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Number 12 (3/2003)

NYT Internet Surveys Archived at FSD

Arja Kuula    

What do adults need their mothers for? Why do people want to get drunk? Why are women more interested in morality than men? These and other questions can be studied with the help of the quantitative and qualitative data contained in the NYT surveys, now archived at the FSD.

NYT is the weekly supplement of Helsingin Sanomat, a national daily newspaper. It has been conducting reader surveys on a variety of subjects since the end of the 1990s. Data has been collected through Internet surveys and the results of each survey were presented in an article, portraying frequencies and quotations from reader responses. FSD collections include the surveys on marriage, divorce, drugs, homosexuality, alcohol use, morality, motherhood, violence and depression.

Editor Riitta Räty is in charge of the surveys. She has a degree in political science and for her it was natural to use surveys to collect material for newspaper articles. Archiving some of these surveys at the archive for research purposes made sense to her.
- There is a lot of potential in the data. Newspaper articles are written with a tight schedule and because there were such a huge number of respondents the editorial staff were able to analyse statistically only a part of the material.

Understandably, the priority of the NYT supplement staff was not the storage and preservation of the data. They saw the surveys as the best way to get the information necessary for articles on these issues.

Laborious archiving process

When FSD and Helsingin Sanomat agreed that the surveys could be archived at FSD, they also agreed that the archive will take care of confidentiality and data security issues. For privacy protection reasons, letters sent by readers in connection with the surveys and the responses of those who filled in a printed questionnaire are not included in the data.

What was archived were on-line responses, without any contact information of the respondent. The data consisted of tens of thousands of e-mails containing semi-structured text. Several stages were necessary to process them into re-usable data.

The archiving process required computer skills, creativity and meticulous work. For some surveys no printed nor electronic questionnaires could be found any more. Finding out what the original questions had been was the first task, requiring a lot of detective work.

Nearly all NYT surveys used semi-structured questionnaires. Therefore FSD was able to produce both quantitative and qualitative data for many of them.

Valuable data

When a big national newspaper announces a survey to all its readers, the result is an extensive survey. Few researchers have the resources to carry out as extensive surveys as these. The archival of the NYT surveys ensures that all tens of thousands of responses will be available for researchers, yielding unique evidence of people's thoughts and experiences. Even though the samples are not representative of all Finns, the surveys still portray Finnish lifestyles and attitudes.

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