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Archive for the ‘Mass Media & Public Opinion’ Category

Chelsea McWilliams
November 5, 2009
Mass Media and Public Opinion
Reading Response 2

Public Journalism Pros and Cons through the Years
SUMMARY
Cheryl Gibbs’s article was a response to Tanni Haas’s piece, The Pursuit of Public Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism. Gibbs talked about her reactions to Haas’s Book, while giving a summary and a critique of it. She commends Haas’s writing saying, he “makes provocative recommendations for pushing public journalism forward.” She applauds his research, perspectives, and his clarity. One of Haas’s quotes that Gibbs points out is, “journalists should also offer citizens opportunities to articulate the social locations from which they view given topics and to reflect on how those social locations affect their sense of problems and solutions.” Gibbs also addresses Haas’s optimism in his statement that journalists should help the subordinate social groups to participate. Then, she lists the reasons why this optimism to change our communities for the better, didn’t work out, which took a depressing turn.
Voakes article, A Brief History of Public Journalism, does a good job of describing how public journalism worked through the decades. First, he defined public journalism with five common practices: listen to the stories and ideas of citizens, examine alternative ways to frame stories on important community issues, choose frames that best stimulate citizen deliberation and build public understanding of issues, report on major public problems in a way that advances public knowledge of possible solutions, and finally, pay continuing attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public (Voakes, 25). He discussed how public journalism started and how it developed through the years, while adding in multiple researchers’ opinions and thoughts on the subject. Much of the article was based on Lippmann’s traditional democracy perspective and his followers against Dewey’s participatory democracy perspective and his followers who also supported public journalism. Lippmann thought society was too complex and citizens were too busy, ignorant, and overwhelmed, so they relied on the media to decide their voting options. Dewey thought that the citizens were very capable to participate in public life and should not leave the deliberation process to the officials and lobbyists. Voakes also brings up some key terms of the topic like public judgment, public sphere, and deliberative polling. Some of Voakes’s last few major points were some critics’ views versus some supporters’ reactions, which factors work well in public journalism, and that in a study, journalists at traditional newspapers were found to be receptive to public journalism and most agree with four of the five principles in the definition. The conclusion was mainly about how no instances were noted when or if people ever had terrible experiences with public journalism; it just mentions that most of the research that has been done on its impact has had high or very high ratings, which could be biased.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I believe both Lippmann and Dewey make excellent points when explaining their versions of democracy, but they both seem like such drastic options. I think an in-between democracy that involves ideas from both perspectives would be ideal. I do like the idea of public journalism, but the critics of it do raise valid, but harsh arguments. I think most of the principles of the definition of public journalism can be merged with traditional journalism, but not all of the principles are realistic in our society today. Many people are so used to how journalism is today that a change which involves more work for them on top of their crazy, everyday lives may upset them. Although, there are also very many opinionated people who would love this type of journalism and democracy that is more individualistic and involved. I don’t personally have an example of public journalism, but I have been in many situations where community or group meetings held to achieve collective deliberation have definitely made situations worse in the end than they were before the meeting. One little example would be my cheerleading coach in high school grouping us together to get our opinions on our performance, which would lead to everyone shouting and wanting to add their thoughts. We, as a people today, are just extremely diverse and different in all aspects of the self even within our own communities, that I believe too much participation can lead to downfall as well as too little participation.
POLL STORY
I found a poll story about a New York Times/CBS news poll on a possible ban on texting while driving. It is a very serious and debatable issue right now, because cell phones are becoming more technologically advanced, and kids are getting cell phones at younger and younger ages. Some people compared texting while driving to be as dangerous as drinking and driving, yet others disagree with that harsh comparison. The writer of this poll story obviously listened to the stories and ideas of citizens, because there were opinions from random people quoted in the story. Texting while driving is clearly an important community and cultural issue currently, and the author definitely frames it as such when she starts out with the overwhelming poll result that 97% support the prohibition of texting while driving. Even though there is a clear majority, the story doesn’t discuss its sample. The whole sample could be worried parents of teens who could be overreacting. This poll story does add to the public’s knowledge on the issue and suggests the possible solutions of hands-free cellular devices, and it hard for a poll story author to pay continuing attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public. So, for the most part, this poll story shows the features of public journalism on a contemporary issue.

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Rosalind Sixbey
Public journalism is a very important kind of journalism. Public journalism has a big effect on communities and the people involved in those communities. Its purpose is to serve the people, and maybe even written by the public.
Paul S. Voakes gives a brief summary of the aspects of public journalism. Public journalism seeks to “listen systematically to the stories and ideas of citizens even while protecting its freedom to choose what to cover, examine alternative ways to frame stories on important issues, choose frames that stand the best chance to stimulate citizen deliberation and build public understanding of issues, take the initiative to report on major public problems in a way that advances public knowledge of a possible solutions and the values served by alternative courses of action, and pay continuing and systematic attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public.” So in short, public journalism is intended to inform the public, represent the public, and initiate action in an orderly way from the public.
Public journalism has an important role in democracy. America is based on democracy. Democracy can only work if the public is actively involved and is informed enough to make decisions. Voakes sites the Walter Lippman’s three models of public journalism: “the market model (with the media responding to audience preferences), the advocacy model (with the media displaying an identifiable point of view in presenting news and analysis), and the trustee model (with the media including them- selves among the elite who decide what citizens need).”
I feel like public journalism is a lot different than traditional journalism, but still very important. There are things going on in communities and opinions of people that could not get out there if not for public journalism. It has to be a good mix of writing for the public and writing what the public wants and needs to know about what is going on in their communities or about issues that could affect them.

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Jordan Underwood
MMPO
Dr. Yao
November 5, 2009
The Concern of Public Journalism
Like most other things in journalism, the definition of public journalism has been a source of controversy for a number of years. The most commonly used idea is that it listens to the stories of the public and maintains the freedom to choose the one it wants, while taking the initiative to report on the main problems of the society in a way that the readers will be able to comprehend and better understand the issue being presented. Over the last few years, researchers and historians alike have come up with several ways that public journalism affects the society we live in. These ideas they affect are democracy, how it is practiced, and finally, the evidence of it in today’s society.
The largest realm that public journalism affects is democracy. A contemporary writer named Walter Lippmann created the basic idea of democracy that became a staple for the idea of public journalism in the 1920s. It stated that ordinary citizens did not care, or simply did not have time to care about public issues, so a knowledgeable elite, including journalists, would do the decision making of the society. John Dewey did not feel the same way as Lippmann and fought him based on the ideas that in order to have a public system, the public needs to have the power. This view was not widely accepted by the journalist community and Lippmann’s ideas became the standard. Also, the emergence of the Lippmann-endorsed trustee model that came around later further enhanced public journalism. It created a realm for investigative reporting and, with its admiration of professional expertise, the “beat” reporting was established as well. This in turn would lead to an increased role of the First Amendment and the check that journalists would have on the government’s power. Also, the philosophical roots of public journalism are the attention journalists began to pay to the public good. Some scholars felt that this was a necessary part of democracy and even journalists had to put their stories into the public eye, where they could understand them. Others felt that it was necessary for the journalists to be the “lobbyists” of whoever was in power so as to keep the peace among the public. These arguments raged through the nineties and are still a common argument over public journalism today. The final largest debate that surrounds public journalism is the fact that journalism is to blame when it comes to the decline in democratic activity. The anti-public journalism crowd feels that journalists are taking their First Amendment rights too far and are pushing the public out of the political arena because they are providing them with complex information as well as pushing the idea that they do not belong due to their lack of knowledge. The advocates for public journalism state that journalism is not the only profession that should be blamed for the growing disinterest that the public has in politics. It should be blamed on a variety of professions and people and not just one area. These debates have raged on for numerous years and are still very prevalent in the journalistic community today.
The second major area that is discussed when talking about public journalism is how and where it is practiced today. It has been found in a variety of news sources ranging from newspapers to TV broadcasts and the general outlook on it has been positive when it has been done correctly. Overall, numerous researchers are a variety of universities across the country have found that when public journalism is used the right way it can provide the public with easy to read issues as well as spark involvement in politics. Studies of journalists’ attitudes and opinions show a basically positive attitude toward the practices of public journalism, despite the large number of critics in the trade publications. Researchers also found that a majority of journalists say that public journalism can be easily integrated into society as long as ordinary citizens are used for stories discussing public opinion. With more inclusion of the ordinary public into stories focusing on public opinion and politics, many feel that this will lead to a wider acceptance of public journalism.
The final aspect discussed when talking about public journalism is the impact that it has. Measuring the effects of public journalism is often very time-consuming and expensive, and the results are almost always different. This leads to a difficult task of interpretation of the opinions surrounding public journalism and if it is doing an effective job. Most of the research has explored whether citizens’ knowledge or attitudes about a public issue or political campaign changed after a public journalism project. A numerous amount of studies found that after a study about public journalism, people began to show an increase in the knowledge of issues covered, as well as a better understanding of the accuracy and relevance of the media’s stories. Other studies failed to find any connection with public journalism and the public journalism. They found that there was no difference between those that exposed to public journalism and those that were exposed to traditional methods. There will always be advocates and opponents to public journalism, but as long as the First Amendment remains strong, and journalists try to involve the public, it will always be around.
Public journalism is something that I had never really thought about. I had always just assumed that when there was a political issue or an issue concerning a factor about public opinion that the news media and journalists always used people’s opinions to formulate their stories. As I found out in doing the reading, that is not always the case. Journalists have sometimes pushed their own agenda or their publication’s agenda and used only the elite when it comes to knowledge in politics. However, this has been slightly modified by the wider acceptance of public journalism. Public journalism has acted as a way to bring the public into issues and try and connect them with politics so they can have a greater involvement. That is why I would side with the advocate argument for public journalism. The main reason that I would agree with this side of the argument is because I feel that it is necessary to involve the public with political issues because in a democracy, the base is to have a political system that is designed for the people and by the people. Therefore, with this base principle in mind, journalistic writing when it concerns politics or opinion should include the public. I also feel that when there are opportunities for people to participate in politics, they will participate. I consider myself to be an average citizen when it comes to political knowledge, but if the opportunities are there for me to expand my knowledge or to get involved, I will do so. A key example of this is when I was a junior in high school. I remember sitting I history class and an advocate for Barack Obama came into our classroom, He talked about several opportunities to get involved with not only Obama’s campaign, but with politics in general. I saw this opportunity and jumped all over it. Overall, I feel that when journalists apply public journalism and they do it the right way, there will be a solid connection with the public and the news media and there will be a spike in the involvement in politics and public opinion polls and stories.
Public journalism has been widely used by a variety of news sources throughout the country. Getting the public involved is the main focus, especially now that more people want to get involved with politics considering there are now more opportunities. Therefore, the largest numbers of polls that are being conducted are based on public opinion on political issues. One recent poll done by ABC News reveals the tendency to involve more of the public in polls. The poll was based around how President Obama is putting together a plan to cut executive pay from those companies that are receiving federal bailout money. This poll could have been asked of higher professionals who have more knowledge of the federal bailout plan as well as the amount of pay that the executives are paying, but ABC took the question to the public. The poll found that this move by Obama is very highly supported because 71% of the sample they surveyed said that they strongly supported this plan. It has also found support of a variety of political parties represented by the people surveyed. Among those surveyed, 79% of liberals supported this move, as well as 62% of those who identified themselves as Republicans. Overall, this poll shows the idea that public journalism is in full effect throughout our society and it is necessary in order to gain a broader spectrum of opinions concerning political issues.

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David McNace
Reading Reaction
November 5, 2009

The readings for today by Voakes and Gibbs discussed the issue of public journalism. The actual definition, as stated by Voakes, is a point of contention and is best explained by Edmund B. Lambeth’s five point definition. Public journalism seeks to listen systematically to the stories and ideas of citizens even while protecting its freedom to choose what to cover, examine alternative ways to frame stories on important community issues, choose frames that stand the best chance to stimulate citizen deliberation and build public understanding of issues, take the initiative to report on major public problems in a way that advances public knowledge of possible solutions and the values served by alternative courses of action and pay continuing and systematic attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public.

The overall goal of public journalism is to have the general public take part in the journalism process and participate in the stories that are being reported, and thus become more involved in the process of creating the media’s agenda. Another way to describe public journalism is by referring to the practice as civic journalism, where the general public is responsible for taking an active and engaged role in media. The purpose of this form of journalism is to ignite a spark under the public to become more involved in the democratic process instead of just sitting idly by while news happens. In order for public journalism to work effectively, there must be a high level of interaction between the journalists and the people. That bond has to be strong so that each can efficiently use the other to advance issues through the news.

In the article by Gibbs, he discusses the ideas presented by Tanni Haas and her book The Pursuit of Public Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. One key aspect of Haas’s work that Gibbs highlights is that of the importance to diversify public journalism. The inclusion of a diverse social group will make sure that not one dominant group can control the style. Gibbs does conclude that in today’s current newsroom, it would be difficult to have perfect public journalism due in part to deadlines and constantly having editors looking over your shoulder at your work.

One poll that I found to be a good example of public journalism comes from polls taken during election seasons. The poll I am using for this example comes from last November’s presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama. I have found that a large number of people look to these popularity polls to see who is the more favorable candidate. Often times, many people are not fully informed of the policy differences to make a decision themselves and just vote based on popularity. In this poll, conducted by ABC just before election day last November, Obama was leading McCain by a margin of 53 to 44 percent. By asking the people, the poll shows the current opinions of the general public and gives those who are less informed or uncertain an idea of what side people are leaning towards. By no means does such a poll play as the only factor in a person’s decision, but it does help to sway a person’s mindset when they see the nation is leaning in one way or another.

I personally feel that public journalism is an essential part to the world of journalism today. I feel that if the media isn’t aware of the thoughts and feelings of the public then they will have no clue what to report on. It is important for journalists to be aware of the public opinion and to understand what a community wants to know about. There needs to be an equal amount of give and take between the journalists and the public to effectively deliver news and for the public to consume it. It is also vital for the public to be knowledgeable of the events going on around them and be able to voice your opinion so that it can be heard within the news media.

- ABC Poll (http://abcnews.go.com/PollingUnit/Politics/story?id=6169954&page=1)

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Julie Nakis
November 4, 2009
Reaction #4

The readings for today focused on public journalism and discussed the positive and negative views of this type of journalism. Public Journalism is an attempt to have the readers and public community be participants in the stories that are reported. Nonelite citizens are relied upon as sources to find out what stories and issues journalists should cover. This means that citizens are more involved in creating the agenda for the media. In Paul Voakes article he discusses that public journalism emerged in the early 1990’s without any warning and came about without any set manifesto or mission statement. He says that the emergence of public journalism was because of three factors which were; A decline in civic engagement, philosophers discovery of the public sphere discussed by Habermas, and finally because journalists were embarrassed from the 1988 presidential election. Public journalism value using citizens as sources for their articles and finding out what citizens priorities on certain issues are. Both the Voakes and Gibbs article discuss the positive and negative aspects of public journalism. Many prominent journalists argue that public journalism has allowed non-elitist citizens to feel more connected to the stories because they can partake in the deliberation process. One journalist says that he has no problem with public journalism because he sees democracy working best when communities enjoy interdependence, which would involve journalists being able to depend on citizens to help out with their stories. There are many critics of public journalism who believe that our nation is too large where a public sphere could operate where citizens could be involved with policy making. Others believe that public journalism is antidemocratic and even blame journalism as a factor in the decline of democratic activity in America. Most journalists agree that journalisms primary responsibility is to provide accurate information and not to campaign for causes. Cheryl Gibbs gives credit to Tanni Haas book “The Pursuit of Public Journalism, Theory, Practice and Criticism”. In Haas book it discusses that public journalism is attempting to help public life function and that it does contribute to society. Haas does say that there can be improvements for this type of journalism like making sure that subordinate groups also participate in the public determination process for issues to make sure everybody is included.
When reading articles from newspapers or listening to reports on the television I’ve never considered the form of journalism that is being reported to me. At my internship at CBS I helped to partake in public journalism by attending meetings with the journalist reporters. These meetings were held every other week and there would be 20-50 everyday citizens attending as well and they would voice their opinions on what issues in the local news they would like to hear about as well as consumer reports and investigative stories. These citizens were pulled from the large email list that CBS had compiled so they were extremely random and most types it was a very diverse group of people all coming from Chicago. While this wasn’t a very large sample it was helpful for our journalists to speak with non-elitist citizens and determine what stories they would like to hear about. A Gallup poll that I found on pollingreport.com asks the question .
“In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media — such as newspapers, TV and radio — when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly: a great deal, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?” The most recent results show that only 10% of the respondents have a great deal of trust and confidence in the media. This poll is a good example for public journalism because they may use the results from this question to try and restore faith in the media. This poll used citizens to respond and when the results show that they don’t have much faith in the media the journalists may use a public journalism approach and try to become more involved with the people than traditional journalism ever has so they can find out exactly why they don’t have faith in the media.

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Kahle Novak
November 5, 2009

Reader Response # 2
In the articles we find that public journalism is a form of journalism that listens and follows the stories and ideas of people, it frames stories in alternative ways on important issues, it uses frames that will give the audience a better understanding of a specific issue, reports on major problems to the public that will advance their knowledge, and pays attention to how creditable the communication between the journalism and the public is. Public journalism can also be referred to as civic journalism. Theodore Glasser and Stephanie Craft of Stanford University described how a decline in “civic engagement” from Americans was occurring in the 1990s, the writings engaging in the “public sphere”, and the embarrassing coverage of the 1988 presidential election all led to public journalism’s emergence.
Public journalism is used to discuss with the public the community issues released through newspapers, polls, and television. Along with discussing issues, public journalism wants to discuss and debate among the public opinion. Citizens are more ignorant now days and too busy to pay attention to information that is needed for their participation in democratic processes, so they pay attention to what the media says to see how to vote wisely. One scholar from the article by Paul S. Voakes has observed that Americans are having a loss of “social capital” and their connection between one another, which helps to solve common problems. Statistics also found that people felt distant from the political process and lacked information.
We see public journalism in our everyday lives. We see it on television as news stories, we see it in the newspapers, and we also see it out in our community. It is important for people to be familiar with public opinion and understand what stance they take in the community. It is important for them to be knowledgeable and have some sort of connection with issues, especially important ones involving politics and voting. The public doesn’t pay as much attention due to their business and ignorance towards what is happening in their community. There is almost some sort of distrust among the government because the public bases their needs and beliefs of how processes ought to be from what they see in the media.
One specific poll that is relevant to public journalism is the standings of voters during the presidential election campaigning. People who were not knowledgeable enough about what was going on or uncertain of how to vote could look at such a pole and realize who is more favorable and help to frame their decision. In a poll done by the Washington Post, the question was asked to the public before the actual voting took place in November, “If the 2008 presidential election were being held today, for whom would you vote?” The responses that were received among likely voters found that 52% would vote for Barack Obama and 44% would vote for John McCain. He opened up this eight-point lead before the actual elections took place, which showed the public who was ahead and who was the candidate that voters were most likely to vote for. It also shows that McCain may be encountering some challenges compared to Obama. It could be predicted that because the public saw what the public opinion was towards the voting for the next presidential election that they chose to also vote for him too in the actual election to help him win his presidency.

Craig, Tim and Jon Cohen. “Poll Gives Obama 8-Point Va. Lead” 27 October 2008. The Washington Post. 3 November 2009.

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Abby Sojka
Response paper # 3
Public Journalism
11/5/09

“Aside from offering citizens opportunities to reflect on one another’s underlying reasons for espousing certain opinions, journalists should also offer citizens opportunities to articulate the social locations from which they view given topics and to reflect on how those social locations affect their sense of problems and solutions,” Hass writes. It is clearly a series of trials in taking steps to organize a successful realm of public journalism. The readings discuss that if journalists were to do journalism differently, communities would evolve for the better. Things got in our way. “Things like the lack of time people can devote to sustained civic engagement. Things like poorly developed cognitive strategies in many lower-income people we tried to include in the public conversation. Things like many citizens’ disillusionment with public life…”(Gibbs 2).I feel this summarizes the reading very well; although public journalism is considered a positive aspect in society; it also has its downfalls. It has been a difficult time to push the concept of public journalism forward, but it has been pushing itself into news rooms across the country.
The history of public journalism if simple; listen to citizens stories point of views and opinions, find alternative ways to frame and approach stories, choose approaches that build and develop public understanding of stories, take the initiative to report major stories that allow the public to be aware and take credibility in communicating with the public. Public journalism sheds a new light in the way many journalists report today.

I tend to notice that public journalism shows up more, but not necessarily, in local newspapers and TV stations. For instance, when I read the local paper in my town, The Muscatine Journal, I notice that at the end of every paper, there is a question stating, “How can we make the journal better for you?” I see that people reply and voice their opinion towards the paper online, or through print. Many people have constructive criticism, or deconstructive criticism for the paper. Through the voices from the public, the paper and the public develop a local relationship that allows the public to be more informed. The paper communicates with the public; this shows that The Muscatine Journal takes the initiative to choose approaches that build and develop public understanding of stories on a daily basis.

From my own previous experiences, I was a part of the yearbook and newspaper for my high school. We prided ourselves on opinions and preferences from the student body. At the end of every newspaper, The Auroran, we would poll students on various topics that concerned their everyday life, whether it was what they wanted to be served in the cafeteria to who was the most influential teacher they had. Being on a part of my high school newspaper allowed me to develop a relationship with the student body; this relationship would not have happened unless the staff and I got input from the student body. We also reported stories that we felt would educate the students and allow them to question their surroundings at home, school, and around the world. We were an informative paper that was not biased, but rather looking for the best interests and discoveries of the students.

Public journalism is a great path to take when considering the types of journalism that can be negative, biased, or inaccurate. It is a type of journalism that is helpful to the public, but also helpful to the journalists themselves. It should give the journalist a feeling of accomplishment when they report major issues with the public in mind.

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Rosalind Sixbey

November 3, 2009

Public Polling

Reading Reaction Paper 1

Precision Journalism

Television news was the start of precision journalism in the 1970s. The need for immediate information drove the television stations to provide the information since there was such a high demand. Before the 1970s, newspapers were the main source for polls. But when television news took over in the 70s, newspapers were no longer the main source. Newspapers eventually teamed up with television stations in the late 1970s. But before that, the television stations became extremely competitive especially when it came to predicting the outcomes of elections. It was a race to find out which station could predict the outcomes of the elections first. After the polls closed, the stations came up with exit polls, because the anchors needed to talk about why the candidate won and who voted for him or her.

This competitive drive for polls plus the new technology created precision journalism. Computers made it possible to analyze a lot of data at once. By the late 1980s, early 90s, this was called assisted reporting or database journalism.

During elections, I very rarely pay attention to the polls after the television station has declared a projected winner. But before that, I am glued to the television switching between every news channel to see if there is a projected winner on another station. From my experiences, it seems that stations get projected results at different times, but at one point, each station has a result before another one.

For the 2008 election, we were mainly glued to MSNBC. They are the station that most closely agrees with my political views and had the most interesting coverage. And even though it was predicted that Barack Obama was going to be elected by minorities and youth, the exit polls only confirmed that prediction.

According to CNN.com,

Voters in the 18 to 24 age group broke 68 percent for Obama to 30 percent for John McCain, according to the exit polling. Those in the 25 to 29 age bracket went 69 percent to 29 percent in Obama’s favor.

The only age group where McCain prevailed was 65 and over, and that by just a 10-percentage-point margin, 54 percent to 44 percent, the exit polls showed.

And minorities went heavily into the Obama camp. Blacks, 96 percent Obama to 3 percent McCain; Latinos, 67 percent Obama to 30 percent McCain; and Asians, 63 percent Obama to 34 percent McCain.

These results are a good example of an election’s exit poll. The use of technology and computers processed the data of the elections very quickly making it possible to get these results promptly.

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Steph Seidel
Public journalism presents benefits but also attracts criticism
Public journalism attempts to hear the stories and ideas of citizens, consider other ways to frame stories on important community issues, select frames that increase the chances of citizen deliberation and public understanding of issues, report on major public problems in a manner that increases public knowledge of possible solutions, and pay attention to how well and how credibly it communicates with the public. Although public journalism only came onto the scene in the 1990s, the philosophical roots of this new movement date back to the 1920s.
According to Walter Lippmann, American democracy would function best under the control of well-educated elites because ordinary citizens were too busy, too ignorant or too overwhelmed with information to make educated decisions and actively participate in the democratic process. Lippmann believed that trusted journalists must provide selected information to citizens, and that citizens then must use this information to participate in the principal democratic activity; voting. John Dewey disagreed with Lippmann, claiming that citizens were capable and obligated to participate in public life, which included more involvement and effort than just voting. Although Lippmann’s ideologies became the cornerstone of twentieth century journalism, other scholars such Yankelovich argued that Americans felt disconnected from the political process not because of a lack of interest but instead believed that their opinion didn’t matter or make a difference.
After the coverage of the 1988 elections, some journalists began to imagine different methods in which they could cover communities and their politics. Columnist and author David Broder blamed uncaring, detached journalists for Americans’ lack of confidence in the political system, claiming that journalists needed to work to determine where the citizen’s interests lie. However, there are many theoretical arguments made against public journalism; Americans would find civic journalism too boring, that public journalism demonstrates an underlying distrust in the government and is in fact antidemocratic by definition, and that journalist’s main responsibility is to provide accurate information, not to campaign or rally support for social or political causes.
Despite the criticisms, public journalism in practice has been considered successful in many instances. According to researcher Philip Meyer “(1) easy-to-read “issue grids” are effective, (2) intensive efforts to inform voters work best when applied to a single issue, (3) public meetings are effective at arousing citizen interest and participation, and (4) the basic act of making an effort to involve readers in community issues is well received”. While most projects were election-related at the beginning of the movement, a shift toward more community projects occurred as time went on, and many of these projects focused on the long term visions for the community or addressed issues such as immigration, youth and race relations within the community.
I feel that public journalism is increasingly important in our society today. So many citizens of America are uninformed and apathetic about our nation’s politics and policies, and as a result, it is incredibly difficult to discern what the public actually thinks, wants or needs. In order to increase political awareness and knowledge, citizens need to be receptive and eager to consume to the information provided by newspapers and other media sources. I believe that newspapers and other media sources have a responsibility and a burden to help foster more public interest in political issues and to increase public action. Although I do not believe traditional journalism and objectivity should be thrown by the wayside, I do think it is in a newspapers’ best interest to discuss local community activities and provide a forum for citizens to voice their concerns or problems within the community. When readers feel they are active participants in their community and in our democracy instead of just detached spectators, they will be more inclined to express their opinions and believe that they can make a difference. If members of the community can team up with local newspapers to discuss problems and potential solutions to these problems, the entire society will be able to benefit from the work of these inspired individuals.
The Charlotte Observer began practicing public journalism during the 1992 elections, and in his article, “Covering Politics Civil Journalism Style”, Charlotte Observer reporter Rick Thames gives insight to the way The Charlotte Observer began instilling concepts of public journalism into their news stories, and gives tips to journalists attempting to cover elections using public journalism methods. Thames discusses the importance of discovering what actually matters to voters in order to determine what the election is actually about. The Charlotte Observer did this by conducting a series of issues polls, followed by individual interviews and focus groups, and was quite surprised when they found one of voters’ main concerns were the moral and ethical values that seemed to be lacking from the nation and the candidates. Thames also recommends designating a space to chronicle the daily twists and turns of the campaign, from polls to photos to candidates’ criticisms of each other. Another helpful tool for potential voters may be explanatory articles about vital issues in the campaign, such as health care, the economy, crime, drugs, the deficit, and the environment. It is essential to include information about how each issue affects the daily lives of voters as well as give a detailed account of candidate’s stance on the issue. The Charlotte Observer created a feature called “Choices”, which began with a specific voter’s circumstances or concerns, and then outlined the different candidates’ positions on relevant issues. Thames concludes by reminding readers that the strength of this country rests with its citizens, and that journalists have an obligation to provide these citizens with all the information they need in order to make informed decisions when electing candidates into office.

Thames, Rick. “Covering Politics Civic Journalism Style”. The Charlotte Observer.

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Jordan Underwood
MMPO
Dr. Yao
November 3, 2009
Emergence of Precision Journalism
As long as there has been journalism, there have been stipulations over accuracy. The job of a journalist entails a numerous amount of things, however, accuracy is one of the biggest concerns that a journalist has to be aware of. They must be constantly aware of what they are reporting and make sure that they have the facts and quotes to back up what they are writing. As the years have progressed and there has been stronger emphasis placed on the accuracy of journalistic writing, a key topic emerged: precision journalism. Precision journalism is an idea where journalists were able to gather and process data at a quicker rate as a result of expanding technology. Some aspects of journalism were greatly changed due to precision journalism and those aspects are privacy concerns, public opinion, voting and elections, and finally the building of a consensus.
Violating privacy may seem like an oxymoron for a journalist because it comes with the job. However, there are certain standards that a journalist needs to adhere to protect privacy laws and ideals. This calls into question precision journalism because it adds a whole new dimension of possible privacy invasion. Although there can be no direct stoppage of the invasion of journalists due to the freedom of speech and press amendment, there are still several barriers that are put in place to bar journalists from getting some information they need. Arguments have arisen on both sides and often question whether precision journalism should be allowed or if it should be barred, however, it cannot legally be barred, so there are some problems with this argument. What future barriers are erected against such searches may very well depend on the self-imposed restraint of journalists who know how to deal with computerized public records. In other words, it is up to the journalists to show some self-discipline when it comes to the gathering of information because even though they may be able to do it, that does not necessarily mean they should.
The next area that precision journalism affects is public opinion. Precision journalism has the most positive affect when it is defining the differences between sections of interest groups, measuring their support and estimating the effect they will have on the outcome of the story. Precision journalism was and still is a way to expand the repertoire of the reporter to make topics that were previously inaccessible, out in the open and this will provide with more in depth coverage. Overall, the majority opinion is not always the best one even though it may be the largest one. The job of the journalist, thanks to precision journalism, has expanded so that the journalist can look at those smaller viewpoints and weigh them against the larger one so as to supply a more rounded story or research. Public opinion can also be affected because with access to more information as well as statistics, journalists can convey a completely different message and ultimately change the outlook on a certain topic.
People who vote are an interesting subset of the general population. Except in national elections, they are usually a minority. Measuring their attitudes and behavior is especially challenging. This effort has been one of the most popular applications of precision journalism. With the increased effort and measure and predict electoral votes in a national election, this has driven competition to whole new levels as journalists are trying to compete with other journalists in order to portray what they think the outcome will be, in the shortest amount of time. Competition, technology, and a faster-paced presidential selection process has led to this heightened sense of competition and precision journalism evens the playing field for all publications. Another way precision journalism can effect elections is by effecting voters’ decisions. With precision journalism coming to the forefront, more and more journalists are able to quickly grab poll data and relay it on to the public before they vote. This can cause a shift in the opinion of the voter because if the story shows that their first choice has a good chance to lose and their second choice looks to make a huge splash in the vote, then they might go with their second choice and throw off the chances of their first choice even more. Overall, precision journalism can effect voters’ decisions because they can grab data that may not be 100% accurate due to a shift in voters’ perspectives.
The final aspect that precision journalism can help is the idea of creating a census. In the past, this was a huge process that took multiple amounts of time and money and it was a process that occurred over a great span of time. With the improvement in technology as well as data gathering methods, it still takes a lot of time and money, but it takes less than it did before computers and the improvement of technology. With the use of precision journalism, reporters and researchers can easily locate more people in a shorter time as well as discover whether or not the person has a way to be contacted so they can be a part of the census. Overall, precision journalism helps with the creation of a census because it provides a quicker way to grab data and statistics about how many people have lived in the state during the time of the census as well as the movement of people and other such stats.
Precision journalism has not been around for a large amount of years, however, it has impacted journalism as much as anything else. One key aspect of that is technology. Technology has led to data and statistics to be produced quicker than ever before and allows more resources for the journalist to use for data gathering and compilation. I personal way that this idea affected me is when I reported news stories my sophomore year of high school. I had just gotten into journalism and I wanted to be challenged so I could impress my advisor and hopefully make my way through the ranks of journalists and become an editor some day in the future. News stories were always harder to write because many of them contained hard-hitting facts instead of a lighter amount of facts with more quotations. This is where precision journalism came into play for me. I would always have to locate a plethora of sources so what better way to do that than to scour all the online databases in search for information. At this time, the Internet was still peaking as a resource and it had started to become a major source for data for me, as well as many other journalists. This has not changed today as more and more sites for statistics and data have arisen and it is all thanks to the development of technology. Another key way precision journalism impacted me is that it allowed me to take on more stories at once because I could finish stories at a faster rate. I save all my facts onto the computer, type up those facts, add quotes and catchy one-liners and I was done in no time flat. This allowed for more time to proofread and send the story in on time so I can begin another story. Overall, precision journalism has allowed a better accumulation of facts as well as the idea that journalists can gather different sources of information that would not have been available through any other method.
A unique poll story came out today from CBS News about how the number of Americans that feel that texting and driving should be completely illegal has reached close and closer to the 100% marker. It explains how almost 97% of Americans across the country feel that laws should begin to be made that all texting while driving should be illegal and some even go as far as to say that it should be as dangerous as drunk driving. Although it is not clearly visible at first, precision journalism has a direct impact on this poll story. First off, the journalist who gathered the data first needed to know how many people have cell phones so they could see the percentage of the population that could text while driving. Another fact that they needed to know is how many people can drive so they can weigh the data along with the amount that have cell phones accordingly. The story gathered percentages that showed how many people felt that it should be banned according to age. They found that 65% of those over 45 years of age would be in favor of a harsh punishment while only 58% of those under 45 thought that a harsh punishment should be put in place. This goes back to precision journalism because they need to have accurate data on how many people are of a certain age in the U.S. and an online census would greatly help with that. Overall this poll story shows that not only is precision journalism important, but it has started to become a practice that has been widely taken up by journalists all over the world.

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Julie Nakis
November 2nd, 2009
Reaction Essay #3

Changing Times

This reading focuses on the transformation of polling and that relationship to the media. Gawiser and Witt discuss how polling has changed a lot especially with the growth of TV news and a constant demand for information. Up until the early 1970’s pollsters would conduct surveys and the news media published stories based on the poll results. The media did not have any control over the polls that were conducting and they were not commissioning polls for publication. In the 1964 California primary competition between the networks reached a crescendo when each network was fighting to provide their poll results first and have them be accurate. Another improvement in the history of polling was that TV anchors wanted to discuss to the public why a certain candidate won and what demographics voted for him. The anchors would use this information based off poll results and this development made polls more prevalent in the media. Newspapers developed in their own ways by tying their poll stories to what the newspaper agenda was rather than what the polling firm desired for it.
Philip Meyer came up with the term “Precision Journalism” to describe how journalists look for new ways to gather data, analyze it, and report it in news stories. Precision Journalism strives for more analysis of data in reporting. The final stage so far in polling has been with the rise of the computer. In the 1990’s this new turn was called the computer assisted reporting or database journalism because computers were used to help analyze data and publicly report more polls. Philip Meyer also says that with these new technologies and precision journalism, little is changed in the maintenance of the journalist’s role, but just increases the speed and accuracy of these polls.
I can see everyday how precision journalism is prevalent in society because on any media website I visit there are numerous polls posted throughout the day about different subjects. The polls are even more interactive because of new technology. Many websites provide chances for visitors to answer a poll on their website and they can receive the up to date results at that minute. While that type of poll is not scientific I still find it interesting that this is a way technology has advanced polling. Also, Meyer makes a complaint that because of precision journalism there are too many polls. I find that very true because especially last year around the presidential election I would see numerous polls a day from separate media outlets that were reporting different results. It made me question the accuracy of these polls.
I found a poll on pollingreport.com that was conducted by Bloomberg Polls that polled over one thousand adults and asked “Do you believe climate change is a major threat, a minor threat, or no real threat?”. 40% of the respondents answered it was a major threat. What I find interesting about this poll is that this environmental issue is not something that the news media reports on everyday. This shows that the rise of polls being reported on the Internet allows for polls to be conducted and published that will sometimes never even make it into a mainstream media outlet like the television or newspaper. The whole website pollingreport.com allows for polls to be reported on issues that otherwise aren’t essential to the news everyday.

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Kahle Novak
November 3, 2009
Reader Response # 1

The emergence of precision journalism was an important role-taking place in the media. The change of news media and public opinion research was changing drastically in the 1960s and 1970s due to the drastic growth of television news and its financial situation. The Gallup Poll was useful in gaining publicity from newspapers along with other polls around this time. Newspapers were important resources to other newspapers in getting their material out into the public, which helped with poll demonstrations.
Some popular newspapers used straw polls, but they were not very scientific. With growing television networks, competition among election polls also became a factor. The shows on different news channels only lasted for fifteen minutes but later turned into thirty-minute shows, which attracted more viewers. By using Election Night, the different news channels were able to come up with statistics of the shows. With computerized models and the News Election Service, exit polls were created.
With precision journalism, social and political movements were administrated in different ways. Major changes were taking place among television and newspapers and journalists were finding new ways to gather, analyze, and report stories in the news. Precision journalism steps away from public opinion and rather sorts out the conflicts groups have in making an effect.
Precision journalism can be summarized as precise information used in the research method of gathering and analyzing information and reporting it on television and newspapers. It’s very important that the types of precision journalism information are coming from a reliable source and are being analyzed before the information is released. High technology with computers is also an important aspect and it has occurred that computers with high technology have been able to be modified to help analyze data. This has especially been seen in college and university computers. Journalists use this type of journalism to access information and analyze information. Social science and behavior are popular types of research methods used in this type of journalism.
With sports polling, we can consider precise journalism because they are referring to true information and analyzing it in order to give out statistics. It’s accurate and easily accountable for. In the scenario of Alex Rodriguez using steroids there was a poll taken by the phone of the public opinion done by Seton Hall Sports Poll. The people being conducted in this poll were people that were following sports and knew what was happening. There was a wide range of questions including power-hitting numbers along with opinions of whether Alex Rodriguez should be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Some of the statistics found in this poll included people’s favorite aspect of Major League Baseball, which found that 29.7% chose home run hitting, 25.9% chose great pitching, 14.9% chose speed on the bases, 9.6% chose defense, 5.1% chose other, and 14.8% chose don’t know or refused to answer. With these specific percentages we can see that the information was collected and analyzed was demonstrated in a precise way. Rather than concluding that approximately or about 15%, we instead see 14.9%, which makes us see the accuracy of the results from the poll. This research method was closely analyzed and then released to the public to have a better understanding of other people’s opinions about a specific subject.
“ESPN’s Outside the Lines Reveals Seton Hall Sports Poll Results” 2009. ESPN News Release. 2 November 2009.

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Darin Evangelista
November 3, 2009
Reaction Paper

Gawiser and Witt discuss the changes in who administered polls throughout the history of journalism. The changes in technology have been the driving force in the way polls have been administered. The rise of television journalism greatly changed the way public opinion polling was conducted. According to Gawiser and Witt, the three major television stations (ABC, CBS, NBC) were racing to release election results before the competition. The television networks began to conduct their own independent polls in hopes of beating the competing news sources. This became an expensive practice for the broadcast stations, allowing newspapers to join the race for accurate polling in the news media. This lead to the collaboration between newspapers and television stations, The New York Times joined up with CBS and the Associated Press collaborated with ABC and The Washington Post worked with NBC.
The Meyer chapter continues to discuss technologies influence of journalism and public opinion polling. Meyer also looks at the problems advancement in technology has caused precision journalist. Once concern of Meyer is that of privacy, he believes that the right to privacy is easily overridden by the public’s right to know but “The question for precision journalism is whether the power of its methods adds a moral burden that did not exist for less powerful methods” (Meyer). A main part of Meyer’s debate is whether or not the use of computers changes journalism, if it can be called that. I believe much of Meyer’s argument to be outdated. He argues that the general public did not have as easy access to “public” record used by journalist. I believe as technology has advanced, so has the general public’s ability to use such technology. Records that one time were difficult for anyone but a journalist are now much more accessible.
Another aspect of precision journalism discussed by Meyer is focused on election polling and how it affects participants. It is very interesting to examine how the poll can influence the public when it has no such intention. The simple administering of a poll and releasing the results can greatly influence the decision of the voters.
The poll story I looked at was conducted by The New York Times concerning the public’s opinion of two politicians running for governor in New Jersey. The results found that the majority of New Jersey residents did not support either of the two candidates and they were generally looked at unfavorably. Residents do not like the current governor and the results for his opponent are not any better. What I find fascinating about this poll story is this: how this poll will influence voters in the actual election? As Meyer argues, polls can affect the outcome of an election. If a voter sees that his candidate is dominating the polls, he might not go out and vote. If enough people act in the same way, the results of the election will be tarnished by the influence of early polling. Also brought up by Meyer, many readers could misinterpret the data. They could associate approval ratings with election results. Just because an approval rating is low, doesn’t mean they are losing an election.

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David McNace
Reading Reaction
November 3, 2009

In chapter four of Gawiser and Witt, they discuss how technological advances have transformed the ways of communication. The change began in the 1930’s when the television was developed. With this expansion and the expansion of new technology, polling took on a dramatic change where pollsters would conduct the surveys and the media would publish them. Two newspapers even did straw polls, The Chicago Tribune and The New York Daily, where they conducted unscientific surveys for their publication.
Competing for viewership and ratings, television companies realized that they could not just report who won certain elections. Originally, the telecasts for broadcast news were only 15 minutes, but with the importance of elections for networks polls began being used to try and predict who the winners would be. This advancement in television, along with the invention of computers, helped the news powers ABC, CBS and NBC to conduct polls and give the results to their audiences. The authors showed the example of how the networks competed in the 1964 California primary to see who could calculate the voters’ choices the fastest. After the primary the news networks combined to create the News Election Service, which jointly counts the votes and analyzes the election data.
However, with this new system, the costs for the networks began to increase dramatically. This budget crunch, coupled with limited airing timing, put a major setback on the expansion. This allowed for newspapers to still play an important role in presenting polling data to the public. Even the television networks realized the role that newspapers could play, which led to CBS joining with the New York Times, The Associated Press teaming up with ABC and NBC doing the same with the Washington Post. With these advancements the role of journalists has become increasingly important. There is now an importance for journalists to be more precise in their polling and to be able to better interrupt the poll data. This concept is explained by Phillip Meyer and his definition of “precise journalism”. Meyer argued that as new developments happen in technology, the public does not adapt to them all at the same time. The one noticeable flaw in the advancement of technology and the use of computers happens when one is attempting to define a public document. Meyer defined a public document as a piece of paper that someone can hold and read. He argues that a computer document is not something that can be held and read and thus questions if it should be defined as a public document. Another question that Meyer discusses is who should and should not be able to view polling data. A number of organizations believe that identities should not be given out, but the Democratic theory discussed by Meyer illustrates that everyone should have access to an equal amount of the data.
I found a poll from http://www.pollingreport.com that asked, “If Iran continues with its nuclear research and is close to developing a nuclear weapon, do you believe that the United States should or should not initiate military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons?” This is an important issue for the foreign policy of the United States, but is a topic that currently the general public does not worry about on a daily basis. Individuals are able to express their opinions on these issues because of the advancements in technology that have occurred. By utilizing computers to ask this poll questions, journalists are able to achieve more precise results and will provide better data because the people the poll surveys will be able to address the question with adequate time. In certain situations, when polls are conducted on the street, many people just give quick answers without taking the time to think through them thoroughly. However, with the advancements of today’s technology providing thorough and precise polling is more easily accomplished.

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Chelsea McWilliams
November 3, 2009
Mass Media and Public Opinion
Reading Response 1

Precision Journalism Influence on Public Opinion Polling

SUMMARY
Chapter 10 from the book, The New Precision Journalism, discusses the changes made in journalism because of the progression we’ve made through the years and discovering new ways of doing things. Some objections to precision journalism that were listed in the beginning of the chapter are what led to proposals to regulate the practice of this type of journalism, either by law or the media’s self-restraint. The “Privacy concerns” section of the chapter states that most journalists believe the public’s right to know overrides the right to privacy. “The quantitative change in the amount of time and effort to search and link such records has led to a qualitative shift in the things that journalist can discover”…but there can be barriers put between journalists and the information they’re seeking (Meyer, 1991). In the early 90s when this book was written, regular citizens couldn’t get easy access to their public information, because you had to have special equipment and skills to get through the difficult computer records. The chapter also discusses how privacy regulation would arise if the journalists were to use their technical skills to retrieve private information without clear public benefit. The problems with public opinion polling and majority rule being neither possible nor desirable were mentioned in Chapter ten. The rest of the chapter talks about election polls, the five basic complaints about election polls, and the influence of election polls on voters’ decisions.
Chapter 4 in Gawiser’s and Witt’s book covers much of the same topics Meyer’s chapter did, but it was more of a timeline of polling technology and how polls were reported both on television and in newspapers. Then Gawiser and Witt proceeded to introduce precision journalism using electronic computers, “handling large amounts of data in a sensible way, as a new way to gather data, analyze it, and report it” (Gawiser and Witt, 1994).
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I did proudly vote for the first time in the 2008 presidential election, which meant that I paid a lot more attention to the news coverage on the candidates. I would definitely agree with the first of the five basic complaints about election polls that were listed in Meyer’s chapter: there are too many polls. It seemed like every time I was flipping through channels in the month of October last year, there were massive amounts of polls reporting the same thing. Of course, there were certain channels that were clearly Republican and clearly Democrat, but all those in between had constantly similar poll data from what I had observed. I admit my family and friends influenced my voting decision to a degree, but once I continued to learn more for myself, the news stations also had a large influence on my vote. The news stories I watched, which included many polls, played a bigger part for me, because I ended up voting differently than my parents and some of my close friends. I do believe the public opinion polls of the 2008 presidential election definitely affected the outcome of the election.
POLL STORY
Precision journalism is all about “sorting out the conflicts among special interest groups, measuring their support, and estimating their potential for having an effect” (Meyer, 1991). The special interest topic at hand in an ABC News/Washington Post poll from last week would be healthcare for children. It polled parents about whether they were having their children get the swine flu vaccine this year. The poll found that almost 40 percent of parents are concerned about the safety, side effects, and sufficiency of the vaccine and therefore will not be getting their kids vaccinated. The majority of the public who voted in this poll may still be getting their kids vaccinated, but there is still a significant amount of respondents who do not support the vaccine and think it will do more harm than good. Once other parents see this poll, they might change their minds about getting their kids or themselves vaccinated, which can have a huge effect on the spreading of this terrible disease amongst the population.

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Taylor Pierce
Mass Media and Public Opinion
November 2, 2009
Reading Reaction Paper 4
What Not to Like About the Internet
Gawiser and Witt’s chapter four reading is about the history of media poll coverage. From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, media consumers had become accustomed to receiving polling information primarily from newspapers. The Gallup Poll, Harris Poll and Roper Reports were syndicated to a vast number of newspapers across America and the popularity of polling increased. Major television networks first started experimenting with polls during their Election Night broadcasts in the late 1950’s (Gawiser and Witt, 1994). It wasn’t until a couple decades later that the networks saw great demand for Election Night polling and the likes. The reason was because of their use of computer analytics. “Through the 1970’s and 1980’s, the drive for more and more analysis of data in the reporting business matched up nicely with the development of minicomputers and then microcomputers that were capable of handling the data analysis task,” (Gawiser and Witt, 28). The invention of the computer proved very useful for media organizations- especially broadcast ones- in the evolution of media poll reporting.
Philip Meyer writes of the impact of the computer with regard to journalism in The New Precision Journalism. He makes note of the reduction in the amount of time and effort it can have for journalists to receive wanted information for a report. Even public arrest records can be found on the Internet for journalist use (Meyer). Most of what Meyer writes about computerized records is with regard to the by-product of privacy concerns. He emphasizes that journalists should know what to do with the information they find. The right of privacy can be violated by printing information- even if already on the Internet. Some information is important to the welfare of society, but some information about an individual may not be legal to publish. “If journalists use the computer to reveal embarrassing private facts just to show off their technical virtuosity and without any clear public benefit, a regulatory backlash could result” (Meyer, 4). While the computer may be a means for which information can be quickly gathered, not all that information is immune from privacy constraints.
According to a Consumer Reports poll in September of 2008, most Americans are concerned about Internet privacy. The poll numbers showed that 82% of American online consumers are concerned about their credit card numbers being stolen online. As part of the same poll, Consumer Reports found that 72% are concerned that their behaviors online are being monitored by large companies. Americans seem to have almost a clear consensus that there is some level of concern regarding what can be done with the information that they give online, when in the wrong hands. Reporters, as well as online thieves, can present a lot of danger concerning the dissemination of online information.
In my opinion, I think that information that is online can be all too accessible at times. When I think of unwanted information being posted online, I think of Facebook. Facebook can be a great way to socialize amongst friends, but it also can be the source of unfavorable publishes about its members. On the site, anyone that is a “Friend” of another member has access to all their photos and posts with others. There has to be a level of self-censorship- which may be fair to ask of the members- however, anyone can upload an image of a picture taken with someone else that people might find embarrassing or offensive. The fact that any member can be subjected to this is a little concerning, I feel. Just one offensive Facebook photo can be the reason why an employer may not accept somebody. I think that in some ways, the evolution of media has some negative impacts, despite some the great new qualities.

Gawiser, Sheldon R., and Evans G. Witt. A Journalist’s Guide to Public Opinion Polls. West Port, CT: Praeger, 1994.

Meyer, Philip. “The New Precision Journalism.” Web. 2 Nov. 2009. .

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Jordan Underwood
Dr. Yao
MMPO
October 29, 2009
Reporting the Polls
Journalists loved numbers. Numbers are what lead to facts, information, and poll results, however, reporting the polls is a whole different story. Numbers can tell a journalist all kinds of things but when it comes to relaying them on to the public, it becomes a more difficult task. The journalists are aware of the different implications as well as what the numbers mean but the everyday reader would have no idea unless they were a part of compiling those numbers for the story. Therefore, there are several things to remember when reporting the polls. They are the basic steps for reporting polls, the context of the numbers and finally the media effect of the polls.
Polls always look good when they are first gathered. All the numbers are there and the data has been accurately gathered for the poll. Everything has been checked and rechecked to ensure as much accuracy as possible. Finally, one of the most difficult tasks that the journalist must face is turning those numbers into a story that can be reported accurately. The polls can be the best in the world, however, if they are interpreted wrong, the story can turn out poorly and make the entire publication or news staff look bad. A journalist’s job is much different than that of a researcher because they have to look for stories inside of the polls rather than just information. They have to return to the original poll or questionnaire and analyze each question and tabulating the responses. This often takes numerous amounts of hours, however the journalist is usually on a deadline of one or two days so they often have less time than a researcher would. It takes dedication and hard work and the only way to accurately report a poll is to spend time rechecking the numbers. After all this is completed and the journalist feels like they have analyzed and accumulated the interesting information from the data, it is time to write the story. There are eight key things that come with writing the story. One is what the lead going to be. This is not only the beginning paragraph, but the most important piece of data that was found in the poll results. The second main idea is that journalist must remember the wording of the questions. Remembering the wording allows for the questions to be accurately portrayed in the story and therefore would lead an accurate representation of the data. The third point is what is in the second paragraph. Not only does this mean the second paragraph, but it tells the reader why they should care about the story. The fourth main idea is that all the facts should be included in the story so the readers do not question its validity. Fifth is to remember to add technical details such as how people were interviewed, who interviewed them, who sponsored it and what types of sampling error there may be. The sixth main point would be not to cram everything into one story. Often times poll stories can an overload of information and facts that that turns people off to reading it. Therefore cutting down on the story will be beneficial. The seventh idea is to never use decimals within the story because it implies exact precision and everyone knows that does not exist. The final idea is graphic displays are worthwhile because they can explain the poll results in a quick way so everyone can understand the story in more than one way.
Reporting the polls takes a great amount of time and effort, but the context of the numbers is what gets them to the final conclusion. All polls are not the same, which means the contexts of the numbers are always going to be different. In other words, it is a major error to assume polls are similar because even though they may have similar titles or even similar results, they are not the same and reporting them as if they were the same would cause a decrease in credibility. Polls are also spread across different periods of time, and many times the time gap is large, so in this case the numbers have to be analyzed in a special way. First it has to be decided if a similar poll has been done before. If it has, than the poll that the journalist is currently reporting may have some validity. If the poll results are greatly different however, it can be the first major warning sign that the poll was done wrong or some error has come about in the polling process. Therefore, a compare and contrast of the polls is an excellent idea. Another major technique journalists use in regards to the context of numbers is averaging the polls or grouping them together. This often results in the benefits of reducing the impact of a single poll as well as putting a halt on the change in numbers. Problems can arise if this technique is not done carefully. Averaging may first lead to problems because not all the polls are done the same or correctly. The second major problem is it can change public opinion very quickly. For example, if the average voters’ views are changing, the journalists will not immediately report the changes.
Newspapers and the media are the two main sources that Americans get their information about polls, so their influence is very large. Therefore, they need to live up to certain standards that will provide the readers or watchers with confidence that what they are reading is accurate or as accurate as it can possibly be. The standards are different for each surveying group, however, it is clear that most companies require a certain number of standards when dealing with the disclosure of polls. These standards are often set in place because media reporting of polls may not always be accurate. For example, some companies require the reporting who conducted the survey and who sponsored it. Another example is that companies will sometimes disclose a description of the sample design so the public can clearly see which types of respondents were selected. Overall, these standards are put in place because polling companies want to deflect blame if the poll is reported wrongly. The effectiveness of these standards is less than an average citizen would hope for or notice, however it has lead to a greater improvement in the reporting of the polls. One of the major ways the effectiveness of these standards is not very high is because the company who sponsored it and the company who conducted it may be different. This can lead to major discrepancies in meeting the recommendations because often times the polls are coming from a different source than the one reporting it. Another main reason the standards may be less effective is because they do not report the technical differences and this can affect the results of the poll data. The analysis that follows these standards is that news sources often place too much emphasis on the polls and they are even said to have started to create the news rather than report it. This is why many major news reporting companies have started to create their own polling capabilities to prove that what they are reporting is accurate. Also, news reporting companies have shifted towards placing emphasis on the stories about the polls and including the polls in their analysis so as not to show that they only value polls.
Dealing with polls is not an easy issue. It is hard as an average reader to completely comprehend everything that the pollster is trying to get across to the consumers and it is hard to tell whether or not the poll is accurate or fabricated. In my opinion, most media sources on TV that report the polls to the public have certain biases and those biases are apparent in their polls. They manipulate the polls to show what they want and instead of reporting a story with a poll attached as evidence to support the story, many news sources often make the entire story about the poll. Not only does this complicate the comprehension of polls, it also can bring out hidden biases because in order to report a poll, theories have to be presented and everyone, regardless of skill, has different theories. In my experience, even though every news station says that they don’t have any political affiliation or are “fair and balanced,” most of them are the exact opposites. Everyone knows that Fox News supports the Republican Party where CNN is usually supports the Democrats, so it is hard to take their polls seriously. In my opinion, news media sources should work harder at presenting stories with polls attached to them as proof instead of the other ways around. Poll Stories are excellent, don’t get me wrong, however, they are way overdone and need to be revamped to appease the consumers rather than the news station or a certain political party. It has improved in the last couple of years, however I feel there is still much more to be done in order to get the trust in media over polling back up to where it should be.
A point that has been reiterated throughout these required readings is that a poll reporter’s job is not easy. There are many different ways they can succumb to failure and they always have to be on their A game when it comes to reporting polls. Even when the reporter feels that they have reported everything to the best of their knowledge, some people will still find fault with that they are reporting. In a recent poll conducted by ABC News, they found that now fewer than 20% of Americans refer to themselves as republicans. This did not sit well with some Republicans especially former House speaker Newt Ginrich. He labeled this poll as a travesty to all Republicans because none of the other polling companies found similar statistics. He also noted later on that it was a ploy by liberal news media sources to slant the world to more widely accept the Democratic viewpoint. This was taken into immediate consideration by ABC and this poll story that I read addressed Ginrich’s problems. They clarified that they were not the only one who found these results because many other news sources found that a range from 18-27 labeled themselves as Republicans and even though he is entitled to his opinion, he was mistaken. Overall, this shows that poll reporters’ jobs are much more difficult than people consider and even when they report the polls to the best of their ability, someone will find fault with their findings.

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Julie Nakis
Reading Reaction #2

Manipulation of the Media

The readings for today dealt mainly with how the media uses polls to report stories and potentially create stories around a specific poll. Asher discusses how newspapers, television, and the Internet are the major sources of where Americans can learn about recent polls. Because it is the media reporting these polls, most citizens do not learn about polls through the organizations that sponsor polls but rather through different media outlets. One challenge that Asher discusses is how the media does not voluntarily have to comply with standards for polling set by organizations like National Council on Public Polls, The American Association for Public Opinion Research and the Council of American Survey Research Organizations. These organizations created codes of conduct that specify standards for disclosure of how a poll should be conducted. The principles of disclosure are mainly created for the organizations that are sponsoring and making the poll so Asher argues they aren’t as effective as they could be if the media had to abide by these rules. Consumers of public opinion polls should be aware of how the media uses these polls to push a certain agenda or just to make their report newsworthy. News media are critiqued for turning a poll into a position of prominence so that the polls become an issue or topic for a news report. This relates to Gawiser and Witt’s reading for today because they believe that journalists will grab a poll and make a story out of it if they believe it will make large headlines with a good story. Journalists can take numbers from a poll and make it into a readable story for the newspaper or on air. Asher also criticizes the media for taking certain items from polls and leaving other items out. For example, he talks about a study on abortion where the three questions asked were worded very differently and it led to conflicting results. These conflicting answers allowed different media outlets to use each question and spin it to write a completely different story on abortion both for and against.
I found today’s reading very interesting because this summer I worked at a Chicago local television station and was able to see first hand how the media manipulates polls for a good story. In July, a poll was released saying that 55% of people were more likely to buy generic brand foods rather than name brand foods to save more money in the declining economy. A reporter that I worked with decided to take this one poll and turn it into a two part special on television. She conducted taste tests on generic vs. name brand foods and then took some polls of her own to validate the results. According to Gawiser and Witt, if there are two polls done with similar results there is greater confidence in the poll.
I found an article online at Glamour.com that was reporting on the upcoming shopping season. This journalist’s main point in the report was centered on the release of a new poll done by Deloitte Accounting firm. This poll found that 51% of consumers would be spending more money this upcoming holiday season and that they expect to spend a 16% increase from last year. After reading the chapters for today’s reading I realized that this journalist probably used this poll and created the whole report for this magazine website around the poll. This website is a sight for shopping and fashion so it is easily noticeable that they are trying to push an agenda for consumers to go out and spend money by shopping. The journalist’s hopes were most likely for the poll to validate their argument to go out and shop. I did some more research on this poll by Deloitte to see if they had asked any other questions that the Internet just didn’t release. I ended up finding the full survey online at CNN.com. This journalist ended up taking a different spin on the article and wrote that an item in the poll claimed that the average number of gifts bought this season was less than the previous year. I found it interesting that the article written for a fashion website was taking certain items from the poll and putting a positive and capitalistic view on it where the article for CNN was using this poll to prove that there are still some problems in our economy.
In the future as I am reading polls I will pay attention if the reporter is sharing all items from a poll or if it appears they are only using selective items to help benefit their story.

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David McNace

Reading Reaction

October 28, 2009

          In Chapter 6 of Asher’s book, “Polling and the Public, What Every Citizen Should Know”, he discusses the relationship the media have with public opinion polls. The relationship between the two can be difficult and complex because of the various intentions of the media, but can also be of great benefit to the public if the media recognize the use and limitations of the poll. Asher discusses a number of requirements for polls that are set by the National Council on Public Polls, The American Association for Public Opinion Research and the Council of American Survey Research Organizations. These organizations set standards for disclosure of poll data, but Asher shows that these standards provide less protection than is expected. The poll standards apply to the survey organizations, but don’t apply to the news organizations that are covering the results.
In many situations, news organizations will only use parts of the survey that help advance the angle they are attempting to portray. Asher uses the example of poll data from abortion questions to show that journalist could write completely different stories while still using the same polling data. Asher also notes that reporting sampling size and sampling error are two important features in surveys. Asher used a number of political scenarios as examples for this, showing how approval ratings don’t always tell the true story when the figures still are within the margin of error. In order for survey data to have more validity, the data needs to be represented in the same wording and question order that they were asked in because those factors can have a much greater effect on the responses than the sampling error does.
          In the reading for today from Gawiser and Witt, the authors discuss how a poll should be just another source of information, a source with limitations, potential problems and biases, but a valuable source nonetheless. Many journalists lack the basic understanding of polling to interpret the numbers accurately and the journalistic values of speed, freshness, conflict and objectivity conspire to push poll stories too far. When a journalist looks at a poll they need to make sure they look for the news in the survey results to figure out what is new or what has changed. Correctly reading poll data can prove to be tricky because journalists may have a hard time finding validity from consumers if the polls they are analyzing and putting into print doesn’t align with other polls in the same category. As consumers if we see that there is a consistency in validity among polls, then the results appear to be more professional and thus we trust what the poll is telling us more.
          After reading Asher’s discussion on how journalists can write different stories depending on what the data shows, I found a poll from pollingreport.com that discussed the thoughts people have on abortion. In the poll 41% said that abortions should be generally available, 35% said there should be stricter limits, 20% said that abortions should not be permitted and 4% said that they were unsure where they stood on the issue. From this data, I can see how the results could produce a wide variety of stories depending on the angle a journalist chose to take. One journalist could say that the survey shows that only 20% of people are against abortions and that the majority of people are not opposed to abortion rights. Meanwhile another journalist could also make the case that a majority of people don’t agree with the availability of abortions today. These two opposing views are both viable opinions to have but don’t necessarily portray the true story of what the poll is stating.
          From the reading for today, I learned how important it is to completely understand what a poll is saying when you are covering it for a news organization. The data can be represented in a variety of ways that may not show the entire picture of a particular poll. As a journalist it is important to be able to analyze a poll and decipher what the poll is trying to say to accurately report it to the general public. Another thing that I realized after reading these chapters is that at times when journalists don’t know exactly what a poll is saying, they sometime misrepresent it in the news media. For example, when presidential approval ratings decline by a few percentage points, there is a big news story about it. However, in reality the decline still falls within the poll’s margin of error and makes it much less newsworthy. The ability to read a poll is of the upmost importance for journalists to accurately inform the public.

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Abby Sojka

10/29/09

Professional Standard for Reporting Polls

Yao – Media Topics

 

 

“From a journalist’s perspective, a poll should be just another source of information, a source with limitations, potential problems and biases, but a valuable source nonetheless.” (Gawiser & Witt 103). This is a clear generalization of what a poll should be; a poll should be informative with room for disagreement. According to Asher, “Newspapers and television are still the major sources of what Americans learn about polls…most of what citizens learn about the polls does not come directly from the reports prepared by the organizations sponsoring the polls.” In order for a poll to be a valuable source, the consumer should be able to understand and distinguish an opinion of the quality and validity of the polls. However, there are numerous ways in which a poll can be distorted or pre-biased. There is the idea of quantitative polls that have low error, and there are poorly created polls that can have severe error and be highly biased. When journalists analyze polls, they look for the news in the survey results. Journalists look at “what is new, what has changed, what is surprising, what has the most support among the public – or the most opposition,” (Gawiser Witt).  In a sense, being a professional journalist that analyzes poll data can become highly tricky. A journalist may have troubles receiving validity from consumers if the polls they are analyzing and putting into print do not align with other polls in the same category.  We, then as consumers must decide if what the journalists conducted polls at the same time as other polls that were published, the population of the polls, the accuracy of the polls, and the time frame of the polls. If polls conducted by the media, per se, and the poll is in sync with others published at the time concerning the same topic, then there is a higher consensus that the poll has greater validity. If there is a consistency in validity among polls, then the poll results and data seem more professional, and are read at a greater understanding by the public.

 

In the media, there are several tabloid magazines that each includes different opinions in polls; anything from “who wore it best” to “who is dating who.” Popular tabloid magazines such as People Magazine or US!Weekly are great examples of non-agreeing polls.  Each of these popular tabloid magazines have weekly polls that dictate what they will print in next week’s volume.  Every week on the cover, both magazines may have the same topic or issue printed on the front, but they will have different stories to tag-a-long with the celebrity who is being taken advantage of.  The polls in the magazines may ask the reader what they think with a celebrity’s new girlfriend, haircut, or recent drug problem. The consumer that reads the magazine may believe what they are reading and answer the polls according to their biases. The consumer reading the other magazine may find that the results are completely different. The other tabloid magazine may be publishing polls that say the celebrity has been recently engaged, while the other magazine may say that the celebrity is dating someone completely different. The public then begins to wonder where the magazines are getting their information; is the information biases? Where are the surveys taking place? How long of a time period did the survey run? How accurate are the consumers being surveyed and how educated are they on the topic? It is possible that the people being surveyed may even work for the magazine and only filling out the surveys to develop a bias and a liking for the magazine from the consumers. It is never easy to decipher where tabloid magazines collect their data from in order to publish their surveys and opinions.

 

I personally read polls and surveys on a daily basis whether it is from a University survey, watching CNN poll results, or simply asking girls in my sorority their opinion on certain issues.  I notice that when I see similar results coming from the polls, I feel that comfortable in educating myself about that topic. I feel I am getting a good sense of public opinion. When I notice that there are disagreements in polls being published, I question whether or not the polls have validity, quality, and biases. When polls are consistent with one another, whether I am trying to find what type of running shoe last the longest and have the highest quality, I tend to believe the polls and consider it to have high validity. When polls are not consistent, when dealing with a product or something that I find important to me, I may feel uneasy about the product and wonder if the polls are simply biased and unorganized.

 

There are many ways a journalist can go about being professional when analyzing and reporting polls, and they are many ways a journalist can report the polls with a full bias and misinterpretation.  It all comes down to how the journalists reports, and how the consumer deciphers the reports and analysis’s.  The polls that are consistent tend to created public knowledge and understanding. “Almost every poll can be understood more completely when other polls on the same or similar topics are used  to highlight the important results and to give texture to the shape of opinion over time,” (Gawiser Witt 118).

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Steph Seidel
“Journalists must have knowledge of polling process and how to correctly analyze poll results”
Although it may be tempting for journalists to rely on polls as “unquestionable reality”, it is essential to remember that polls should be treated as any other source, and to recognize that polls may present problems and biases. The most proactive way to avoid using poll results incorrectly is to carefully analyze the results of the poll by looking at the reams of computer printouts for what is new, what has changed, and what issues garner the most public support or opposition. When analyzing the results of a public opinion poll, it is important to be aware that surveys conducted by sponsor may only highlight the results synonymous with their views and that such results may not be newsworthy.
Before analyzing the results of the poll, it is important to construct a testable theory that the poll results will either prove or disprove. When writing a poll story, a journalist must determine what part of the poll findings are most interesting and explain why the reader should care about the results of the poll. It is also essential that the wording of the original questions remains intact, and that all relevant facts and technical details about the poll are provided to ensure the audience understands the results of the poll and how the poll was conducted.
Oftentimes journalists need to make comparisons between polls to show how public opinion has changed or stayed the same, but such comparisons can be erroneous if journalists are not careful. All polls are not conducted equally well and all poll results are not equally accurate. However, results from previous polls can increase the validity and credibility of a single survey. For example, if the new survey includes many of the same questions from previous surveys, there is an increased chance that the new survey is valid. In such cases, a comparison and contrast between the results of the two polls may be the story. A common example of changing poll numbers is the presidential approval ratings. Such comparisons are most effective if both surveys ask identical questions and have been conducted by the same organization but at different times. When comparisons are made between polls with different surveys, it is important to highlight the differences between question wording and explain the possible variation between the two polls. When the results of two polls disagree, the journalist needs to discover why, and this is done by examining the question wording of both surveys, the timing of the polls, the samples used by each organization.
As I continue my education as a journalism major, I have come to realize that public opinion polls are essential in tracking the pulse of the nation, and that the results of these polls may oftentimes make excellent news stories. In order to be able to responsibly report poll results, it is crucial that journalists understand the correct way to analyze polls and determine what effects the results of the poll will have on society and public opinion. In my future career or other journalism class at the University of Iowa, I may someday be in the position to carefully analyze, interpret and report the results of various polls, or make comparisons between a multitude of polls. In fact, I will need to complete an analysis, interpretation and create a poll story concerning the results of our survey about University of Iowa students’ opinions about same-sex marriage. In order to do this successfully, I will need to employ many of the tips suggested by Gawiser and Witt. I found the section on pages 107-108 entitled “WRITING THE STORY” extremely helpful, and in the future I will use this as a check list to make sure I have included all of the important components of polls in my story.
The Feb. 21-24 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 51% of national Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prefer Barack Obama and 39% prefer Hillary Clinton. The Feb. 22-24 Gallup Poll Daily tracking results demonstrated a closer race, with Obama at 47% and Clinton at 45% among a national sample of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. The discrepancies between these two polls were investigated further by Gallup, and five different areas were examined, such as the dates of interview, differences in sample, interviews by night, minor interview differences, and question order. Most of the differences between the two polls in the five areas did not vary enough to explain the disparity between the results. Although the Gallup pollsters conduct interviews in Spanish when necessary and the USA Today/ Gallup pollster do not, this fact alone is not responsible for the inconsistencies between the results of the two polls. Although both polls ask ballot questions towards the beginning of the survey, investigators cannot rule out the notion that question order may impact the results of the poll. Further examination found the demographic composition of the samples of both polls was quite similar, and Jones, Newport and Saad concluded that none of the known differences between the USA Today/ Gallup poll and the Gallup Poll Daily are obvious causes for the dissimilarity in the Democratic ballot estimate between the two samples.
Jones, Jeff, Frank Newport and Lydia Saad. “Differing Portrayals of the Democratic Landscape”. 26 October 2009.

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Abby Sojka

Reading Reaction Paper

Analyzing and Interpreting Polls

10/27/09

As I started to look for connections to the Asher reading, I find come to a halt; I notice that on the side bar advertisements on yahoo there is a link telling me that, “you can create your own political polls!” After reading Asher and understanding how to analyze types of bias and interpretations, this seems to be a red flag. Asher stats that “two investigators may interpret identical poll results in sharply different ways depending on the perspectives and values they bring to their data analysis….Certainly news organizations generally interpret their polls in an unbiased fashion. But biases can slip in- sometimes unintentionally, sometimes deliberately…,” (Asher p. 177). I begin to understand what this little side bar on yahoo can produce. It can produce bias polls, false or negative interpretations, and inaccurate consumer responses and data.  Asher takes numerous steps in explaining how these negative impacts can easily happen when trying to interpret or analyze data. He develops such questions as “What is the evidence cited to support the claim? How do we choose items to analyze? Might other questions have been used? What aspects of the topic were not addressed?”(Asher 179).   Asher makes it clear that these questions are never fully answered or completed in surveys due to misinterpretations and biases. These problems tend to make trend analysis difficult.  Throughout pulling, we also notice that subsets come up. Issues are rarely uniform subjects and are not easy to find one common group that will answer, in general, balanced. This is why polls contain subsets. However, subsets tend to create more sampling error and may also lower reliability of the sample estimates. For example, from Asher, males and females are a popular subset of respondents. A male’s interpretation of a poll is more than likely to be different than that of females.  Subsets also can deal with not only sexual orientation and race, but knowledge on the subject as well (which can in turn lead to biases). Throughout all of these difficult interpretations and high error analyzing, it is often hard consider oneself an informed consumer on popular and important topics.

I personally have gone through what Asher describes in chapter 8.  As a frequent reader of magazines and internet web pages, surveys and polls are often a big part of those readings. For instance, when I read ESPN the magazine, there are numerous surveys and poll results pertaining to seasonal sports. Many polls will contain questions only pertaining to a certain group (such as Chicago Bears fans).  I, considering myself a Green Bay Packers fan, automatically develop an unnecessary bias. I could also consider by self a subset due to the fact that I am a female and may not be considered “highly educated” in the sports world. However, the poll and survey producers are unaware of my bias and my sex, if not questioned in the survey, and do their best to analyze and interpret the given data from the consumers.

A popular woman’s magazine full of opinions galore tends to make a big impression on the biases and assumptions females have today. The magazine is called Cosmopolitan. Cosmo (for short) digs into the minds of single, married, or fearless females. Many of their questionnaires consist of numerous biases and many ways to interpret the data. Cosmo tends to analyze and interpret the responses from consumer as biased punishment concerning the modern male. They tend to conduct surveys and questionnaires regarding female’s emotions and way of thinking. A recent open ended question of the day was, “What do you consider cheating?”  This is a very broad question that can be interpreted in many ways. It can also result in biases from females who have been cheated on or do the cheating themselves. Once again, the poll creator can only interpret and evaluate the data and information they are given. Although Cosmo tends to be bias, it its analyzing what it is given the best it can.

Throughout political, popular, and interpretive analyzing of polls, the consumer’s beliefs and biases play a big role in the results and data of the polls and surveys. It is almost impossible to conclude that any poll or survey will have perfect results with no error, biases, or subsets.  With the large margins of error in public polling and opinion, it tends to be too tedious to separate and develop a perfect system for interpretation and analyzing polls. In conclusion, “At times it is difficult to separate the substantive interpretation of the polling data from the procedures that were used to collect the data in the first place, citizens will find it even more challenging to be informed consumers of polls,” (Asher 204).

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Jordan Underwood
Dr. Yao
MMPO
October 26, 2009
Analyzing and Interpreting Polls
Interpreting polls is more than just a science but many perceive it to be a special art. Polls have a tremendous power to affect decisions, emotions and views of its viewers and therefore the importance of interpretation should not be devalued. The analysis of a poll takes such skills as objectivity and un-biased ideas and puts them into practice due to the idea that interpreting polls is not for the biased people to handle. There are several key things that come into play with the analyzing and interpreting polls and they are choosing what to analyze, examining the trends with the polling data gathered, examining subsets of respondents, and finally interpreting poll. The first major part of poll analysis is deciding what to analyze. Many of the polls conducted deal with extremely complex issues so deciding what items are the most important that come from the polls is a long process. Deciding on what to analyze can have several implications such as it might convey the support on the part of the researcher or opposition, or even indifference, which adds to the complex process of selecting what to analyze. The ideas often portrayed by the researcher depict a value of importance that they feel towards a certain question of piece of the poll. For example, a 1994 survey involving a study about sex was portrayed in a variety of ways. Some put it as just a corner poll in their magazine or newspaper while others made it the full issue. It all depended on what they chose to analyze from the poll and it is a key part of what interpreting polls is all about.
The second key issue with analyzing and interpreting polls is examining the trends after the poll data has been collected. To begin with, researchers must ensure that the items they are analyzing are included in a variety if surveys as well as done over different periods of time. This makes it difficult for a researcher because polls can often be called similar things and can be completely different. This causes comparability over time to be very difficult for the researcher. Overall, the comparability that needs to done requires much more then finding questions with similar wording. It deals with the change in attitude of the respondents over time as well as the differences in social, political and emotional trends of the time period. Overall, it consumes much of the time given to researchers because of all the implications and stipulations that follow the interpretation of trends in polling data.
The next large aspect of interpreting and analyzing polls is the examination of the subsets of respondents. A subset is defined as a smaller group within a larger group, so the base meaning of this section of analyzing polls is the idea that people may form smaller or different ideas within a larger idea or topic. This is a key aspect of interpreting polls, however, it can increasing sampling error and can lower the reliability of the estimates, so the researcher needs to be extremely careful when dividing the respondents into subgroups. It can also minimize the number of respondents in a certain category, which makes it hard to make an accurate and reliable analysis. Sometimes, the subgroups are already established such as racial differences, and this creates a simpler task for the interpreter because the groups are already put in place. Another common approach the interpreters use is to group the respondents by ideology because this is a frequent way respondents will associate and answer the polling questions. The final way to analyze subgroups is to determine the respondents’ awareness levels and knowledge concerning a certain issue. This is because with varying levels of knowledge, this may create subgroups without meaning to.
The final aspect of analyzing and interpreting polls is the actual interpretation of the polls. This is the most difficult part if the interpreting process because once all the information is gathered and sorted out, the researcher has to interpret the data and convey its meaning to the public. This is made difficult by the variance in the respondents’ attitudes, prior and existing knowledge and emotions towards the questions being asked. This can create biased opinions or a group may not be accurately represented and all this contributes to a hard analysis on the part of the interpreters. All the evidence must be accurately accumulated and then portrayed by the researcher otherwise their credibility will wane as well as the fact their reliability will plummet. Overall, the researcher must be aware of all the different ideas and stipulations that come with the interpretation of polls and be ready to portray the facts as they are revealed in the polls.
Being a poll interpreter is no easy task. It entails numerous aspects that consume the time of the researcher and cause them to have many long nights before revealing their analysis. What immediately comes to mind when dealing with poll analysis is polls covering upcoming elections. One particular bad example of poll data analysis comes from the 1948 election where John Dewey was running against Harry Truman for the presidential election. The poll found that Dewey was ahead and so the cover of the next day issue read: Dewey Defeats Truman. However, this, as we all know, did not happen because Truman became our President and the famous picture of him holding up that newspaper still rings in the memories of pollsters across the country. A personal experience that I have that can be directly tied to poll analysis happened during my junior year of high school. We had just recently had a “bad year” for a newspaper production due to the fact that we had won no awards for any stories or layouts in the national competition we usually sent our publication (called the Outlook) to. We needed to come up with some hard-hitting stories that next year in order to dig deeper and provide more stories that people wanted to read. Therefore, we chose to do an in depth story about cafeteria food and what went into preparing it. It took several weeks and many sources and fact, but we finally finished it and put a poll along with it that showed that 75% of people do not like cafeteria food and published it. We gathered these results by way of handing out a survey to everyone in their 2nd hour (which is the hour we had our newspaper class) and asked them to quickly fill it out. This ended up being a drastic failure because the cafeteria ladies almost went on strike because they were so mad and felt our story was wrong. We had to restart it and find other sources as well s reprint the story with the new results. The new results showed that only around half of the students hated the school food while the other half enjoyed it. Overall, this shows the importance of poll interpretation because in many cases, it can lead to disaster if done incorrectly.
Polls are increasingly difficult to analyze due to the change in peoples’ attitudes overtime. For example, near the beginning of President Obama’s presidency (April 2009 to be exact) he had a 57% approval rating as President, according to a poll done by the Washington Post. As the year progressed and the rating staggered up and then back down and now it is back to about where it was before. In a recent poll done in September, the New York Times found that his approval rating is around 56%. This shows the key idea of how peoples’ ideas and feeling towards a certain issue may change. One percent may not seem like a drastic change to the everyday reader, but to the pollster, it represents a change in the opinion of the general public and that is why his approval is down by a small margin. Another example of this comes from the same poll story and that is when the Washington Pot conducted their survey in April, the president had around a 42% approval rating for the war in Afghanistan and the recent poll taken by the New York Times found that it had dropped to 30% approval. This shows a drastic decline in the approval over dealings with the war and again how respondents change their viewpoint over time. Overall, both of these examples from the poll story show that no matter what topic is being discussed, if time is taken into account, it makes a pollster’s job much more difficult because attitudes change all the time.

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Julie Nakis
Reading Response #1
October 27, 2009

The Truth on Poll Results

Analyzing and interpreting poll data is a crucial step before releasing the results to the public. The reading for today, Asher Chapter 8, focused on how items are chosen to analyze, examining trends with polling data, reviewing subgroups of respondents, and how results can be manipulated.
Asher explains how poll results can vary if the investigator focuses on the results from only one question even if numerous questions were asked in the survey. This may happen because of time or space constraints depending on where the results are being announced. Also, different people could analyze and interpret the same poll results in different ways depending on their perspective or view of the topic. A main point that Asher makes is that even if extensive surveying and analysis is conducted, the media that is reporting the results might only publicize a small version of the results. This means that the consumer of the poll result is only informed about a fraction of the results and they are at the mercy of how accurately the media portray the overall study. Somebody who is trying to promote a certain agenda on an issue may only release selected items from a survey that best favor their position. If they focus on only a single survey item they are misleading the public opinion on the issue. Asher thinks that in order for the public to be more informed about poll results they should look up the full survey online if it is offered, consider the wording of the questions, consider any alternatives to the questions, screen for nonattittudes, and the treatment of “don’t know” in the results. The public should also be aware that they shouldn’t speculate broadly about all citizens’ opinions and policy preferences based on their responses and results from a survey. For example, on page 189 Asher talks about a survey that said 46% of people opposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military regarding homosexuals. If somebody were to first look at that survey they may think that people opposed the policy because they were against gays being in the military and that would be an incorrect assumption. A second follow up question asked why they opposed it and the results said gays should be able to serve in the military openly. So, the follow up question revealed that the American public opinion is more supportive of gays in the military. This lesson is that people should not assume to know citizens’ policy preferences based on the results from one survey question. Another thing interesting that Asher talks about is examining the breakdown of the poll respondents. Opinions can differ by age, religion, sex, race, etc. If a survey is done about views on abortions, one should look closely at the respondent’s religious affiliation because that can play a large part in their views.
I thought this reading was very informative because I never considered when reviewing a poll that there might be other poll results that the media isn’t releasing so they could persuade me to be more inclined to lean towards a particular view. I think that it’s important for the media to inform the public of full poll results so that us as the public can form our own opinion. I can recall from the past when I’ve reviewed poll results in newspapers regarding issues like abortion and the Iraq war and I see how my views align with the results of the American public opinion. A few years ago I was for American troops being in Iraq but after I read a poll in USAToday and the results said that 55% of the public is against the Iraq war, I reviewed my views and became less supportive of the war after I realized that most people were not supportive. I should have looked more into the study to see if there were other questions that were asked in the poll and if USAToday might have left those out.
A poll I found on pollingreport.com asked respondents: 1) Should couples of the same sex be entitled to the same government benefits as married couples? And 2) If marriage should be legal between a gay or lesbian couple? 54% of the people said that same sex couples should be entitled to benefits but 52% responded to the second question that state governments should not make gay marriage legal. If a media outlet were to report just the first item it would appear that the American public opinion is supportive of gay rights. On the other hand if a media outlet used the second question only to report it would appear that the public opinion is not supportive of gay rights. I found this interesting because although these questions came from the same survey, AP-National Constitution Center Poll, different medias could just choose one item to report and spin the issue to make it support their agenda.
In conclusion, this reading helped me become a more informed consumer when I am reading polls. I think other consumers of polls should be aware of these deceiving practices that some forms of media use to help promote their agenda.

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Taylor Pierce

Mass Media and Public Opinion

October 27, 2009

Reading Reaction Paper 3

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Herbert Asher’s chapter eight reading focuses on how to properly analyze and interpret polls.  Choosing what to analyze can greatly impact the results of a study.  “The investigator may emphasize the results from one question, perhaps because of space and time constraints and the desire to keep matters simple or because those particular results best support the analyst’s own policy preferences” (Asher, 177).  To best gauge the results of a poll, the interpreters must leave all biases aside.  If they do not, interpreters might choose to emphasize the results from a few, or even one question.  Obviously, the results from this type of interpreting may not be reflective of a full index of questions encompassing the issue under study.

Asher writes much about the media consumer with relation to the reporting of a study.  Even though an extensive analysis may be conducted, the news media might publicize a mere abbreviated version of it (2007).  Thusly, the consumer of the poll results can easily be misinformed of the actual implications of a study.   The sponsors of polls, often demonstrating support or opposition to a particular policy, will usually choose to disseminate their results in a fashion that favorably reflects the results of their study.  If the media choose to release this kind of information only, media consumers can be very misguided about public opinion.

I feel that there is a great responsibility for the media to inform the general public with appropriate polling data.  Even if a media outlet is conservative or democratic, for instance, I still think it is important for them not to give polling results that either do not reflect all of a survey’s respondents, or all of a survey’s relevant questions.  Even though most people are aware that The New York Times is geared towards a liberal audience, and that there poll results may often reflect this due to biased polling, I still don’t think readers should be subjected to this type of data.  I feel that all media outlets, regardless of their stances on any issue, should report polling information that is completely representative of what is under study.  It is asking a lot for media consumers to correctly identify an outlet’s viewpoints, as well as to simply disregard some polling data that they report, due to its biased nature.

One particular study by the Gallup Organization shows the effect that abbreviating a study can have.  In chapter eight, Asher includes four questions conducted by Gallup concerning May 2003 poll results about gay rights.  Two of the four questions yielded results that suggest respondents are almost evenly split between the rights of homosexuals; however, the responses from the other two questions were quite different.  The questions that yielded mixed results were stated as follows: 1)Do you feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle or not and 2)Would you favor or oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples? (2003)  By simply focusing on these two items alone, Asher writes, one might conclude that American public opinion is sharply split on the rights of homosexuals (2007).  In looking at the responses of the other two questions from the poll, however, one would not feel the same way.  Those questions asked if homosexual relations between adults should be legal and if homosexuals should have equal rights with respect to job opportunities.  Approximately 60 percent of respondents were in favor of the first, and almost 90 percent were in favor of the latter.  By looking at these two questions by themselves, one would certainly conclude that American public opinion is in favor of gay rights.  Altogether, this is clearly not the case.  That is why it is important to analyze data from a wide variety of questions.  By doing so, a much more accurate interpretation of the polling data can be assessed.

Asher, Herbert. Polling and the Public. 7th ed. Washington: CQ Press, 2007.

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David McNace

Reading Reaction

October 27, 2009

In chapter 8 of Polling and the Public, What Every Citizen Should Know, written by Herbert Asher, Asher discusses how the analysis and interpretation of poll data can drastically effect the perception of a survey. Two individuals can look at the same poll data but read it completely opposite depending on their own personal perspective of what the data is saying. Asher states that some surveys go into great depth on a topic and ask multiple items, but that those surveys create a problem when the individual conducting the survey has a hard time deciding what information to report. At the same time, there are also news organizations that will only publicize an abbreviated version of a poll that conveys the image the news organization is attempting to portray.

The author notes that when people cite poll results, often times they seize on to those that support their current position and ignore those results that don’t. Asher illustrates in a number of examples how by focusing on certain questions within a survey, an individual could assume one thing, but by looking at other questions can conclude the majority disagrees. In one example, results showed that 62% of Americans were confident the U.S. intelligence agencies could prevent future attacks, but that 62% believed there would be another major terrorist attack in the United States. This shows that, depending on the desired intentions of those who publicize this poll, they could make the public believe that the country feels one way when they may not in reality.

When examining the trends with polling data, individuals must take into account the political environment around them. Changes within a political structure can greatly change the results of a poll. However, one aspect of poll results that Asher makes note of is that it is not uncommon to have drastic differences within a poll. These dramatic differences can be seen within different races, ages and religious beliefs to name a few. In the end, interpreting poll results are functions of one’s own underlying values and beliefs. It is difficult to find one, single correct meaning when analyzing poll data, but instead is a function of the interpreter’s individual values, beliefs and purposes for analyzing the data. Asher notes that sometimes the public is perplexed when different polls conducted concerning the same topic provide divergent results. He states that these differences may be a matter less of genuine, substantive differences than of differing methodological choices. However, when polls that cover the same topic show similarities in the results, the public shows greater confidence in what the poll is saying because there is not another poll stating the contrary.

I found a poll on pollingreport.com (http://pollingreport.com/crime.htm) that illustrates how individuals can interpret different results from poll data. The poll discusses whether an individual agrees with the death penalty or life imprisonment for murders and if they feel that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. The poll showed that 53% favored the death penalty while 46% favored life imprisonment. However, in that same poll 73% believed that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment. I found that with these two figures an individual could make an argument for and against the death penalty. It illustrates how the interpretation of data is key to how data is presented.

Personally, I found this reading to be of great interest. It helped to put into perspective how the different media organizations can be asking the same questions in polls but end up with completely different conclusions. One example that illustrates this is how Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all run similar public opinion polls, but come up with varying results. The poll data they show, is more than likely only displaying portions of a poll that provide them with their desired answer. This reading helped me to better understand how important it is to not only look at one poll, but to combine all the data from similar polls before coming to one, clear determination about a subject matter.

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Jordan Underwood
MMPO
Dr. Yao
October 14, 2009
Costly Errors of the Pollsters
No matter how hard a reporter or PR professional tries, there will always be error in what they report. The facts may be skewed, the questionnaire may be faulty or the data collection process may have gone wrong. Despite the numerous reasons error may occur, there are very few ways to combat them. Gawiser and Witt said it best when they noted that it is not eliminating all errors, which is near impossible, but it is minimizing them so the story, poll, or facts are represented in the clearest way possible. The main points that will be discussed are the summary of Chapter 12 of the required reading, my personal experience with the text, and finally a poll I discovered from the Washington Post.
Over the years one aspect of polling has remained the same: there are errors contained within it. There are several ways that this error can be accumulated through question order, non-response, background noise, interviewer error and data processing error. The first one discussed was question order. It is essential for the interviewer or the questionnaire to ask legitimate questions that their respondents can easily understand them so the responses are true and the results accurate. One way this can be affected is the question order. According to Gawiser and Witt, “Placement of questions can really determine what the results . . .will be” (Gawiser, Witt 91). In other words, with incorrect placement, the results will be skewed and this could throw off the entire poll story or report of the results. The next source of error comes from non-response. Non-response is defined as the failure of a respondent or a group of respondents, to respond in the same proportions as the other. This is one of the most crucial kinds of errors since the public opinion poll was created. This is true due to the fact that if one group reports more than the other, the poll will be biased because the results are shifted in one way or another. For example, in 1936, Literary Digest was conducting a poll about the upcoming election and they sent ballots to all registered voters so everyone who was registered had an equal chance of selection. The problem was not with the sampling error, but the response error because more Republicans turned in the ballots than Democrats so the poll showed that Landon was ahead by 12%, which was obviously untrue. This makes non-response the most difficult for a journalist to handle which is why they need to be on their toes and make sure they are accurately tabulating the data as well as the people need to be skeptical of the polls and not take them to seriously.
The next crucial error is background noise. What this boils down to is the fact that the public may express opinions without having any knowledge on the issue this can alter results because unless something is to be done to ensure the public has adequate information, the results may be skewed in some way. The following source of error is one of the biggest and that is interviewer error. The interviewers play a key role because they need to be able to choose correct respondents, administer the questionnaire, how to ask the questions and how to record the answers as well as the overall interaction between them and the respondents. Therefore several large errors can occur such as the interviewer is unprepared, they are biased towards one issue or another, or they have a lack of knowledge about the subject No matter what the error is, if it starts with the interviewer, many problems will follow. The final greatest cause of error is data processing error. These errors consist of human and computer errors, however, most errors come on from simple mistakes. Examples of these simple errors can be that the question is worded wrongly (different on paper than on the questionnaire), conversion of responses from open-ended questions to specific answers, lack of knowledge required to do data analysis. Overall, there are several errors that need to be taken into account when addressing polling results.
In all my years as a journalist, one thing has always remained the same: the interviewing process was the most difficult to master. As a young, spunky newspaper reporter in high school I always had hard-hitting ideas backed up with solid facts and reasoning, but that was only half of what was needed to make the story complete. The other half relied on representation from the student body through the use of interviews. The most difficult part of the interview process was meeting the people. It was not hard to meet teachers or faculty members because I was accustomed to seeing them either in class, the hallways or elsewhere on the school grounds, which made it simple to interview them. The hardest part was interviewing someone I did not know or had no previous contact with. Usually the best stories were the ones that dug deeper under the surface and wasn’t your typical “homecoming dance” story or a story about the football team. Instead, it was about something under the surface and that entailed interviewing someone who received less publicity in their everyday routine. This can make it difficult to read the person or ask them accurate questions because you may not know how they will react. Another difficult aspect of it is trying to get them to say something you need without coming out and directly saying, “Answer the question this way . . .” A key moment that I remember about interviewing came from a movie I watched in a beginning journalism class in high school. The movie was titled “Shattered Glass.” It came out in 2003 and portrayed a young writer who at the young age of 20 rose to journalistic fame as he became a top reporter for The New Republic, a prestigious New York Newspaper. It displays how the young writer not only fabricated his stories, but all his interviewees were made up. This led to a huge scandal and his world crashing down. Overall, in my experience with journalistic writing, interview errors cannot happen, otherwise the fate of the newspaper, poll, magazine article, etc, will be sealed.
In one of the supplemental readings (Asher chapter 2), a key point was discussed that directly correlates with the required reading from Gawiser and Witt. This was the concept of non-attitudes. Non-attitudes are crucial for the pollster to pay attention to because the poll results may not be completely accurate even though the pollster asked valid questions and gained results. They may not be accurate because the results may either be biased or not take into account the “I don’t know” or no response answers to the questions. Another key aspect of non-attitudes is the idea that the respondent may answer the question with a predisposition to the question and that may throw off the results. In other words, the respondent may answer the question with a mass amount of bias because they have prior knowledge concerning that issue and feel a strongly about it. A key example of this can be found in today’s issue of the Washington Post Online. A poll was recently released concerning the opinion of the U.S. population if an increase in troops in Afghanistan is necessary. This poll found that 47% are in favor of the increase, while 49% are opposed to it. In the 49% of those that are opposed to the increase, it would be accurate to assume that many of them ha pre-existing knowledge about the war or are involved personally, whether that be a family member or a friend who is serving overseas. The idea of pre-existing knowledge can also be found in the 47% approved side and this is revealed in the following paragraphs when the pollster notes that both sides “strongly support their side.” This poll story is key to the understanding of non-attitudes and errors in polling because when a person has a prior knowledge of the topic presented in the poll, the results can be skewed or wrongly represented because the respondent has strong emotions towards them. This is also made clear by the poll story writer because they note that there is a chance of a 3% error on either side.

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Taylor Pierce

Mass Media and Public Opinion

October 15, 2009

Reading Reaction Paper 1

Making Focus Groups the Focal Point

Don Stacks’ “Focus Group” reading provides information on how focus groups are assembled and conducted.  He also details why focus groups are a popular method to conduct research for PR use.  “The focus group is found in public relations primarily because it can be conducted quickly and fairly inexpensively,” (Stacks, 2009).  Another major reason that focus groups are often exercised is to potentially better understand the results of a survey.  He writes that a more in-depth analysis of a given survey is generally the by-product of a focus group, in which information from a variety of people can often explain dissimilarities in survey data (2009).  Despite the love that focus groups regularly receive, Stacks warns the reader of some of the data stemming from them.  Most focus groups contain volunteer subjects, who have volunteered for the fact that they are interested in the survey.  “In most focus group situations, at least two and often three different focus groups are conducted to ensure that what one group says is similar to what a second group says,” (Stacks, 2009).  If the research question is not tailored in a way to evoke responses representative of a certain demographic or psychographic, only then can the data be effectively measured.

Chapter three of “Polling and the Public” is about similar issues in focus group surveys.  In it, Asher describes the impact of context and wording in focus group questioning.  According to Asher, (2007) question wording is probably the most familiar pitfall to consumers regarding public opinion research.  As a rule of thumb, conductors of surveys should avoid questions that contain double negatives at all costs.  “Seemingly straightforward questions that employ relatively simple language can seem ambiguous to some respondents,” (Asher, 57-58).  Confusion or discontent with question wording can often lead to responses unreflective of volunteers’ actual feelings.

I recall having some of my own discontent regarding some questions that were asked to me in a focus group that I took part in last year.  For extra credit in my psychology class, I chose to attend a focus group held by members of a local television program.  The network was a broadcaster of a wide range of music news and music videos.  Joined by about ten others, we watched a host of music video clips and later filled out a questionnaire about what we thought of them.  For the most part, the questions seemed relevant to the topic at hand, but some of them did not seem so.  For instance, we were asked how we felt about the clothing and the level of provocation regarding the individuals in the music videos shown.  I found these questions to be rather irrelevant because as broadcasters of the videos, they do not produce each video, and so the questions seemed more suited for a survey regarding the actual production of the videos.  It was disinteresting to me to answer how I felt about these issues because the network should choose to show videos from genres and artists that they desire, regardless of the content, I feel.

Frank Luntz writes in his pollingreport.com column titled, “Voices of Victory,” about the usefulness of focus group research in politics.  According to Luntz, (1994) focus groups are so important to today’s politics because unlike traditional quantitative research, focus groups are concerned with understanding attitudes, instead of simply measuring them.  No other president in history in United States history has been more committed to focus group research than Bill Clinton, Luntz writes (1994).  One of his more popular focus group studies was conducted to see how potential voters would respond to the knowledge that President Clinton “dodged the draft” during the Vietnam War- information that was not at that time known to most of the general public.  Clinton’s political supporters found that most respondents that claimed they would vote for him prior to this knowledge still would vote for him in the upcoming election.  However, roughly 6% of the respondents from this group admitted that they now opposed the idea of voting Clinton into presidency (Luntz, 2009).  In looking at these results, it is understandable that Clinton, as well as his political supporters, largely remained as secretive to this fact as possible, so that his poll results could be as favorable as possible.  During President Clinton’s first year in office, his pollster conducted more focus groups than those of Bush in Bush’s first four years as president.

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Brendan Ferguson
Reaction Paper #4
10/22/2009
Error in Polling

In chapter 12 of A Journalist’s Guide To Public Opinion Polls, written by Gawiser and Witt, they discuss sources of error within a poll. The first type of error that the authors cover explains that the order of the questions is vitally important. For example, presidential popularity can be greatly influenced after asking a question about economics directly before questioning which president you would choose. When economics are poor presidential popularity will decrease, and in times of positive economic times the popularity of the president will increase.
Another major error in polling deals with non-responses. Non-response is the failure of one group to respond in the same proportion as another. For example if women responded much less than men did in a certain poll there would be non-response from women in the poll. If an unbiased result is used then it is easier to eliminate non-responsiveness within your polls. Gawiser and Witt state that measuring response is one of the most challenging things that a journalist has to do because many times money is not at a surplus for most polls to be able to measure non-responsiveness accurately.
The third type of error within polls is background noise. Background noise is simply results that seem unintelligent and may seem skewed because the people interviewed are not very knowledgeable on the subject matter, yet they give answers anyways. It is the journalist or reporter’s job to make sure that the information that they receive is knowledgeable and informed so it can be used as evidence or show something significant.
Lastly, Gawiser and Witt explain that data processing errors can cause error within polls. There are sometimes problems when copying data written down on paper to a computer to use statistics. Skip patterns within computer-run surveys can sometimes lead to negative implications if there is error within the computer program and if skip patterns are disturbed. Gawiser and Witt state that most sampling errors through technology are small errors but the smallest of errors can throw off a perfectly good opinion poll.
A poll that can explain some errors that go along with polls is one found on pollingreport.com. The poll asks if the government should legalize marijuana and whether or not the illegal drug should be taxed if legalized. At the top of the poll it states that this poll has been taken by adults only and this shows the non-response error. Adults are the only group asked if marijuana should be legalized and taxed. If teenagers were asked this question I am sure the amount in favor of legalizing marijuana would be greater. But the other way one could look at that is their opinions are not valid enough for this survey because they are not mature enough to make an informed decision opinion on the matter. This is a minute detail that shows there could be error within this poll but the poll is very good regardless.
I feel that errors will always be there in polls. There is only so much that you can believe through statistics because of an uninformed public. In the poll example I just mentioned there could have been some error but ruling that only adults voted on the poll makes the background noise of the poll less of an issue and made the poll more acceptable. I think that background noise, and the uninformed public is the main reason polls cannot always be trusted. Even politicians get votes from voters who are completely unqualified to vote based on the knowledge that they have over certain issues. It is a major problem in all polls but it is something that you have to deal with in all polls taken.

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Steph Seidel
Reaction Paper 3
“Study suggests males over 40 from rural areas are most likely to refuse participation in exit polls ”
Despite the many careful precautions followed by researchers, poll creators, distributors and interviewers, there will always be sampling error when conducting a public opinion poll. However, there are many other types of errors that can affect the validity of the results of public opinion polls. In order to conduct successful and valid polls, one must be aware of the different types of problems with polls and learn how to combat these errors that may affect the results.
When constructing a questionnaire, it is important to consider the order in which the questions are presented to the respondent. This is especially vital when conducting public opinion election polls. If a respondent is asked about a presidential candidate’s weaknesses and then immediately asked if they would vote for that candidate, this may cause more respondents to focus on the candidate’s weaknesses and choose not to vote for that candidate. This is also true about questions regarding presidential popularity preceded by a question about the current economic condition. It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether or not the order of the questions will indeed have an impact on the responses, but carefully reading the questionnaire or knowing the topics of the preceding questions can help in determining the effect.
Nonresponse bias is another factor that may heavily influence the results of public opinion poll, because when one group fails to respond in the same proportion as another, the results will be heavily influenced by the group that did respond. This problem was encountered in the 1936 Literary Digest poll, which inaccurately overstated the Republican candidate’s support by 12 percentage points. This happened simply because more Republicans voters returned the ballots more often than Democratic voters did. Typically, response rates are low due to limited funds and the short period of time in which the survey must be conducted. Studies have been conducted on lengthening the response time, but there is also a chance that a major news event will occur and impact the results of the survey. Unfortunately, it is impossible to eliminate nonresponse bias without spending an exorbitant amounts of time and money procuring a response from those who fail to respond. Some survey organizations attempt to weight the survey and make adjustments to ensure that the demographics of the sample accurately reflect the population.
During phone and personal interviews, the interviewer is a key factor in survey process and may unintentionally influence the results. It is essential that the interviewer is properly trained and “understands how to administer the survey, how to select respondents, how to record the answers, how to answer questions from respondents, and how to interact with respondents in general” (Gawiser and Witt, 96). It is important for interviewers to stay nonbiased when asking questions or reacting to the responses, because the point of the interviewer may cause the respondent to answer differently than they would without prompting.
In order to ensure that the responses of survey participants is correctly used and understood, it must be recorded correctly. In order to reduce data processing errors, programs such as Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing and Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing have been created to help record the answers and control the skip patterns in the questionnaire. Other data processing errors may occur when converting open-ended question responses into specific answer categories.
There are many errors that can prevent polls from being valid, accurate and useful. It is important to give careful thought to the order of the questions in the questionnaire, and to be aware of the errors associated with nonresponse as well as the errors of data-processing. Also, the interviewer is the key to conducting successful phone or personal interviews, and it is vital that they are appropriately trained and unbiased.
Nonresponse is something that I have been thinking about quite recently, and am especially concerned with for our polling project regarding same-sex marriage. As a University of Iowa student, I receive many e-mails each day asking for participation in various surveys, studies or research, and oftentimes I don’t have the time to complete the survey, or am not interested in the research being conducted. I know that there are many other students who feel the same way, so my primary worry is that it may be difficult to garner responses from 150 University of Iowa Students. In order to increase the number of students that may respond, we plan on sending out our survey to 1000 randomly selected students, with hopes that at least 15% respond. Also, we are considering offering an incentive of some sort, such as a desirable gift card or cash. Hopefully these measures will increase the response rate. However, since our topic is a controversial issue with polarized opinions, I am also concerned about the nonresponse bias we may encounter. Those who respond to our poll will most likely have strong opinions either for or against same-sex marriage, and this could have an impact on the results of our survey and may not be a completely accurate representation of the entire student population of the University of Iowa.
An independent, Mexico City-based based polling firm, Parametria SA de CV conducted study about the nonresponse error in exit polls in the state-level elections in the Veracruz and Tlaxcala states in September 2004 and in the Guerro state in February 2005. On average, 100 precincts were randomly drawn in each state, and 30 interviews were conducted from each precinct. Due to the low literacy level of the voters, a mixed-mode data collection method was used.
First, the interviewers introduced themselves to the voters and explained the purpose of their questionnaire. The interviewers then asked the voter for demographic data, governmental approval, highest level reached in school, self perceptions of social stratum and questions about political awareness. Interviewers also recorded refusals in each exit poll, noting the gender and approximate age of the voter who refused to respond. Next, the voters were asked to fill out a simulated ballot containing candidates names and party logos. The interviewers also completed a questionnaire regarding their experience as an interviewer, problems with electoral officials or political parties, and the distance with respect to polling place exits.
The results of this study suggest that the group that is most likely to refuse to be interviewed are men over the age of 40, particularly those in more rural areas. Men over the age of 40 are more likely than women of the same age to refuse to be interviewed, and people over the age of 40 are more likely to refuse than those under 40. Bautista, Callegaro, Abundis, and Vera also found that there was no relationship between response rates and exit poll errors, that refusals are random and that there are significant consequence due to refusals. However, they also found that the interviewer’s gender, education and experience are significant factors in explaining nonresponse rates.
Bautista, Rene., Callegaro, Mario., Abundis, Francisco. and Vera, Jose A.. “Nonresponse in exit poll methodology: A case study in Mexico” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association For Public Opinion Association, Fontainebleau Resort, Miami Beach, FL, . 2009-05-25

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