are “professional” editors, though, so maybe it’s time to see if any Premium readers have professional experience and want to volunteer to do a readthrough between Sunday midnight and Monday noon. (Please email me if you’d like to volunteer, rather than post a comment below.)
- Not sure what else you can do, as I read every word of every issue, click all the links, look at all the pictures. I think the size is just right, so wouldn’t want it any smaller or larger. A thought did occur to me, though, when trying to answer the first question of this survey. I have no idea when I started with This is True, so I just estimated that answer. Perhaps you can put a subscribed on date at the bottom of the newsletter where you put the subscription end date. Obviously not something that is earth-shattering, but would be nice to know. Thanks! –John in Henderson, NV.
RC: I could do that, but that would only show the Premium start date, and not help with how long anyone was on the free distribution. It would also not reflect any lapses in the Premium subscription — and some have lapses of ten years or more! So it’s a little unclear that it would really be all that helpful. As for question 1, I was just looking for a general range anyway, to see what the reader’s experience with True was, for both Premium and Free.
- The only thing I’d like to see change would be for the “Premium” version of TRUE to have been emailed by early Monday morning. I always enjoyed reading the free version after getting into work and getting past some furious first-thing-Monday work in the first hour or two of Monday morning. I understand that the premium version may take more work (since there are more stories), so maybe that’s the reason.
RC: No, the reason is, I need all day to get it ready! Pretty much, I send it out as soon as it is ready, which is generally somewhere between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., my time.
Sunday is the day I write the stories, and edit and integrate the stories from the two contributors, generally three from each, which means I write (usually) six stories myself, and edit six. I can be done anytime from about 6:00 p.m. to midnight.
So what do I do Monday? Find, research, and write an Honorary Unsubscribe. Sometimes I spend two hours to find …no one. (Other times it comes right together, and I’m done in an hour. I love those!) I choose a story from 10 years before for the “Ten Years Ago in True” section, and write a tease for it. I write any other commentary, blog posts, and such. I work with my assistant to make sure any upgrades and renewals that came in over the weekend are processed before the issue goes out, so they’ll all get it! I format, massage, and get everything ready to go, including uploading any included photos into the “cloud” so that they’ll not only be there when you open the issue, but when the issue goes out and “everyone opens it at once,” it doesn’t crash any servers.
Monday is a busy day, and there’s no way for me to get the issue out earlier.
- Please keep any liberal and/or “politically correct” bias out of the comments after the articles. The comments can be humorous without injecting that bias into them.
RC: Interestingly, and I’ve said this many times over the years, I’ve been accused of being both a stinking liberal and a heartless conservative. So guess where the “bias” actually is?
- I liked it better when all your comments, rants, infos etc. were included in the newsletter. Now, most of the time you only include a summary and a link to your blog for the full text. The blog is fine for those interested in readers comments (which I never read) but the newsletter should have the whole meat IMHO.
RC: It’s hard to keep the balance, and maybe I need to survey this question, but without any introductory material — just the questions/comments and their answers on this page, up to this point, is 3,000 words. And I’m nowhere near done, and haven’t written the intro yet. And, of course, that doesn’t count the space and data transfer needed to include photos or other illustrations, which are often included in blog posts.
I know many will be quite interested in this Q&A, and others won’t care one whit. So should this have all been included in the newsletter, illustrations and all? I sure don’t think so, and I’ll bet the majority won’t think so. But it sure is easy to click a link and bring it all up, for those who are interested.
- Honestly, fewer stories. Before submission was opened up to other authors the quality of the stories was higher & there were fewer of them. This meant TRUE was a quick must-read. Now it’s so much longer & some of the stories feel like filler or don’t conform to (my idea of) what TRUE is all about. For example in issue 1085 the story about the garbage truck or the uninvited fundraiser, they didn’t do anything for me & didn’t feel like “bizarre-but-true news” in the usual TRUE way. For me, TRUE is at it’s best when it reports on something ridiculous, like trying to steal an entirely rack of jewellery, or when it’s something outrageous, like the ‘Sodomite Suppression Act’. As a much longer read & it often means the issue goes unread when it arrives then lost in the inbox. I didn’t answer the survey last week because I never got round to reading the issue, it’s still unread somewhere way down the list. That being said, I’m still a fan of TRUE & a premium subscriber & I don’t have any plans to change that.
RC: I definitely intend to survey the readers about this — specifically about having other contributors. Interestingly, I wrote the garbage truck and “uninvited” wedding guest stories, and a contributor wrote the jewelry story, so one just never knows! But yes, I will indeed survey about this later.
- I LOVED that you had a Kiwi (New Zealander) for your Honorary Unsubscribe recently!! I wish you had more stories from New Zealand and Australia. Do you accept story suggestions? How would I do that? Thanks for everything you do. Tarsha, New Zealand
RC: Yes; see this page for story submission info.
- I was turned on to true by the weekly video Randy used to do, and was very sorry to see it go. It was particularly entertaining the week with the autocorrect story (clbuttic mistakes), hearing Randy pronounce some of those words with a straight face was something else…
RC: You are, literally, the first reader to ever say they subscribed to True due to the videos. Nice to hear there is at least one. And that’s the problem: there was no discernable “return on investment” (of time and money, both of which were significant) to make the videos, even after giving it every possible chance. Even most readers didn’t watch them. So it was simply time to move on. Sorry!
- I realize it could be a lot of hard work and I’m not asking for all the stories but some of them just really cry out for what happened in the end. In this week the story on the women committed to mental hospital for apparently telling the truth. Obviously many things do not have any follow up but perhaps if you could get your IT guy to create a script for you that would periodically search the original source for anything different than the original story? Even if it’s just on some of your pet peeve stories like the ZT stuff.
RC: As noted above, I do watch for updates, and sometimes actively go looking for updates. But for the story you mention, for instance, it was about a just-filed lawsuit. Typically, lawsuits take 4-7 years to fully resolve. (Yep, some get thrown out quickly — and others take longer!) The real world is a lot more messy than TV: things don’t get resolved in 22 (or, in the case of an “hour-long” show, 42) minutes. Worse, even when they are resolved, the resolution is often not “news” and thus doesn’t ever appear in the media for us to find.
- Because so many enjoy Randy’s point of view – why not offer a bimonthly “subject matter lottery” so-to-speak where readers can nominate a subject matter and Randy can select a topic to write about? It might prove interesting. Maybe that’s a stupid idea. Haha but I would enjoy it. The best read I have each month!
RC: If it’s a true lottery, then the subject is essentially “random” — and I just can’t find much value in trying to write about things I have no passion for. As I find subjects that I do have passion for, sometimes it takes me awhile — months, even — to think it through so that I can present it with fully thought-out logic. For instance, my Guns in America: Why? essay, designed to explain to foreigners why Americans have such “a thing” for guns, was backburnered for weeks or months before I wrote it, using a story from that week to get it started. Yeah, I write something like that in about an hour, but it takes a lot of thinking first before I sit down at the keyboard!
- It’s already a must-read, I’m not sure where else to go from there 🙂 The parts that I don’t read are mainly the things that I already get elsewhere, like Jumbo Joke (which would be in my RSS feed if it provided one, but I get the notifications by email instead).
RC: The Jumbo Joke RSS feed, as noted on the site’s front page, is http://www.jumbojoke.com/index.rdf
And it’ll be news to some that you can get a quick email notification when an item is posted. The signup form is in the upper right of the JJ home page and the lower left of each individual joke’s page. There’s a signup to get an email every time I post to my blog, too.
- I miss issues sometimes lost in email. If there was some way to get rss to read in my feedly reader…
RC: …then anyone could read it without paying.
While I understand that it is possible to have a secure RSS feed so that only current subscribers could read it, I’m dubious that very many would understand how to read it, and be enough to pay for the development time (or outside service) that would make it possible.
- I really like that you went to HTML with your newsletter. I’d prefer if your subject line had a witty summary of the flow of your stories rather than what the comments/blog/rant/etc is about. I also liked when you used to have an estimated number of subscribers at the top with the number of countries you reach. It was neat to see how your newsletter was growing and the reach you had. It might also help your advertisers of the free edition to see additional benefit in advertising with you. Keep up the great work. You did well picking your writing staff that have helped you to provide many more stories and I hope that you and they keep at it for many more years to come.
RC: Just about everyone already reads the stories, so “advertising” them is a waste of subject line space: the idea is to point out that there’s something else that might be worthy below the stories.
The number of subscribers/countries was a feature of the free edition, never Premium. It was dropped from the free edition, however, when we went to software to set up the HTML version, since it took extra time to do it each week. And you know what? No one complained that it was dropped. (Not to say you’re complaining, but I think you’re the first to say anything at all, and it’s been 87 weeks now!)
- Could you include a way for me to “share” the HU stories from the newsletter? I love them and share them often but going to the site is a pain (I know, it’s only a few clicks and I am being lazy…). Further with the HU’s I really love the stories about unheralded women who have made extraordinary advances in science and engineering. Those always get shared. –Craig.
RC: I will look into Share buttons for the H.U. site. That means you’ll have to click through to the entry on the site, but then there should be a set of buttons “right there” that you can choose. It will probably take me a few weeks to get that implemented. But it’s a good idea. Thanks!
- I lost my archive of emails in a harddrive crash – access to the archive outside of buying the e-books would be ideal – I will look at buying the e-books, but I still prefer hard copies (I have the first 6 books). thanks, Des
RC: I do consider the books to be the definitive archive of the stories, especially as we’re going through and reissuing them (we’re up to Volume 2 so far, and are on track to be fully caught up by this summer! All 20 volumes! You can tell a reissue by the new paperback cover, which matches the e-book cover) — that’s where I’m adding updates and such as they’re found, while file copies of the newsletters don’t get updated, or often even error-corrected. If I did sell the newsletter archives, they’d be much more expensive than the e-books, too, as I’d have to spend quite a bit of time to compile them into a suitable format, whereas the books can be done by my assistant, as we’ve set up software tools to do them.
- Tone down the right-wing political rants a bit. And maybe cut back a bit on the crowing about living in beautiful rural scenery where the people are so neighborly and self-reliant — that’s a bit annoying to the rest of us who are paying for the welfare state of Colorado.
RC: Re “right-wing political rants,” see #18.
When is the last time I so “crowed”? And how many times in the past five years? I’ll bet it’s about a tenth of what you think it is.
Another way your bias is incorrect: Colorado is rated “low dependency” (upon the federal government’s budget) by WalletHub, which compares all of the states on such metrics. Colorado is, in fact, the 14th “least dependent” state in the nation. And no matter where my state is, I personally pay a lot more in taxes than what it costs to provide the services I receive, as my income is earned, and therefore taxed at fairly high rates, compared to “unearned” income from investments.
- How could it be better? I don’t care for the tagline challenge but it’s easily skipped.
RC: I’ll survey that later, too. When I’ve done so in the past, it has gotten very high marks, but maybe times have changed. Meanwhile, I like your attitude: it is easy to skip!
- I wonder though if occasionally creating an issue that falls between free and Premium that could be forwarded to friends of Premium subscribers might encourage more to subscribe? –Andy
RC: I’m actually working on something along those lines. Stay tuned….
- Just a possible idea, although it may not fly, is to break the stories into thematic headings like “zero tolerance” or “crime blotter” types of stories. And if the Darwin Awards are really defunct, pick up the slack and add your own. There are so many!
RC: Thematic headings are what “News of the Weird” uses, vs my individual “slugs” (titles) — and I’m not about copying the competition, even though I like NotW. I already do have “strange death” stories in my mix, ever since Issue #1.
I won’t be starting any newsletter called “Darwin Awards” — ever. That’s Wendy’s trademark, and it would be unethical to trade on someone else’s trademark. Not to mention that I can hardly keep up with True as it is, and don’t need another full-time job!
- I know that my interests and “hot buttons” are different than other people and I find that in some issues of This is True I am more interested than other, so I would enjoy seeing a survey or ranking system each week on the current weeks issue, where readers vote for or somehow indicate their favorite (?) / most interesting / most outrageous story each week. It could be as simple as a selection button next to each story where in each issue you could select only one of each button in that particular weekly issue. It could be tied to a “Done Reading” button which is linked / connected to the website that once you click the button you could see how your selections rank with the rest of the subscribers selections. This could show all of the subscribers how their interests or “hot buttons” rank with the rest of the subscribers regarding the stories in each issue. I am not a web programmer so I don’t know how hard (or easy) this would be to implement. I enjoy This is True very much and find myself repeating some of the stories to co-workers fairly regularly … keep up the good work Randy!! –Robert
RC: But then what? Pretty much, every issue has stories readers love and/or hate (and usually the same stories are mentioned!) I’m not a fan of gathering data if I’m not going to do anything with it, and I don’t see what I would change by having that input. And really, I’m not sure I should change anything if a vocal minority didn’t like some particular story. Is a thumbs down on a particular ZT story because they didn’t like what was done in the story, or that they don’t like ZT stories? Lots of worms here. And since I’m not a web programmer either, the only way I could do it is to hire someone …but again, I’m not sure what I’d do with the data anyway. But I like that you’re thinking about possibilities you wouldn’t have any idea how to implement, because who knows what idea it could have sparked? Or might spark later?
- I first subscribed in 1997, and I think I went premium in 2003 or 2004 (I’m not sure exactly when), after I finished school. I started because of the stories in 1997, and I’ve stayed 18 years because I like your voice and your personality. I agree with you most of the time, but I like you best when we disagree. It’s fun when someone I respect disagrees with me, is smart about about it, and can explain his position with a cool head. Don’t ever change that. Thanks, Dan.
RC: I like readers who don’t plug their ears and cover their eyes the moment they run into something that doesn’t confirm every single thing they believe. Thanks, Dan!
- Honestly, I got used to the new format (I was more than happy with the plain text format) but I think if pictures are included then captions would help.
RC: Hover your mouse cursor over pictures to get the captions to pop up. I know that’s nigh impossible when reading on phones/tablets, though.
- The only thing I can recall actively disliking was the “This is the second-best weird news newsletter published these days” line in issue 1081: it built up excitement while disguising the fact that it was a premium pitch. (I understand the need for the pitches, but I don’t feel guilty about commenting on that one given that this is a survey for premium subscribers. 😉 )
RC: Yeah, but notice that wasn’t in the Premium edition, just the free one — I don’t do pitches for Premium in Premium!
- Minimize the self-serving yakking in the middle of the email. The length THIS week is acceptable. Sometimes it’s just stomach-turning. I have my own life to live – I don’t need to watch soap operas, emote to serialized dramatizations, or read what you write between the last good story and the Honorary Unsubscribe. I also don’t care what other readers think – everyone today thinks they have to opine about everything – they don’t. If you have to do the commercial in the middle of the email, do it, but keep it easy for me to page down in order to skip.
RC: You know parts are easy to skip, and understand that they’re easy to skip, you realize it’s not required of you, and you don’t like it… but you still read it? Why?
- If I give TIT as a gift, is there some way for me to get the renewal reminder? Marc.
RC: The default is for us to send renewal notices to the gift-giver. Only if we don’t hear back and get down to one issue remaining in the subscription do we then send a notice to the recipient. (Or, of course, you can say you don’t want the renewal notices ever, and then we take you out of the loop.)
- I ALWAYS read and love your first responder stories (or just descriptions of your county, remoteness, snow, bears, etc), but I suppose that you can’t just ‘magic’ them up for every newsletter, they just come as they come. My guess is that your publication has a certain intellectual framework and expectation from readership, but on the wider scale you are competing for eyeball attention with cat videos and videos of guys stuffing firecrackers into their ‘behind’ and getting burned. So – not for my benefit and enjoyment, but much more as an idea to (possibly?) increase your readership – what about trying to have more links to online visual content (pictures, videos)? I do not know about the copyright situation. But as a general observation I’d say that you don’t have enough visual content to effectively compete for ‘screen’ minutes with ‘fb’, twitter, instagram and the like… Hope this helps & Good luck & I like what you are doing. –Franz from OZ
RC: Links are not subject to copyright restrictions — copyright is about (literally) the “right to copy” (or re-publish) material. So that’s easy. I’m not interested in piling on to the latest viral video or photo; sounds pretty boring for the majority who have seen it already. When there’s something exceptional that isn’t getting attention, that’s when I’m most interested, and that goes way, way back! So yeah, that’s already part of the mix, and I’ll continue to do it when I see something of real interest that isn’t already getting lots of attention.
- Please let the monthly tagline challenge run for two or three weeks, instead of closing after several days. I would prefer the suspense and surprise over immediate gratification. 😉
RC: Well, the “few days” is actually a week. And when, now and then, I’ve not had a chance to pull together the results, I have given everyone another week …and I get very few additional entries.
- I realise it could be tricky but stupid people and stupid rules exist around the world. It would be great to read those stories also. The USA does have some very weird and stupid people but their foreign counterparts can keep up with them. Leonie in New Zealand.
RC: As noted above, my ideal would be half outside-USA stories, but I just can’t find them, even when I ask readers to submit them. It’s even hard to have one foreign story in each week, but I do try to. You haven’t seen them? I even had a New Zealander for the Honorary Unsubscribe last month!
- Pictures. If available would be nice, but since I know how to read they are not essential. Keep up the great work.
RC: Um, you said you “always” not only look at the pictures, but “always” click on them. But maybe you mean “more” pictures. I can only include photos when they’re government-created (public record images, like mug shots, don’t have a copyright), are “released to the media,” or otherwise not covered by copyright. Then, I only use them if they actually add to the story — like, what does it look like when a guy tries to disguise himself by spray-painting his entire head black! Typically, that ends up being one or two photos a week.
- Damp down his ego
RC: You’ll have to be more specific for me to consider this. What “ego” do I display that you find objectionable?
- It would be nice to somehow indicate which stories are only in the premium edition so that when I am short on time I can read those stories first and read the rest when the free edition comes out. Thanks, Dave.
RC: Can’t! Because I don’t know. It depends partly on the reaction from Premium readers: if they particularly love a certain story, I’ll try to include it in the free edition so they can share it. I don’t choose the free edition stories until each Thursday or Friday, long after Monday’s Premium comes out.
- I have been waiting for a chance to express this sentiment for years. I would find TiT (sorry), This is True 🙂 (unfortunate acronym); much easier to read if it was formatted in columns, like a newspaper. The format has been bothering me since I started getting the emails lo these many years ago, I am a bit dyslexic, and have trouble finding the right line after transferring my vision across the screen from right to left. This has been exacerbated lately by the growing acceptance of the 16×9 aspect ratio for monitors. It is a tribute to your content that I have put up with this mild annoyance over the years, but you gotta admit: newspapers have used the format very successfully for a couple of centuries. –Peter
RC: I can’t think of anything more horrible! There’s a reason that email and web sites aren’t formatted with multiple columns: the scrolling back and forth would be a nightmare.
What you’re really saying is, the column width is too wide. You know what? Like font size (discussed above), that’s totally up to you: I don’t dictate column widths, since what works on a desktop would be terrible on a tablet, and what works on a tablet would be terrible on a phone …or a desktop. Column is too wide? Then narrow your window: the text adapts to the width of the phone, or tablet, or desktop window. Simple as that. It’s called adaptive layout, and to do it any other way would be awful, and presumtious.
- Occasionally, you describe a new toy/tool that you’ve gotten. I suppose you might call that a product review, but I just consider it another interesting story about your fascinating life. I think you’ve done a good job of avoiding product endorsements, which I hope will continue. On the other hand, I would accept the inclusion of paid advertising under the following conditions:(1) clearly segregated from the editorial content;(2) products that you personally endorse (e.g. like Paul Harvey);(3) not more than one ad per issue.I think your writers do an excellent job of matching the quality and style of your work. I rarely look to see who wrote a particular piece because it all flows so smoothly. The switch to HTML format was a HUGE improvement. Selectively including very small photos adds to the story. –John from Coatesville, PA
RC: No one would want to pay me what I would want to do an actual product endorsement — I’m just not well enough known! But no, I won’t be including ads in Premium. It’s part of what separates it from the free edition, and some people upgrade because they don’t want to see ads, and that’s fine: it’s how Premium is set up, and I have no plans of changing that.
- For some unknown reason the images/photos never load so I can never click on them.
RC: Depends on how you read your mail. If you have a problem that just doesn’t support graphics linked to “from the cloud,” you won’t get them no matter how hard you try. But even the last version of Eudora that I’m soon to abandon (last updated in 2006!) shows them just fine. Free web-based email services like Gmail and Yahoo show them fine. If I was having that trouble, I’d use google to look for a solution, like “Eudora inline graphics” or similar.
Even when graphics don’t show, there “should” be a link that you can click to see them.
- I love that Randy will personally respond to emails.
RC: I can’t possibly reply to them all (and many don’t “need” a reply), but I do give Premium subscribers higher priority.
- I don’t like that there is not a daily edition, so I have to wait for a whole damned week to get “This Is True!” I guess that Randy is slacking off, putting his time toward endeavors like eating, sleep, going to the can, interacting with his wife and community, and working for pay (gasp) as an EMT. How uncaring can you get?
RC: Actually, the medical stuff is volunteer work; True is, in fact, my paid employment. As for running more often, there’s an old showbiz adage: “Always leave them wanting more.”
- Your “TRUE” is simply amazing! Not sure what could make it better. I think it is a great service to everyone that you bring forward the issues of ZERO TOLERANCE in all their stupidity. Most, (if not all) of us would be totally unaware of how stupid and unrealistic so many of our educators are. I know that this is not limited to the education system, but this is where our future lies, and it is pretty disappointing that many of these people are shaping our children’s lives. Keep up the great work of exposing this to the world… 🙂 –Keith, Red Deer, Alberta
RC: No, the stupidity isn’t limited to the educational system, but do remember: 1) kids learn from what they see, and then 2) they grow up and get jobs! We must do better, both for them and for society.
- I find the errata link useful and sometimes use it. It’s hard to tell whether the reports get through. I just sent an email suggesting that it would be nice if the erratum report got sent to the submitter. I’m not likely to report something I’m not sure is a spelling or usage error (or just clumsy style in a few cases, but they’re pretty rare), and I’m surprised if it is unmodified if it shows up in the free edition (I don’t usually go back to the errata listing to see if it’s been reported there).
RC: I checked with the software I use, and there’s no option for sending a copy to the submitter — and you would just not BELIEVE how many people, when presented with fields labeled “Name” and “email address” will put in their first name in the first spot, and their last name in the second spot. Which, of course, would cause such an email to bounce!
But I’ve added it to my To-Do List to add a clear acknowledgement page to such submissions. Thanks!
I do usually fix things for the free edition, but if I’ve had an especially busy week (travel, extra-hairy EMS call, whatever), I sometimes just can’t get to it, and roll my eyes when I realize the screwup.
- Personally, I like the way it is! However anytime something new is added, I will always check it out! if I do not particulary care for it does not mean others will not. I look upon “THIS IS TRUE” as sort of a “party line” type of site. I have been enjoying it ever since I discovered the “free” site eventually going to the paid subsciption. I appreciate that “This is True”, will publish 99% of the comments whether you agree with them or not. (The other 1% being obliviots)!
RC: Actually, in general I publish about 1 percent of the comments/letters. Really. And I like the obliviots best, since it really illustrates what reacting over thinking looks like, and why it’s such a bad, bad idea! When there’s something controversial, I certainly will publish both sides, though, and then I especially like the thoughtful responses, which show that even when you think about an issue, that doesn’t mean you’re going to come out with the same opinion as everyone else. And that’s wonderful indeed.
- I imagine that I would enjoy a two or three sentence intro to each This is True edition. Something personal and/or quirky, that you have been thinking about, which is interesting, but doesn’t fit into the news story category, and is too short for a separate blog. Just to try and make my idea clearer, here are a few items of the sort that I imagine you could make into interesting introductions: The recent solar eclipse reminds me (Randy) of xxx interesting astronomical fact or experience at JPL; Recent anecdote about bears, eagles, wildlife or humans in your mountain region; Scientific discovery xxx is intriguing, and you, the readers might want to read more about it; Some person/organization has just done/said something really positive (sort of the opposite of the obliviots that dominate the humorous and thought provoking news stories in This is True); anything else on your mind that would help us connect with you and your world. –Derek
RC: You know, I love this idea. It’s very flexible, can bring in a link to an interesting article (as someone suggested above), a video, a cool web site, or anything else. I think I can start this one immediately! Thanks, Derek! Now I have to think of a name for it. Maybe “Before the Stories”?
- If a story is particularly outrageous (as in: “Another Innocent Life Destroyed by Zero Tolerance”) there could be a link where your readers could submit a protest against the participating offenders of the act. Therefore, it won’t just be a quiet minority that are angered by the incident and a public protest could be made to the offenders. Granted, it’s a long shot, but perhaps if more people could submit a protest there’d be fewer fools in power. (Although, I do recognize that would make your webzine a little harder to put together.) –Janice
RC: “Mailbombing” schools isn’t the solution to ZT (discussed here, from 2001). Involvement in your community schools is, and not just when your kid gets caught up in ZT, but especially when someone else’s kid is. Schools can (and do!) blow off parents whining about their own kids, but when other parents step in and say “Hey, wait just a minute!” — that’s when they start to take notice. Here’s a great example from 2005.
- Possibly give an option to receive it on a specific day? I liked starting my weekend reading through the free This is True on a Saturday as I have more time to read the full version then too instead of a weekday which is usually rushed and if I don’t read it when it arrives it gets lost in the amount of email I get per week.
RC: I understand the issue, but the software I use doesn’t have a way to make it more stale for you: it pumps it out when it’s ready to go. Many can’t get to it right away (and have said so in their comments, but I don’t think any of them are included above), and simply read it when they can — even if it’s weeks (or months!) later. They like knowing it’s waiting for them when they have time. Adding in artificial delays doesn’t seem to be a good solution to that, because sure enough, some Monday evening you’ll find you have time, and….
- The one thing that I think might bring more audience, but I get the feeling you resist or refuse to do, is the ability to share, in some way that doesn’t cause you damage, your stories, either by a link to an archive with some form of protection, or to a post on your Facebook page… There was a story in this week’s edition that I felt my contacts would have enjoyed, but I know you do not like that, so I didn’t. Maybe one or two of them might have subscribed, maybe not, but they will not currently, as they are unaware of it… A ‘share this’ link at the tail end of each story that takes traffic in a programmed way to _just_ that story, not the whole issue, with a ‘click here to read the rest of the issue, paid subscription, or free issue subscription… Or you could let them read last week’s issue, or the week before’s or whatever you feel comfortable with. If you get hundreds or thousands of people past your site, your stories and get a subscription one way or another, even just a small number, or fraction of the passing audience. Anyhoo, keep on keeping on! –Keiran
RC: I resist things that are impossible. How could you be able to freely share things on Facebook “with some form of protection”? If it was on my Facebook page, it would “have to be” all the stories, since otherwise how could you link to the particular story you wanted, and how would those who paid to get it be “protected” — that they’re getting what they pay for, and not being suckers because everyone else gets it for free? These are hard problems to hack through to make it possible to ensure that True is supported financially so that it can continue. I love getting ideas, but you have to understand that if I reject it, it’s not because I don’t want to change, it’s because I don’t want to risk True‘s ablility to continue into the future.
- Monthly taglines, don’t really understand them, so I do not read them. Do not understand the principle behind them and if I did I might understand the tagline.
RC: Wellll…. Every story in This is True starts with a slug (a short title), then there’s the body of the story. The end. Then after the end of the story, there’s a note saying who wrote it (“RC” is me), and the source of the information in story, which is a “legitimate, mainstream” news source — since, after all, True is specifically news commentary, and we identify where the facts from the news came from. And then there’s a comment on the story — the tagline. It can be a joke, an observation, a thought-provoking twist, or something else to provoke the reader — provoking anything from a laugh to deep thinking about important issues.
Naturally, tagline possibilities are infinite: every person could come up with a different twist (or ten!) One might make a joke while another might want to point out an irony, or “provoking deep thinking about important issues.” And that’s what the Tagline Challenge is: a chance for each reader to do what they want with the extra story. Now, to make it into the results, they have to keep within the bounds of the publication, and that generally means wit — and it’s best to know what wit really means to fully grasp this.
Hope that helps.
- Accept bitcoins, so I don’t need to go through that ridiculous process of finding someone online to order me a subscription and paying them. It’s easy to do, for free (as opposed to the 3-4% that CCs charge you), with processors like Coinbase and BitPay, which lets you set prices and get paid in USD, transferred to your bank account.
RC: Yeah, and you want to know how many people have been pushing me to accept bitcoins? One. You.
I had dozens who wanted to use Dwolla, so I offered that. Sure enough, a handful used it …once, maybe twice. And then nothing. Every different service is Yet Another “account” to track, and more clutter on the payment page which leads to user confusion. So, when one person wants bitcoins, and a dozen or three want Dwolla, what happened? The bitcoin person figured out a way to get around it, and I dropped Dwolla from the menu of options because it just led to too much clutter. Yep: even though a handful of people used it, and liked it (and I like it too!)
- I love True so I hate to even say anything, but I am tired of you picking on Florida. Some of the stories are pretty amazing (that anyone could be that dumb) but are you sure that it isn’t an anti-Florida bias that skews the number of stories about Florida?
RC: I’m sure. I don’t go looking specifically for Florida-based stories — which is why some weeks there aren’t any. But indeed, there simply are more stupid stories from Florida than any other location, by far, so of course there will be a lot of them in This is True. And I can say that most Floridians love them. Against your one complaint, there were about a dozen “More Florida stories!” suggestions — and they’re from Florida (most said so). At least one asked for some ALL-Florida issues.
Remember: just because you live there, or even born there, doesn’t signify predestiny. If you don’t like it, then live your own life in a way that sets an example, and be proud to do it. Or, to put it another way, just because there are, in fact, without a doubt, a lot of stupid people around you, that doesn’t have to make you any different than if you lived anywhere else!
- I like that you include images more often now. There are many times when I just find myself wondering what someone that STUPID actually looks like. Aside from that, I think — for me — you have a pretty winning formula: a simple, consistent, and consistently entertaining offering that I can depend on to deliver what I’ve contributed my money to to get. It is, frankly, one of the few subscription-based offerings that I happily pay for. Most of them I can get in some other form from some other source, but I like your sense of editorial curation and the voice you express it with. You give your readers credit for having two synapses to rub together and you don’t seem to care if you don’t please everyone — and in a world where everyone wants to monetize content it seems that’s becoming increasingly rare. Not to puff you up overly much, but people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Elon Musk — they’re like that. So be careful how much you ask people which way you should head. They may expect to take the wheel when really they should just come along for the ride.
RC: Well, you’re just gonna have to trust me! I only accept the ideas that work for True — and for me personally. I get a lot of ideas myself, but I still get great ideas from readers, too, and the only way I know to get more is to ask!
- Most of the stories are about Darwin-style stupidity. Very rarely do I see good stories where “strange but true” leaves one with a happier, yet thought provoking ending. Is there so very little “good” stories that we couldn’t have more like that?
RC: They are indeed very hard to find — they’re usually not considered “news” and thus don’t show up in our research, which includes story suggestions from readers. This is partly why I created HeroicStories, after all — which is back again after the publisher who took it over in 2003 died recently.
- I can’t come up with anything that would make it more of a “must read”, but I would like to be able to refer to the archives. Maybe a “Super” Premium subscription?
RC: I did ask readers a few years ago what I might do for a “Super Premium” subscription, even using that exact term, and still have the responses. Nothing really, really grabbed me in that — not enough to implement, at least. But access to the entire story archive is possible, with my software, though it would take “some” work. I’ll consider that. Thanks!
- If instead of sending out one big email, I got an email per day with 1 or 2 stories, I would more likely read it sooner–like that very day. As it is, I always know I’m going to be spending more than a couple of minutes on True, so I almost always set it aside to read later. Sometimes several days. If instead I got my little dose once a day that I knew was going to be bite-sized, that would be more convenient. Maybe on Mondays you could do a larger issue with HU and all the other trappings. Of course, there are probably a fair number (perhaps majority) of people that would feel that this is an absolutely horrible idea.
RC: Me, for one! Because that would be quite a lot of extra work. And it’s enough that I have several emails a week saying “Hm, I somehow missed last week’s issue, would you resend it?” I don’t mind that — I want readers to get what they paid for! — but imagine multiplying that my however many parts the issue is broken into: “I didn’t get the H.U.!” or whatever. Eeek!
- I’m always amazed that how current Randy’s stories are. And I’m also sad that Randy can keep finding stories about Zero Tolerances. –Chris
RC: Me too, Chris. Me too. Sigh!
- This is perhaps not responsive but I’m a little freaked out at his do not forward admonishment, therefore I never forward stories to friends who might otherwise like and want to subscribe to “This Is True.”
RC: That’s … why … it’s … there! The paid issues are for those who have paid for them, and Premium shouldn’t be forwarded, in whole or part. If you want to forward something to tell them about True, the free edition specifically allows it.
- TRUE is always a must-read and a first-read for me. When it comes to religion, I don’t mind if you make fun of mine. I won’t tell you which one it is, but here’s a hint: One guy at the top and all his subordinates dress like gays.
RC: I don’t make fun of Catholics (or other specific faiths), Father — but I certainly will make fun of stupid things any of them do. There is quite a big difference between the two, as I’m totally positive you already know!
Part 3b: Just Some Nice Comments
- Winning lottery numbers would be nice. But then, I feel like I’ve *already* won the lottery every Monday when my Premium Subscription comes in!
- I do enjoy when you get involved in dissecting a particular issue. Zero tolerance is a good example. A mixture of anecdotal evidence (the stories) and separate blogging / linking to other information is a great way to for me to really understand my own personal stance on that subject. Other examples of subjects I have enjoyed by you are gun control/rights and marriage equality. Thanks, Jeremy, San Diego
- It’s already the most must-read of anything I get except items from my boss with all-caps subject lines. What more do you want?
- The EMS stories are great! Any other human interest stories are likewise always welcomed. The story you ran on visiting the terminally ill was a great reminder of what is really important in life. Thanks! Denis in Denver
- Thank you, Randy, for bringing wit and sanity to the internet. I have been a free reader since the time dinosaurs roamed the internet, and upgraded to premium years ago. I usually read TRUE from Top to Bottom the day it arrives. It helps start my week.
- I can’t think of anything to add, and definitely can think of nothing that needs to go. You’re smart enough and assertive enough to state your point and reasonably address all responses, both positive and negative. For almost 20 yrs (1997! Wow!) I’ve known about ‘This is True’ and have come to consider it a “home base” philosophically. I ‘grok’ you, buddy, and though we aren’t friends, I know if we met at a Mensa convention or somewhere I’d be proud to shake your hand. Thanks for the many, many funny memories, great advice, and wonderful, wonderful life philosophy.
- Randy, I find your stories and your writing riveting. You have a unique perspective on news and things in the world that most often give me pause and make me think. I often find myself agreeing with you when I’ve had an opportunity to mull things over. You have never bored me and often made me laugh out loud. You just keep on chooglin’. Thank you. –Deborah
- I particularly like the vituperative complainers’ notes about how “unfair and unbalanced” you must be. I read it even when your take makes me angry, because it always makes me think. Thanks, Randy! –Richard
- I really can’t think of anything that would make True better. It’s already nearly perfect! I am a retired teacher, so your zero tolerance stories really resonate with me. I really appreciate reading stories in which the stupidity of school officials is highlighted. However these stories also make me angry. It’s depressing how these idiots ruin the lives of children. All because these officials refuse to use common sense.
- I can’t find TRUE is missing anything… I wait for it to arrive, and read it, and re-read some of it out loud to my wife. I don’t remember what life was like before TRUE.
- I understand that you are always trying to improve True but it is hard to improve without making it much longer than it is. It is a great length, quick read, good selection of stories and good taglines that (many times) makes one think….. Hard to improve on perfection.
- Nothing, love everything…although it can be VERY sad sometimes how incredibly STUPID people can be! …But then H.U at the ends lifts the who;e thing back up again! A great publication!
There were some great suggestions, and a lot of terrific questions! Thanks, everyone, for your input. No “big” changes coming, but several refinements are in the works!