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Posts Tagged ‘journalism

“A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought”*…

 

Polls

 

On April 25, 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden became the latest big-name politician to join the race for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Among Democrat voters, he leads the field over the next most popular candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by 7 percentage points — with a sampling margin of error of 5.4 percentage points — according to a recent poll from Monmouth University.

But public and media perception has been burned by polls before — see the 2016 presidential election — and there’s still a long, long way to go before the Democratic field is settled. Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party nominee for president in July 2016, but a year prior there were still 16 other candidates angling for the nomination.

Precisely because there are still so many town halls and county fairs to come for the Democratic contenders, we’re rounding up some recent academic research that can inform coverage of political opinion polls in this early presidential contest. This research digs into bias in evaluating political polling, polling errors across time and space, the relationship between media coverage and polling, and more…

With over 18 months to go until the 2020 election, we’re already inundated with poll results, widely divergent, but each claiming canonical status.  Journalist’s Resource has ridden to the rescue with a handy collection of articles offering guidance on how to understand and use them– guidance that’s as useful to us civilians as it is to pros: “Covering political polls: A cautionary research roundup.”

* Warren Buffett

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As we stock up on grains of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 that the 500-strong Commonwealth of Christ (AKA Coxey’s Army) arrived in Washington, D.C., to protest against unemployment.  The march, organized by businessman Jacob Coxey, had begun with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio, and had gathered members as it moved toward the Capitol.  It was protesting conditions in the second year of (what turned out to be a four-year economic depression. the worst in United States history to that time.  In the event, the group never made it into the Capitol: Coxey was arrested for trespassing, and the military intervention the group provoked proved to be a rehearsal for the federal force that broke the Pullman Strike later that year.

Still, Coxey’s Army had an impact.  Among its well-wishers along the way was L. Frank Baum (still a famous window-dresser, not yet an author).  Scholarly political interpretations of his most famous novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, turn on Coxey’s Army:

In the novel, Dorothy, the Scarecrow (the American farmer), Tin Woodman (the industrial worker), and Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan), march on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, the Capital (or Washington, D.C.), demanding relief from the Wizard, who is interpreted to be the President. Dorothy’s shoes (made of silver in the book, not the familiar ruby that is depicted in the movie) are interpreted to symbolize using free silver instead of the gold standard (the road of yellow brick) because the shortage of gold precipitated the Panic of 1893… [source]

300px-Coxey_commonweal_army_brightwood_leaving source

 

 

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions”*…

 

luo-slownews

 

In 2008, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article with the headline “Overload!,” which examined news fatigue in “an age of too much information.” When “Overload!” was published, BlackBerrys still dominated the smartphone market, push notifications hadn’t yet to come to the iPhone, retweets weren’t built into Twitter, and BuzzFeed News did not exist. Looking back, the idea of suffering from information overload in 2008 seems almost quaint. Now, more than a decade later, a fresh reckoning seems to be upon us. Last year, Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple, unveiled a new iPhone feature, Screen Time, which allows users to track their phone activity. During an interview at a Fortune conference, Cook said that he was monitoring his own usage and had “slashed” the number of notifications he receives. “I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices,” Cook said.

It is worth considering how news organizations have contributed to the problems Newport and Cook describe. Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out…

A central purpose of journalism is the creation of an informed citizenry. And yet—especially in an environment of free-floating, ambient news—it’s not entirely clear what it means to be informed: “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News.”

* Edward R. Murrow

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As we break news, we might recall that it was on this date in 1704 that the first issue of The Boston News-Letter was published.  Heavily subsidized by the British government, with a limited circulation, it was the first continuously-published newspaper in North America.  The colonies’ first newspaper was (the rather more editorially-independent)  Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, which published its first and only issue on September 25, 1690.)

440px-Boston_News-Letter_(first_issue)source

 

Written by LW

April 24, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues”*…

 

ftd-logo

 

FOIA The Dead is a long-term transparency project that uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request information from the FBI about the recently deceased.

That law requires certain government agencies to produce records upon a request from the public. One significant exception to that requirement is that, to protect the privacy of individuals, federal agencies may not release information about living people. But after their death, their privacy concerns are diminished, and those records can become available.

FOIA The Dead was founded to address that transition. When somebody’s obituary appears in the New York Times, FOIA The Dead sends an automated request to the FBI for their (newly-available) records. In many cases, the FBI responds that it has no files on the individual. But in some cases it does, and can now release those files upon request. When FOIA The Dead receives it, the file gets published for the world to see…

A project of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, written and maintained by Parker Higgins, FOIA the Dead is here.

* Shakespeare (stage direction:  Henry IV, Part 2)

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As we look to our legacies, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that the largest hailstone in (recorded) U.S. history fell in Vivian, South Dakota.  Weighing 1 lb 15 oz, it was 8.0 inches in diameter (18.6 inches in circumference. It broke the former U.S. record set on 3 Sep 1970 in Coffeyville, Kansas by a stone weighing 1 lb 11 oz that had a 5.7 inch diameter.

A larger hailstone– 2 lb 4 oz– is said to have fallen in Bangladesh on April 14, 1986 in a hailstorm that killed 92 people.

hailstone

The Vivian hailstone

source

 

Written by LW

July 23, 2018 at 1:01 am

“News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising.”*…

 

Local newspapers hold their governments accountable. We examine the effect of local newspaper closures on public finance for local governments. Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run. Identification tests illustrate that these results are not being driven by deteriorating local economic conditions. The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues…

A new piece of academic research on (one example) of the importance of local journalism: “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”

* Katherine Graham

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As we support our local journalists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that  Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s anti-slavery serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, starts a ten-month run in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper.

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

June 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption”*…

 

John Adams didn’t literally call the Philadelphia Aurora (also known as the Aurora General Adviser) “fake news,” but he was not pleased by the way he was often depicted in it

In the margins of his copy of Condorcet’s treatise Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, President John Adams scribbled a cutting note.

Writing in the section where the French philosopher predicted that a free press would advance knowledge and create a more informed public, Adams scoffed. “There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798,” he wrote at the time.

The charge feels shockingly modern. Were he to have written the sentiment in 2018, and not at the turn of the 19th century, it’s easy to imagine that at just 112 characters, he might have tweeted it, instead.

While Chinese monks were block printing the Diamond Sutra as early as 868 A.D. and German printer Johannes Gutenberg developed a method of movable metal type in the mid-1400s, it took until the Enlightenment for the free press as we know it today to be born.

Condorcet’s 1795 text expanded upon the belief that a press free from censorship would circulate an open debate of ideas, with rationality and truth winning out. Adams’ marginal response reminds us that when something like truth is up for debate, the door is open for bad-faith actors (the partisan press in his view) to promulgate falsehoods—something that a reader today might call “fake news.”…

Harrowing history at: “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’.”

* “Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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As we ferret out the facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that Christopher Marlowe, the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day (and a powerful influence on Shakespeare), was indicted by the Privy Council for heresy on the basis of testimony (probably elicited by torture) from Marlowe’s roommate, fellow dramatist Thomas Kyd.  Marlowe (who was in fact an atheist and seems likely to have supplemented his income as a spy) was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out he became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it”*…

 

When an online news outlet goes out of business, its archives can disappear as well.  A new front in the battle over journalism is the digital legacy of the press.

For years, our most important records have been committed to specialized materials and technologies. For archivists, 1870 is the year everything begins to turn to dust. That was the year American newspaper mills began phasing out rag-based paper with wood pulp, ensuring that newspapers printed after would be known to future generations as delicate things, brittle at the edges, yellowing with the slightest exposure to air. In the late 1920s, the Kodak company suggested microfilm was the solution, neatly compacting an entire newspaper onto a few inches of thin, flexible film. In the second half of the century, entire libraries were transferred to microform, spun on microfilm reels, or served on tiny microfiche platters, while the crumbling originals were thrown away or pulped. To save newspapers, we first had to destroy them.

Then came digital media, which is even more compact than microfilm, giving way, initially at least, to fantasies of whole libraries preserved on the head of a pin. In the event, the new digital records degraded even more quickly than did newsprint. Information’s most consistent quality is its evanescence. Information is fugitive in its very nature.

“People are good at guessing what will be important in the future, but we are terrible at guessing what won’t be,” says Clay Shirky, media scholar and author, who in the early 2000s worked at the Library of Congress on the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Project. After the obvious — presidential inaugurations or live footage of world historical events, say — we have to choose what to save. But we can’t save everything, and we can’t know that what we’re saving will last long. “Much of the modern dance of the 1970s and 1980s is lost precisely because choreographers assumed the VHS tapes they made would preserve it,” he says. He points to Rothenberg’s Law: “Digital data lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first,” which was coined by the RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg in a 1995 Scientific American article. “Our digital documents are far more fragile than paper,” he argued. “In fact, the record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy.”…

Our records are the raw material of history; the shelter of our memories for the future. We must develop ironclad security for our digital archives, and put them entirely out of the reach of hostile hands. The good news is that this is still possible.  Maria Bustillos on what can be done, including a well-deserved shout-out to the Internet Archive: “The Internet Isn’t Forever.”

* William James

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As we ponder preservation, we might spare a thought for Fred W. Friendly (born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer); he died on this date in 1998.  A journalist and producer, he was a driving force behind the rise of CBS News, where he was responsible for See It Now (with Edward R. Murrow) and CBS Reports.  Friendly became President of CBS News in 1964, but resigned in 1966, when the network ran a scheduled episode of The Lucy Show instead of broadcasting live coverage of the first United States Senate hearings questioning American involvement in Vietnam.

After CBS, Friendly became a consultant on broadcast to the Ford Foundation, where he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the American public broadcasting system.  As head of the New York City Cable TV and Communications Commission, he originated the idea of the public access channel.

Later, he took a position at Columbia School of Journalism, where he strengthened the school’s broadcast curriculum and authored a number of books.

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“A convention was to him the arrival of a circus to a country lad”*…

 

On the occasion of the opening of the first of this summer’s political pageants, a look back at conventions as covered by H. L. Mencken

On June 20, 1948, a round and no doubt rumpled correspondent for the Baltimore Sun looked into the galleries of a Philadelphia convention hall and spotted the future.

His name was Henry Louis Mencken, and he didn’t like what he saw. It was the day before the Republican National Convention, and in a rehearsal of the proceedings technicians had turned on huge lights to accommodate television, a new presence at political conventions. In the dramatically increased glare, Mencken could see what these quadrennial political gatherings would become, and what they’ll be this summer, as another season of political conventions arrives in America: a pageant of images, in which what candidates say or do is perhaps less memorable than how they look.

“It passed off well enough, all things considered, and no one was actually fried to death,” Mencken said of the high-wattage illumination introduced that year in Philadelphia. “But I doubt if any politician, however leathery his hide, survives that unprecedented glare of light without a considerable singeing”…

More at “H.L. Mencken at the Convention.”

* Alistair Cooke, on his friend and colleague, H. L. Mencken

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As we vote our consciences, we might we might send acerbic birthday greetings to one of Mencken’s heirs, journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson; he was born in Louisville on this date in 1929.  The author of Hell’s AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is widely credited as the creator of the Gonzo school of journalism (an extreme form of New Journalism in which the reporter isn’t simply present, he/she is central), and widely remembered for his love of inebriates and guns, and for his hate of authoritarianism in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

…the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.
– Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)

 source

Written by LW

July 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

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