Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Yeah, that's all well and good, but how does it fit my blog on what people know? Well, you can read magazines and newspapers on the thing, not just mysteries and SF and novels about puppies or vampires or whatever. That's the potential -- a way to keep up with the news without paper and without being stuck with a desktop or even an annoying laptop computer.
I admit $350 is too much. It's gotta come down. But here in Athens the Atlanta newspaper will soon stop delivery at my driveway, and they also happen to deliver the NYTimes. So if I want to read the Times and not do it on my computer, this has potential. The Kindle is really best for people who travel, kinda like laptops when they first came out, but I'm at home now typing on a laptop because we have no desktops in the house. Why bother? They take up valuable space, so we have wireless and laptops and can work wherever the hell we please.
With the Kindle, I can read anything I want, wherever I please. That's the potential, once they get the cost down just a smidgen. And when that happens, I hope it means news and information will once again move to the front of the bus.
Journalists who work online are more optimistic about the future of their profession than are news people tied to more traditional media platforms, but at best their optimism is an uneasy one, according to new survey of members of the Online News Association produced by the Association and the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
These online news people also believe that the internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism -- and more often than not for the worse.
Damned depressing when even the online journalists are uneasy about the quality of online journalism. The chief culprit is perceived declining accuracy, due in part to the need to quickly post items in a 24-hour news cycle. Now a caveat ... most of these people work in "legacy" online sites, meaning they're tied to mainstream, previously print, news organizations. Not sure you'd get the same results from people who have only worked online and who work for only-online news sites.
And there's positive news. Loosening standards, yes, but also more voices being heard. That's a good thing, assuming the voices make sense.
As to what people know, much of our future knowledge depends on a these serious news sites finding a way to make a buck so we can afford to have journalists on the streets, keeping an eye on our major institutions. TV ain't gonna do it, not by a long shot. The local TV is about bleeding and leading, the cable guys about partisan shoutfests, and the major alphabet soup guys (ABC, CBS) are about, well, not sure what the hell they're about.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I've only started reading the report, but the authors especially attempt to explain the weird stuff from the New Hampshire polls (at least the part I'm reading now). Some problems have to do with sampling, some with shifting dates by the states themselves, some with question wording or style of questions, and some problems with the magic pollsters use to adjust numbers to fit the general population. The lay person will struggle with some of this. Hell, I'm not "lay" and I struggle with some of this, but it makes for interesting reading if you're into polls and politics and how the two interact.
This may find its way into my summer Public Opinion class.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Seems that way. But not.
My quick-and-dirty-yet-damned-comprehensive analysis found no real significant difference between people living in a group of states I labeled "swing" and the rest of the U.S. on a set of questions specifically about the two major candidates (what state they're from, what's their religion) or on a set of policy questions (does Obama favor this, does McCain favor that).
Zero. Nada. Nuthin. Hours of careful consideration, recoding, analysis, drinking, more analysis, still more drinking, recoding the recoding, serious drinking, and a final stab at analysis turned up zero, nada, nuthin. Well, I did get a headache. I'm sure it's from the computer screen and SPSS, not the drinking.
It's a damnably solid idea -- that people lathered with attention, where the stakes were higher, should have gleaned a little more campaign attention than similar folks in states that received little attention. But noooo. At least not yet. And I don't have high hopes of magically making the results look any prettier.
Just thought you'd like to know. BTW, I'm open to suggestions on why this seems to be the case. Email them to me, along with coupon for more Scotch.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Dear Valued Subscriber:
Thank you for your subscription to .... etc. etc. And then the biggie:
Beginning April 26, 2009, we will focus distribution of our print edition to 20 counties that are closely connected with Atlanta's growing market and our core customers. Due to the changes, the final newspaper distribution to your address will take place on April 25, 2009.
Yeah, it upsets my morning routine and I know you're deeply disturbed by that, but let's turn this to what people know. I (and others) use the AJC to find out what the brainiacs are up to in the Georgia Legislature. This is a group that rarely finds a stupid idea too stupid to actually approve. Yes, I can get it online. I can even subscribe to the coveted "e-edition" that is a replica of the print product. Yeah, right. It's simple -- people don't read online with the same depth and attention that they do with a print product. Online we're skimmers, we're grazers, we pick up bits and pieces of journalistic flotsam and jetsam.
This is probably a dumb idea by the AJC, but I can't really say so because I don't have the circulation numbers and costs to be a fair judge. But to kiss off Athens and UGA, does that make sense for 35,000 potential young readers who eventually will grow up, stop binge drinking, and perhaps have real jobs in the Atlanta market some day? I'm also surprised they're cutting Oconee and really surprised they're cutting Barrow County, which is growing fast and become kinda an exurb of Atlanta.
Sad news, along with the cuts of journalists who work at the AJC. That's the worst bit of all, both personally and in terms of what people know. Fewer people covering the news, the less we know.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
An End to Religion, Newspapers
and the American Way of Life
Just about sums it up for me, an unrepentant newspaper guy, but what this reflects is what bloggers were discussing in a week of content. As the report says:
As the economy struggled, a major newspaper shut down and a survey highlighted the diminishing appeal of organized religion, bloggers and social media pondered the dramatic social changes that might be taking place and what the implications could be.
Below is a graphic display:
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I've been mulling this one over. Here I am, a guy who studies how people acquire political knowledge and the role the news media play in the process, and now to make my life worse I'm wondering how much all this matters. Does it make me more knowledgeable that I can name my U.S. representative and senators, or am I knowledgeable given I can Google those names quickly and efficiently.
Is mere factual recall a good measurement of knowledge? Or is it the ability to quickly find and use that information that matters?
In part I'm splitting conceptual hairs, in part I'm tinkering with knowledge versus sophistication versus expertise versus (insert your favorite variable here). But now I wonder whether the ability to search and find information is not, in itself, a form of political knowledge. My gut says no. My head says ... hrmmm ... mebbe.
Obviously from a measurement standpoint we can't easily gauge someones ability to quickly find and use political information, especially not in a telephone survey, so those tests of political knowledge aren't going away any time soon. Just how to measure political knowledge is controversial. I've blogged on this in the past, I'll blog on it some more in the future. It's a great topic that cuts across research methods and theory and all the rest -- the kinds of questions we ask, the ways we ask them, how tinkering here and there can mess with the results.
But we return now to my original question: has what we mean by knowledge changed somehow in a Google world? I think it has, though I'm not exactly sure what that means or how you study it. I'm gonna wrestle this one down to the ground in the next few weeks, get a little dirty in the process, and decide whether it's (1) a question worth asking and (2) if so, how to go about it, and (3) is age a significant factor here.
Monday, March 23, 2009
At least that's the theory.
In a new study, the theory falls apart. The telling graph comes near the end:
The data examined in this paper, however, are not consistent with the theory's predictions. CM clearly increases the probability that a respondent expresses an attachment to a specific party, and this positive relationship does not change across cohorts. In fact, there is some evidence that the positive effect of CM on party attachments is growing even stronger over time. In sum, neither the micro- nor the macro-level components of the theory are corroborated by the data.
Data yet again get in the way of theory.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
According to the authors, when all choices are visible, "respondents looked at the options near the top of the list longer than they looked at those at the bottom. In addition, they were more likely to choose the options at the top."
This neat study doesn't look specifically at political knowledge, so I'm going to extrapolate and ponder here just what this tendency might mean for respondents facing questions designed to tap their knowledge of politics and public affairs.
Could this introduce random or even systematic error into responses? Yes. Could this lower our estimation of people's actual knowledge? Probably. Should be put the "right" answer near the top so they can find it? I dunno, but my hunch is no.
I'd love to see this approach used specifically on political knowledge questions and put the "correct" answer in different locations to see whether that matters. All students know that on multiple choice tests, if all else fails, choose "C" as your answer, so I wonder whether in survey items in which there is a "correct" response (versus just your attitude about some policy or issue) the respondents would be more likely to seek out that right answer. I think so, but it needs testing.
Unfortunately I don't own some eye-tracking gear. Sigh.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Journalism, deluded by its profitability and fearful of technology, let others outside the industry steal chance after chance online. By 2008, the industry had finally begun to get serious. Now the global recession has made that harder.
This is the sixth edition of our annual report on the State of the News Media in the United States.
It is also the bleakest.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
"Stop hurting America."
Stewart's appearance helped kill the CNN show. Not a great loss for political discourse, although its death and that of related programs left a void soon filled by a series of ideologically-focused, single-person programs. You know the gang: O'Reilly, Dobbs, Grace, Olbermann, Hannity, etc. So in the long run I'm not so sure killing Crossfire was a good thing, given what happened next, but there was no way to know that at the time.
And then, of course, Cramer came to town.
Stewart spent days blasting CNBC and star Jim Cramer, the entertaining and crazed stock pick guy. Finally Cramer appears on The Daily Show and the result is ugly for Cramer. Everyone agrees. I'm not gonna spend time putting in links for stuff we've all watched over and over again.
Many agree that Stewart was probably unfair to CNBC. He got away with selective editing of video, funny-as-hell juxtapositions, and some telling journalistic work that shows Cramer describing how to cheat the system.
And Stewart always gets away with criticism by the same dodge -- I'm a comedian.
Stewart is more than a mere comedian. His show often sets the news agenda. Whether that's a good thing or not is another matter, but it remains a fact of life, and one Stewart can no longer avoid by joking about being on Comedy Central or the program that leads into his program or with a funny face or sniffing himself. He is part of the meta-media: mainstream news and bloggers and video sites and, yes, The Daily Show. His interviews with authors and celebrities are some of the best on TV. His comments are picked up by CNN and all the rest.
He'd say that says something bad about news organizations, but if what he's doing at 11 p.m. every night becomes water cooler talk the next morning, then it becomes news, and he's now a player.
So is Jon Stewart hurting America? Maybe. A little.
But then again, who isn't?
There is some suggestion that people who watch his program become more cynical, less trusting. Less naive? Does watching parody and satire fill us with empty news calories so we don't consume serious news? Does news now have to be funny? Sugar in all our medicine?
Can you be a player, but avoid being a player? Yes, Stewart is having his cake and eating it too, and time's up.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
The latest State of the Media report is out. Always an important read if you are even barely associated with the news media. I'll probably blog about this report for the rest of the week (unless, of course, Pew comes out with another neat study that knocks the report down a notch or two).
The set of experiments by Jody Baumgartner (who has done some interesting stuff recently) finds that often humor has a negative relationship with exposure to Internet-based political humor and evaluations about political institutions and actors. But -- there's always a but -- self-effacing humor can have a positive impact on evaluations about a politician. In other words, the JibJab Effect here is positive because it's kinda self-deprecating. Of course it's not really self-deprecating since in this case neither Bush nor Kerry actually performed, but you get the idea.
So what's it all mean? I'm reading a bunch of humor stuff for my class this week, about Colbert and Stewart and even a fascinating case study of a politician's attempt at humor on TV that goes wrong). The basic result is that humor of a negative tenor tends to damage perceptions of our major institutions and political actors, at least a little. And people tend to report lower self efficacy (or internal efficacy, for you polisci types). Nothing much to report on political knowledge, but I suspect humor gets in the way of learning.
Thus we have the two big camps: parody and satire are bad, or they are good. The answer? Probably both. How's that for a PhDweebish fence-riding response?
I do believe satire and parody and humor serve an important role in political communication. The viral nature alone has a function, as well as shared experience. But there are downsides in all of our traditional dependent variables: efficacy, cynicism, trust. Is one worth the other? It doesn't matter, not really, since we have no control over them. I'd put this recent explosion of political humor in the category, to borrow a book title, of amusing ourselves to death.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Now this rests on familiar theoretical groundwork of similarity, but it's a very cool take. The researchers morphed a candidate's face with an experimental respondent's face (or someone else's). Yup, they liked the morphed face that looks like them most. This works best on unfamiliar candidates, only a little on familiar candidates, but it still works once you set aside party ID and policy preferences.
Thus, the evidence across the three studies suggests that even in high-profile elections, voters prefer candidates high in facial similarity, but most strongly with unfamilar candidates.
Very very neat. It's hard to make practical use of this, obviously, since a politician can't very well morph a jillion different pix of them self with all their different potential voters. But I think there are some good mass comm studies here. I'd like to run an experiment with a blogger's web site, with the blogger's photo, but morphed either to match or not match an experimental subject's own face. Can we get them to like a blogger more even if that blogger writes about stuff they really don't like, or only moderately like? This has some great PR research possibilities.
Okay you budding PhDweeb types, get to work.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The days of being everything to everyone, they may be gone. That common tie that brings a community together? It was the newspaper, among a few others. Those common ties are unraveling.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Today I take on that poor cousin -- radio.
I like radio. A lot. A pile of research I did on talk radio in the 1990s helped win me tenure and thus employment at UGA where I can spend my time in hero support -- meaning I teach a lot, do a lot of research, and watch the occasionally-teaching faculty get all the kudos. Anyway, radio is a favorite of mine, but it's also weird. Why? I'm working now on a study of who stuck to the belief that Barack Obama was Muslim during the 2008 campaign. I'll blog more on this study soon, but one weird effect was radio news. The people who said they listened to a lot of radio news didn't act like others who consumed mainstream news media.
Then it hit me. Talk radio. I bet, though can't prove with the data I'm using, that when asked about radio news people answered the same whether they listened to NPR or Rush Limbaugh. In fact I'm betting they answered more for talk radio than traditional newscasts.
So radio bounces a lot of ways unless you ask very specific questions to make a respondent sure you mean what you mean. The audience for talk radio has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Once an outpost for the lonely, then for the liberal disaffected, it's now become a bastion of conservative thought. Yeah, thought is a strong word, but follow me on this romp through radioland. Exposure to talk radio is associated with some gain in political knowledge, but mostly for those who already know something about public affairs. The barely interested, they don't get a lot out of it -- which makes talk radio vastly different than traditional TV news (see Monday's post).
What about regular radio news? That audience, especially for NPR, et al., is already high enough in education and knowledge and interest that listening doesn't really translate in much gain in political knowledge. Yes they score higher, but they were probably already high in the first place.
So when we say radio, we mean a lot of different things. TV is kinda like that, though not so much as radio.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
My earlier post focused on TV news. Now let's turn to another form of TV, that lovable hybrid called entertainment-faux-fake-news.
In other words, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. But also, if you stretch the definition, those late-night talk shows and even daytime programs.
So, what do we know?
Not a hell of a lot. I've read a lot of research about the two big programs. Done some myself. There is some suggestion that the folks who watch these two shows are already pretty high in political knowledge and kinda young too, an interesting combo. Mostly younger people do poorly on tests of political knowledge. My own work suggests that, for the least knowledgeable, these programs don't help a lot. Other work suggests they do.
And then there's the recent fun piece about Colbert's program nudging people to the political right.
In general two arguments emerge: these programs are the best things to happen to democracy, or these programs are the worst things to happen to democracy. Is satire and parody a good thing? Haven't we always had satire and parody? Is getting at the truth more important than following what to the public seems like obscure, silly, journalistic routines that balance a story to the point of giving even lying idiots a say?
Back to what we know. The audience is knowledgeable, some learning takes place, and these programs do feed how people interpret politicians and public figures. Ridicule is a powerful weapon, one Saturday Night Live did quite well in the 1970s with President Gerald Ford. But too much, some research suggests, might tip us over to even less trust in government. Yeah, trust is hardly a sexy thing to promote, but a democracy rests on a stable reservoir of trust existing out there, something drawn on when times get tough -- oh, like now.
Summing up my summing up -- we don't know a lot about the effects of these programs. Parody and satire and faux news seems to inform a few, entertain a lot, but there are suggestions that the laughter gets in the way of real learning. The most powerful effect may be a negative attitude toward the public figures ridiculed by these guys. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Topic Today: TV News.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. TV news kinda sucks. You see it all the time -- propping up two partisan hacks against one another and think this somehow magically informs viewers. And local tv news is laughable. That's all easy and out of the way so now we can move on to how watching TV news is related to what people know.
For years the answer was simple: TV news does little or nothing how people learn about politics and public affairs.
Hell, we'd even find negative relationships. In other words, the more you watch TV, the less you knew. For those of us who study cognition, we called it cog-sucking. TV sucks out your brains.
And now we know better.
For the least educated, the least interested, TV news actually aids in learning. TV news makes public affairs accessible. It tells stories in ways people understand, often with narrative hooks or focus on a single person to get us into the story. For those who don't know much, or don't care much, TV news can make a big difference in what they know about the world.
What else do we know so far? TV news is fragmenting. Spin around the dial to the cable guys and watch for a while. MSNBC to the kooky left, Fox to the kooky right, and CNN just kooky. Forget about local tv news. Delusions of adequacy is going too far and no serious person takes local tv news, well, seriously (there are exceptions, but not gonna get into them here).
How people learn from TV is an interesting question, given the flashing video and lights and pretty people and smarmy chatter and talking heads and music and all the rest. People glean bits and pieces from the news through, often, inadvertent exposure. The highly informed, they can get a lot out of breaking news, the less informed get a bit here and there. Given the ceiling effect for the highly informed they can't improve much, but for the least interested, it makes a big difference. For that reason alone, TV news plays a vital role in a democracy. Think of TV as necessary but far from sufficient for a democracy to succeed.
Tomorrow, either more on TV or perhaps a different medium.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Or does he?
A study in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media suggests something more ominous is at work. Conspiracy buffs -- and you know who you are -- pull up a chair.
Colbert, we all thought, was a liberal posing as a windbag conservative to make them look silly. But this study suggests people who watch his program actually become more conservative and more Republican. I blogged about the study in January, but now I've given it more thought.
It's simple: Colbert is not a liberal posing as a conservative to make conservatives look foolish. It's much deeper than that. Colbert is a conservative posing as a liberal who poses as a conservative. We think he's making conservatives look foolish when, instead, he secretly pulls people to the political right.
Clever, Colbert. Very clever.
And now I am so confused.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
As it turns out, they want honesty. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last summer, fully 96 percent of the public say that the requirement that a political leader be honest is either “absolutely essential” (52 percent) or “very important” (44 percent), making it the most sought-after trait in a political leader. In fact, those in Obama’s opposition party are somewhat more likely to say honesty is absolutely essential (59 percent of Republicans) than are those in his own party (50 percent of Democrats) or independents (52 percent).
This is the big debate, of course. Should Obama be honest about the economy, or be a booster, or walk a fine line between the two?
As the article notes, what is truth is debatable -- all resting on your particular political predispositions. That last sentence brought to you by the letter p. But it's an interesting issue in today's economic mess -- do we want a cheerleader or the grumpy guy who tells us the hard truth? Or both? Telling us how bad things are didn't work for Jimmy Carter as president. Hell, almost nothing worked for him. Reagan came along and it was "morning in America" and people responded, so to me the matter is far from settled.