Pundits and politicians tend to group people demographically, economically, geographically, or sometimes based on one or two opinions. Ask a political consultant about any group of people and you’re likely to get a quick, simple description of that group’s interests, opinions and passions. People defined as “liberals,” for instance, are supposed to be interested in protecting the environment. “Conservatives” — as defined by television pundits and political hacks — are not.
So how do we explain the diversity of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS audience? Since 2003, most of our major editorial decisions have been guided by your opinions, collected through our email surveys. Without the research we’ve been doing, we might have relied on our instincts, which could have led us astray and prevented us from reaching the broad audience we now enjoy. But with the surveys guiding us, we’ve let you take us in some unexpected directions. We used to feature people on our covers. You told us you preferred to see vegetables and farmhouses. We used to refer to our readers as “environmentalists.” Now we know many of you don’t see yourselves that way. You prefer to be characterized as “conscientious.” Or maybe you just prefer not to be characterized at all — which is fine with us.
Surprisingly, our subject matter has changed less through the years than our terminology. The fundamental issues related to healthy people and a healthy planet are much the same as they were four decades ago. We continue to cover those topics — and, more importantly, give our readers tools for addressing those matters in a positive way through their own lifestyles.
When we think about the tone of the magazine, we often compare it to hosting a dinner party. We want the conversation to be interesting, varied and provocative. But we don’t want any of our guests to feel insulted, and we try to make sure that no one is offended, even if they are challenged. We want you to eagerly return to our next party.
As a result, experts say we have the most engaged audience of any major magazine in the country.
In our growth rate — and especially in the diversity of our audience’s beliefs — we see a promising societal trend. More and more, people of all stripes are interested in changing their lifestyles to help ensure a healthy, verdant place for future generations. Many people enjoy learning how to grow their own food. They want to know who grows any food they don’t produce for themselves. When they buy food in a store, they want to know what is in the food and how it was produced. They want furniture and clothing that don’t depend on mistreated workers, no matter where those workers live. They want energy that is produced without polluting the environment. If possible, they’d like to produce their own clean energy.
We have good news for you. New wind and solar technologies are close to making homemade electricity affordable for many Americans. A new generation of automobiles can be efficiently powered with that homemade electricity. More and more communities are fostering local business and local food. Companies are conducting business with more transparency, by letting consumers choose products that are conscientious as well as beautiful and durable.
Watch a half-hour of commercial television any time, day or night, and you might come away with a substantially different impression of our society. From that seat in front of your TV, our modern society may seem shallow, materialistic, oversexed, undereducated and ill-mannered.
Our research and our evolution as a business show otherwise. People are aware of the challenges we all face, and ever-increasing numbers of them are inclined to make changes in their own lives to address those challenges. We know, with absolute certainty, that many of you feel this way. And we can see in the hard statistics that more and more of you feel this way every year, bound together by your determination, regardless of your politics.
For more of Bryan Welch’s ideas on MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers’ common interests, check out Self-Reliance Is the Tie That Binds, Part 1.
Photo by Barbara Damrosch: Many people interested in self-reliant living are choosing to grow their own food.
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