The distinctions are important Des Moines Register’s contests damage credibility of legitimate reader polls8/31/2016
My friend Mike, who managed a Des Moines tire store, once asked me, “What brand of tires do you have on your vehicle?” When I told him I didn’t know, he was clearly irritated.
I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. My tires, whatever brand they were, worked just fine.
I remind myself of this story each time I hear someone confuse Cityview with the now-defunct Juice newspaper, or think that Cityview is part of The Des Moines Register, or ask if it is owned by Business Publications Corporation. They don’t know, and they don’t care. Maybe they should, but they don’t.
Ask most anyone in Des Moines to share what they do know about Cityview, and you will hear a range of responses. Amongst a barrage of current and past staff names, you will also commonly hear words or phrases like politics, entertainment, music, things to do, food, film, nightlife, the arts, theater, independent, free and restaurants. You will also hear a well-known phrase that has been linked to Cityview for years — “Best of Des Moines.”
You see the “Best of Des Moines” certificates hanging in hundreds of area businesses. You read, hear and watch Best of Des Moines ads from businesses that tout this prestigious honor. And you have likely even cast a vote or two in the “Best of Des Moines” contests. Yes, “Best of Des Moines” and Cityview go hand in hand — and for good reason.
When we bought Cityview from Connie Wimer in 2004, we also purchased rights to the “Best of Des Moines” trademark that she, like other alt weekly publishers at the time, wisely registered. Through the years, we both vehemently defended the “Best of Des Moines” trademark and have prevented other media companies from using it for their benefit. My only regret is that I agreed to allow Wimer to have a license to continue to use the phrase and contest with her Business Record publication. Back then, I didn’t fully understand the value of the phrase. Today, I know how easily readers and advertisers can become confused, and I should have never allowed it to be tainted by any other publication. Lesson learned.
This leads me to today and the folks at The Des Moines Register, who recently implemented their own version of reader polls, creatively called the “USA TODAY BEST: DES MOINES METRO” reader poll and contest. The name of the contest is a mouthful, but it is carefully worded to avoid using the “Best of Des Moines” phrase that we own. We can’t keep the Register from having readers’ polls, and we don’t want to, but we do have concern when they damage the voting process with loaded polls that compromise the image of valid ones like Best of Des Moines, The Ultimate Food Challenges, and others that we have worked so diligently to maintain.
Business owners told us that to get on their ballots to even be considered, a business has to write the Register a substantial check for weeks of advertising. Register publisher David Chivers says that’s true, but users are also able to write in their choices. That’s the definition of “loading” a poll.
Clearly, we sell advertising, and our Best of Des Moines issues are some of our largest (which is presumably why they “borrowed” the idea). But no business has ever been required to write us a check to win a category. In fact, our nominations are wide open and not restricted in any way. The winners of many of our categories have never spent a penny with us, and that’s OK. We want the results to be a true reflection of our readers’ opinions. We want our polls to be legitimate and honest — not loaded with pre-chosen answers. And we want to build on our own ideas, not ones we steal from our competitors.
So shame on the folks at The Des Moines Register. You should know better. You need to demand integrity. And, in the future, please try to work on your own ideas and not confuse readers and those in the business community. Maybe they will care about this distinction in polls. Maybe they won’t. But if we don’t explain these important distinctions, who will?
Meanwhile, I need to go see what brand of tires I have on my vehicle.■
Shane Goodman is the publisher of Cityview, and the president and owner of Big Green Umbrella Media.