Monday, July 21, 2014

Political Knowledge and False Projection

Among my favorite (how nerdy is this?) research areas is the false consensus effect. A study just out looks at an aspect of this combined with news media exposure and political knowledge.

Simply put, people tend to think others think the way they do. The study finds that, as you'd expect (but not always find) news exposure and political knowledge result in greater accuracy about the true distribution of opinions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Curriculum Update

As I've written about before, we're merging the broadcast news with the journalism folks at Grady College and, as part of this, rewriting the journalism curriculum. A committee of the unwilling has been meeting all summer, drinking beer and discussing curriculum and drinking beer and discussing curriculum. We meet again tomorrow (Monday) for the last time. Whatever product that emerges will go to the full department faculty on August 11 (the dreaded R-word, as in Retreat).

What happens then? The full faculty will congratulate us on our unpaid summer labor and adopt the new curriculum as recommended, standing to applaud us again and again, showering us with praise and flowers and cute little bunnies.

Except, that's not gonna happen.

We have a number of, ahem, interesting faculty. Indeed, none of the insane folks served on this committee. Which means a lot of work got done, which means August 11 may turn butt ugly -- with frothing at the mouth. Finger wagging. More froth. Spittle. Posturing. Stamping of feet. Tantrums. I fully expect tantrums.

God, I hope so. More blogging material. Hell, I may live tweet the retreat.

Clearly I'm not going to provide a lot of details here before the actual faculty get to see them. We don't want any pre-frothing. But there are some interesting philosophical differences that will likely arise, once you scrape the flying froth off your face. Among them is Big Core versus Buffet. That is, do you want a huge chunk of the curriculum eaten up by classes every student has to take (think multimedia stuff). If so, you leave yourself with little flexibility, both for the students and for the curriculum. That said, aren't there bunches of stuff all journalism students need to know? Reporting and writing, multimedia, experience in a newsroom, etc.? In a buffet approach, students have a smaller core and can then pick and choose according to their interests. Do we trust students to make the right choices? Do we then have students sporting the Grady brand but with no, say, video skills? Shouldn't we really blow it all up and create something cutting edge and not so 1970s?

Remember -- the bigger the core, the less the specialization. And don't even get me started on data journalism.

Another likely question is whether we want to fully embrace the teaching hospital approach, an online newsroom (and some broadcast) built around our existing Newsource. I think most folks will say yes, but ya never know.  Are we simply preparing students for jobs that are disappearing? I think we have a reasonable way to work around that. We'll see.

The fun thing about having been on the faculty here for 23 years is I can almost predict what certain faculty will say on August 11. I may write it down on envelopes with their names and open them as people say it. Yeah, I'm that petty.

In all, I expect on August 11 the department faculty to say "Hey, good try. We appreciate all the hard work. Now, go back and do it this way instead." And that's okay. Boring, but okay. It's called faculty governance, and when it comes to curriculum (and honestly, only curriculum) the faculty, not administrators, have the final say.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Talk Radio -- The Academic Gift That Keeps on Giving

I was lucky enough in the 1990s to stumble onto talk radio as a research area, making me among the first to publish extensively on who listened to such programs and with what consequences. Hell, Rush Limbaugh helped me get tenure.Talk radio is the academic gift that keeps on giving. At least in terms of citations. I did a search today of recent studies on talk radio that also cite me. Some of my favorites:
  • Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. I don't know this journal, but this article includes cites of my stuff.
  • A book, The Talking Cure: TV Talk Shows and Women, apparently cites me, and I'm fairly certain I'm not the cure.
  • A couple of different Mass Comm & Society articles, a major journal in our field, cite my stuff. Always nice, especially as I've never actually been able to get published there myself.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Deep Academic Trivia

So I'm skimming the AEJMC News, just barely paying attention, and I see a new editor will head our flagship journal: Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Fine. She's been an associate editor for years. All well and good. But ... at the end, I find some great academic trivia:
The Publications Committee has recommended the journal move to APA style for references as well as create theme issues.
You don't care, do you? Well, dammit, I do. I'm giddy. Downright giddy. I told you this was academically trivial, the kind of stuff only PhDweebs care about, and one thing a bunch of academics will argue over is the best style for references.

JMCQ has a version of, I suppose, Chicago Style. Endnotes in text, references at the end of the article. A reference would then look like this:

Barry A. Hollander, "Tuning out or tuning elsewhere? Partisanship, polarization, and media migration from 1998 to 2006," Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 85 (March 2008): 23-40.

While in APA style, instead of an endnote, there'd be (Hollander, 2008) in the text and the following reference:

Hollander, B.A. (2008). Tuning out or tuning elsewhere? Partisanship, polarization, and media migration from 1998 to 2006. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 23-40. 

I prefer APA style. I prefer seeing there in the text what cites were used rather than having to go back into the endnotes at the end to find out who the author was citing and judging whether it was the right cite. Also I hate having to find out the friggin season (March in the example above) of a citation. I mean, season? Really? Of what possible use is that?

Now I'm from the dominant paradigm, better known as a quantitative researcher. Those from history, law, and, to a lesser degree, critical/cultural backgrounds prefer an endnote style.Does this mean JQ (sorry, JMCQ) will suddenly change its style? Probably not. It's a recommendation. To be honest, I have no idea who has the final say on this kind of thing.

Told you. Trivia. But for some of us, important trivia.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Is Obama the Worst Prez since WWII?

There's a new survey out today in which respondents -- apparently not all presidential scholars -- ranked the presidents since World War II (scroll down a bit to see the actual table) Barack Obama, he doesn't do very well. Dead last. If you ask, who is the worst.If you have following links, the top finishers (Q35, with percentages who voted for them) were:
  1. Reagan (35)
  2. Clinton (18)
  3. Kennedy (15)
  4. Obama (8)
  5. Eisenhower (5)
Yes, but if asked who "you would consider the worst president" you get obviously a different list, but one that deserves a closer look.
  1. Obama (33)
  2. George W. Bush (28)
  3. Nixon (13)
  4. Carter (8)
  5. Clinton, Johnson, Reagan (tie at 3 each)
In other words, Obama is the worst president since World War II. Or he's the fourth best president since World War II.

Let that sink in for a moment. Obama is fourth best, or 12th, depending on how you ask the question. In other words, when you ask a random sample of U.S. adults, you get a huge partisan effect. Sixty-three percent of Republicans rated Obama the worst, while 33 percent of Dems did. George W. Bush? Fifty-four percent of Dems rated him the worst ever, only 5 percent of Republicans did.

So what do we make of this survey? Not a hell of a lot. Maybe Obama is the worst president since World War II. It's too soon to say, and to be honest I'd prefer to hear what presidential historians have to say about this than a random sample of people swaying in the partisan wind. But the key to me is how the two questions above differ so wildly in the same survey.

Also, Reagan does well in other surveys. A Gallup 2011 survey had him on top as "the greatest U.S. president." Higher than Lincoln. I'm a Reagan fan, but he's no Abraham Lincoln, so that result alone should demonstrate just how much a survey of the American public on this kind of issue can be skewed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What People Know ... Visually

I've watched this paper go from, well, being a paper until finally an academic journal article. The argument is simple: we can lose a lot by measuring just verbal political knowledge, that some people are better suited at storing and recalling visual knowledge.

Let me pull a quote from the discussion section that sums things up nicely:
Visual political knowledge is different from verbal political knowledge and represents a previously un-measured element of political involvement. This study has shown that adding visuals to otherwise identical all-verbal knowledge questions significantly increases correct responses. This finding strongly suggests that some people with substantive knowledge of political figures respond incorrectly to knowledge questions about them just because they lack a phonological representation of the person (the politician’s name). Allowed to draw on a visual representation (the politician’s face), they are able to report accurate conceptual knowledge about the politician. 
For the entire population, the effect is relatively small. For some groups, though, it's larger. Women, for example, are superior to men at facial recognition. Perhaps verbal tests of political knowledge, which often place women lower than men in scores, are masking true knowledge differences because they do not include visual knowledge.

Monday, June 30, 2014

News Preference of U.S. Latinos

I'm crunching data for a new paper that focuses on the news preferences of U.S. Latinos, in particular whether such news is presented in English versus Spanish, as well as the consequences of those preferences. Of the latter I'll write about another day. This is just a first blush of some results I'm seeing, based on analysis of a national survey of 1,005 U.S. Latinos.

So I've built a rather complicated multivariate model to predict language preference. That's a fancy way of saying a bunch of stuff (age, education, political interest, born in U.S., etc.) all statistically control for one another to see what factors stand out.

  • Prefer Spanish to English: The single biggest factor will surprise no one. It's the use of Spanish in everyday life, which has a huge effect in the language one prefers to get the news. Indeed, the more you use Spanish in everyday life, you're 6 and a half times more likely to prefer Spanish to English in your news. What else? Females are almost twice as likely to prefer their news in Spanish, and the more connected you feel to your ancestral country, the more you prefer the news in Spanish. Here's an interesting non-effect -- attention to politics in one's ancestral country does not predict a preference for news in Spanish versus English. 
  • Prefer Spanish to a mix of both Languages: Again, comfort with everyday use of Spanish is the big boy in the model. Oddly, the only other factor here is political efficacy. Simply put, controlling for a ton of other stuff, the more you feel you understand politics, the more you prefer your news in Spanish versus a mix of the two languages. I have no real explanation for this.
  • Prefer Both to English: That leaves this comparison, and again everyday use of Spanish dominates. The older you are, the more you prefer English. Also, owning a home means more preference for English (as opposed to a mix of the two). In other words, the longer you've been around and are connected via age and home ownership, the more you consume your news in English versus a mix.
I've also constructed a variable of eight Spanish-language sources of news (Noticiero Telemundo, CNN en Espanol, etc.) to see how it differs from the results above. Watching such programs is, again, largely a function of use of Spanish in everyday life. The more educated or higher your income, the less you watch such programs. But the more connected you are to your ancestral country, the more you do watch them. Some other factors also emerge as statistically significant, but they're kinda obvious, like political interest.

Okay, so what? Step 2 is to examine whether or not a preference for news in Spanish versus English, or Spanish-language news from the programs and networks mentioned above, affects people's likelihood to register and to vote in U.S. elections. Theory, and previous research, suggests it should.

Stay tuned.