This week, we launched our annual survey of supporters of Doncaster Rovers, asking for opinions on a variety of issues affecting the club.
From certain quarters, the nature, agenda and timing of the survey have been questioned with this newspaper accused by some of being ‘anti-Rovers’ and ‘attempting to destabilise the club.’
So perhaps there is a need to provide some explanation about the survey.
Going back ten or 15 years, this survey would not have been needed. Newspapers were flooded with letters with people eager to offer their views on all manner of stories, particularly their local football club.
But over the last decade or so, readers writing to their local newspaper has seen a major decline. The spread of social media has only increased that decline.
As such, it is very difficult for our journalists to gauge the true, wide-ranging view of what supporters are thinking. At the Free Press, we attempt to do on a regular basis by offering up a column to a broad spectrum of supporters, representing various fan groups and individuals.
But we still want to know what the wider Rovers support are thinking.
The most direct methods available to us are listening to reaction from supporters at games, and social media. Neither are particularly trustworthy on any issue.
Supporters are a number of away games towards the end of the season took part in anti-Paul Dickov chanting. And there was a wave of sentiment against the Rovers boss on Twitter that refused to die down.
We are fully aware that these people represent a minority of Rovers fans. To take their view as representative of a cross section of supporters would be foolish and irresponsible.
And, given the results in from the first few active days of the survey, it would appear the anti-Dickov view is indeed a minority one.
We have placed on record our support for Paul Dickov, most recently in our end of season podcast. And we have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Rovers boss since he was appointed two years ago.
The survey is an attempt to unearth a broad ranging view on all manner of things, from Dickov and his performance, to the club’s hierarchy, the Club Doncaster project and players.
It will not be perfect - not everyone is minded to answer a survey, and even if you are, you may not agree certain questions are necessary. But it should provide the broader view we are looking for.
Ultimately, it is fan engagement - something which Rovers as a club pride themselves on. For us, it is giving our readers a voice, specifically the fans of Rovers.
That is the only agenda of the survey.
The timing of the survey has also been questioned. The truth is we intentionally waited to allow the dust to settle from last season, let everyone calm down to provide considered responses and also for people to be given an idea of what was to come from the club over the next few months.
Several individuals from several organisations have labelled the survey ‘negative’ and suggested the Free Press is determined to create headlines bashing Rovers.
The survey is what you bring to it. If you have a negative view, it will be reflected in your answers. And if you are positive, that too will be reflected.
Every single question can be answered in positive, negative and neutral manners. And answers can be expanded on should you wish.
Putting it simply, we cannot skew the answers to meet any sort of imagined agenda.
If by the time the survey is closed, Paul Dickov has as strong support as he does in the current results, a story and headline will reflect that.
Once we have published the results, the full catalogue of completed surveys will be made available to anyone who wishes to read them. You can hold us to account.
What good would it do us to take the anti-Rovers stance we are being accused of? Each of you, as supporters of the club, love Doncaster Rovers. Why would you have any interest in reading newspapers or website postings from an organisation or journalist whose intention was to bash your club? Why would we drive a wedge between ourselves and the club on which we report every day of the year?
If you have serious answers to any of those questions, let us know.
This is not the first time we have carried out this survey and it will not be the last. We stand by our original decision to launch it and feel it is the best way to gauge the views of Rovers supporters on a large scale.
To those of you who have been sceptical about completing the survey, I hope we have provided you with a reassurance that there is no agenda behind it, either way. Fill it in, let us know what you think. And if you don’t want to answer a certain question, miss it out.
What I would say to anyone who holds views they want to air but either does not agree with the manner of the survey or feels as though they cannot complete it, is get in touch any way.
Write to us, email us, Tweet us - let us know your views and we’ll be happy to share them, be they positive or negative.
Who knows, we might be able to bring back the letters page.