Monday, May 31, 2010

Hijacked Blog -- My Jury Duty

I had jury duty last week.  I am hijacking my blog to write a bit about it because I don't feel like messing with the media and knowledge stuff.  Enjoy.

Monday, 8:15 a.m.

The county calls 125 people for jury duty this week.  I am one of 27 who showed up on time, and a couple more dribble in by 8:45.  Where is everyone else?  We spend our time connecting the social dots, chatting and getting to know one another while watching a flock of black-suited lawyers mill about.  Then comes our first break -- we haven't actually done anything yet -- and we rush for coffee (four floors down, 75 cents a cup of really bad stuff).  Everyone in the Clarke County courthouse is really friendly.  Kinda creeps me out.

9:30 a.m.

We're standing in a hallway staring at a door to the courtroom while lawyers settle the cases that never should have gotten this far in the first place.  Or maybe they're comparing recipes.  There are no doctors in the jury pool.  Do they sit around on the weekend at the country club, laughing becuase they never get called or never have to show up?

9:35 a.m.

Our names are called and we're told to sit in a certain order in the, um, pews?  Benches?  Whatever they are, we sit and await questioning to see which of the lucky ones get sat on a 6-person jury.  Six, you wonder?  This is misdemeanor court, so each jury has six lucky winners and one alternate to hear mostly DUI cases.  We're feeling good.  A DUI case lasts half a day, maybe a bit longer.  We get questioned one at a time on mundane stuff, such as whether we know the defendant, whether its possible to drink a little and still be okay to drive, etc.  The questions make it obvious what the defense hopes to show.

10:30 a.m.

The lawyers are studying our questionnnaires and then they call seven lucky names (six jurors and an alternate) for a Wednesday trial.  I get lucky (or unlucky) and don't get called, which is too bad because it sounded from the questions like a simple case.

11:10 a.m.

After a break, and more bad coffee, we start the voir dire again.  Black suits huddle up front.  Can lawyers wear anything but black?  The prosecutor asks me a few questions and says, "I think I had you for a class."  Oh great, a prosecutor is a former student.  I find this
strangely discomforting.  I get picked as an alternate for a DUI trial on Friday.  I think he got his revenge.

Friday, 8:15 a.m.

Coffee in the jury room.  It's nicely stocked with a fresh pot and a little fridge with soft drinks and water.  There's a connecting bathroom.  I could live here.  It beats my old dorm room.

8:30 a.m.

At 8:30 sharp the trial begins, so you have to give points for punctuality.  It's a DUI case.  The prosecutor does his thing, lays out his case in opening statements and the defense attorney does the same.  She uses "um" way too much.  Maybe she's nervous or just starting out in the biz. 

Here are the facts of the case: 

Basically the guy ran a flashing red light (the defense agrees to this) at 2:30 a.m., a light down near the Jittery Joe's roasters east of downtown where Hickory meets East Broad.  A cop happened to be parked nearby, filling out a report, and saw him.  Chased him down, pulled him over.  The guy smelled of alcohol and admitted to having a "two beers" at a club and was tired from working all day as a truck driver. 

We have audio, but not video, of the stop.  The guy is given a field sobriety test -- walk straight line, hold one foot up, dance like Michael Jackson -- which from the audio we don't know if he passed or not, though the cop says in testimony he did not.  We can hear a slurred voice from the defendant, a really polite cop (fairly young, about his 7th ever DUI stop).  In the leg-lifting thing, the cop finally stops it because he says he was afraid the guy would hurt himself falling, but the guy says he stopped it himself.  Regardless, he gets cuffed and taken to the police station.  The audio cuts out here (disc is full) and kicks back in later.  The guy has turned beligerant, especially when asked to take a breathalyzer.  He refuses, which is considered evidence in Georgia of some sort.

9:20 a.m.

A break.  Coffee.  One of the jurors has a 4-year-old celebrating his birthday today.  Two are teachers.  None are doctors.

9:40 a.m.

We're called back, then told to leave again.

10:30 a.m.

We're back, we hear more stuff.  Cross-examination of the officer by the defense is interesting.  She tries to show through various "ums" (9 per minute, yes I counted) that it's possible the guy was just tired, that he did everything was asked of him in the field sobriety test, and suggests he passed it well enough.

11:40 a.m.

The jury is sent to its comfy, coffee-filled room, to deliberate.  The judge tells me, as alternate, to go out in the hallway to deliberate by myself (it's a joke, and not a bad one.  I laugh.).

11:45 a.m.

I figure it'll take 15-30 minutes for a guilty verdict.  Yes, I've deliberated with myself and I've discovered any number of things, including a guilty verdict.

12 Noon

Okay, any time now.  It's boring in this courthouse hallway.  There's no coffee.  But the defendant is sitting over there, not so far away.

12:30 p.m.

Um, any time now.  I'm hungry, dammit.  I've studied the 5th floor in detail now, should architects want to make any improvements.

12:40 p.m.

I'm called back in.  Yes!!!  Turns out, we're not done.  The jury wants to hear the audio again, which is nowhere near as interesting as you might think it is because it's full of loud noises as the mic scratches his uniform, etc.  We listen to the audio.  The jurors go back to a comfortable room.  I go back into the hallway to study ceiling tiles.

1:10 p.m.

It is really boring out here.  And the art on the walls, it really sucks.

1:30 p.m.

Finally, the jury emerges and I'm called back in to sit in my designated "alternate" chair.  The verdict is guilty.  Duh.  Coulda told ya that at 11:40 a.m. (see above).

1:40 p.m.

I get two checks.  One is for $25 for showing up that day, the other for the $7 lunch we never had time until now to get around to, so I'm thinking of walking a couple of blocks to Doc Chey's for curry, but I'm so disgusted and tired I drive straight home instead.

End of duty

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I spent two years as a journalist in south Louisiana and my wife is from Chauvin, which is way down da bayou (where her mom still lives along with other siblings, etc.).  So I have some interest in the BP oil spill, as well as some knowledge about the geography and problems involved.  There are no survey questions on knowledge about the massive oil spill, but what's emerging are questions that attempt to gauge people's opinions about how the mess is being handled and their thoughts about offshore drilling.

First, the political stuff.  A CNN survey found 45 percent disapprove of the Obama administration's handling of the gushing oil, 35 percent approve, and 20 percent are unsure.  Correct answer here?  The administration is doing a pretty good job, considering they didn't make the mess.  But let's not allow facts to get in the way of opinion.  Oddly, 70 percent disapprove of BP.  Makes a little more sense in my mind, given what we know about failures before the accident by those in charge of the offshore rig.

Approval of offshore drilling, as you'd expect, dropped considerably after the spill.  Before, some 62 percent thought such drilling was a good idea.  That's down to 45 percent today.  Let gasoline get to $4 a gallon and these numbers will change.  Also, if BP's plan today to plug the well works, this will fade from memory.  Unfortunately, oil will ruin the precious wetlands and marsh grasses, ruining fishing and shrimping and likely leaving the coastal area even more open to a hurricane.

A summary of the various questions can be found here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Foursquare -- Two Takes on yet another cutting edge social networking site (yawn)

Okay, so we have two takes on this Foursquare thing, the latest hip cutting edge, deeply important, vital to your life, social networking site.  Pick your poison below:

NYTimes VersionThe Onion Version

I'm going with the Onion.

What's this to do with how people learn from the media?  Nothing at all.  I just like linking to The Onion whenever possible.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tip of the Tongue & Feeling of Knowing

When we talk about what people know, it's often useful to also examine what people think they know.  It's like that great old quote about public opinion, spoken by Lucifer in an awful Victorian play entitled Prince Lucifer.  The bad old guy says:

Public opinion, is no more than this,
what people think other people think.

Truer words were never spoken, that is if you're into the social projection literature, pluralistic ignorance, false consensus, and all the rest.

But two areas often studied outside of public opinion and mass comm are feeling of knowing and the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, but they're interesting nonetheless.  As this study abstract nicely puts it, tip-of-the-tongue is defined as "a recall failure accompanied by a strong feeling of imminent retrieval" while feeling of knowing is "a recall failure accompanied by a feeling of future ability to recognize the item."  In other words, TOT means you know you know it, but you just can't spit it out.  FOK is also a failure to recall something but you're sure you'll be able to do it later.

What's this to do with political knowledge, or media, or anything?

From a methodological standpoint, when we measure political knowledge of any kind (current events, textbook civics questions, etc.) we often get a lot of "don't know" responses which, I suspect, have some aspects of FOK and TOT.  Often surveys will probe further, trying to help someone retrieve the info from their head and get it out verbally for our survey.  The research into these phenomena, then, becomes vital in how we understand how people answer survey questions (which is a neat field all in itself).

The study I pointed to above gets into brain scans in different situations.  We rarely have the opportunity in political communication to that detailed, but it'd be fun to see what parts of the brain fire when asking political knowledge questions versus other kinds of questions.

I may get more into this later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Young People and News, Part III (or more)

And yet more on whether young people follow the news, ever followed the news, or every will follow the news.

I really need to sit and deeply consider this and a previous column I linked to because, best I can tell, there's some odd analysis going on here.  Of course young people have always followed the news, it's just that the cohort every generation follows it less than the previous cohort or generation.  But to write this up with actual solid numbers -- hard to consider in summer.

Getting Youth to Vote

Getting young people politically involved, informed, and taking the time to actually vote is a challenge.  Here's a new article by folks dedicated to this from across the pond in the U.K.  One way to solve the problem, it's argued, is to integrate politics into the curriculum.
Politics student Shirley Tetteh believes much of the fault lies with the education system. Embedding politics into the curriculum from year three onwards would improve young people's understanding, she believes. "We aren't engaged in politics because we aren't told how it affects us," she says.
In the U.S., of course, you'd probably find yourself quickly enmeshed in one of those tiring partisan debates over what kind of information to provide.

Also voting should be easier, they say.
Alex Davis, 19, turned up to vote but was turned away by polling staff. "I registered online but when I got to the polling station they told me I wasn't on the list. I was supposed to print out the form I filled in and send it off. They said lots of people had experienced the same problem - they didn't make it clear enough."
For those of us who have been voting for a million years in the U.S., it doesn't seem that daunting a task.  But for younger people who see the world in a different -- and digital -- way, then I suspect it seems overly complicated and difficult and somehow involves a thing called paper.

Finally, and this is from my own observations, the news doesn't connect with young people for lots of reasons, including how we (the royal we, as in journalists, not the royal family) craft our stories.  The inverted pyramid, which I love, is not designed to make life easier for someone just learning about public affairs.  It's written with the newest, most important information first, which is fine if you come to a story with a base of knowledge.  Come to it fresh and that same story structure gets in the way more than it informs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Celebrity Knowledge

Sure, it matters what you know about politics and public affairs, at least if you want to participate in a democracy and, oh, maybe vote.  But what really matters is your knowledge about celebrities.  This link will take you to a deeply profound test of your abilities to recognize actors, actresses, singers, and other people who qualify as, um, celebrated.

I sucked.  Didn't realize the mouth belonged to Will Smith, or an eye belonged to Zooey Deschanel.  But I nailed Halle Berry's smile and Claire Danes' eyes. 

And if I type in a whole lot of other celebrity names, search engine optimization being what it is, I can no doubt create a whole lot more traffic to my site.  Let's see, there are questions about Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Kate Bosworth, Kate Hudson, and I'm sure lots of other Kates.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, or Just Unsure

Labels are powerful things, full of partisan spin and ideological consequences and not a little bit of over-the-top public relations.  Thus you can be pro-life or pro-choice.  Basically attitudes about abortion have remained largely stable over the decades, with one side or the other moving up or down depending on the political whims of the moment.  But when you toss in labels, ah, then things get a even murkier.

So here's the survey question asked by Gallup:  "With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?"

Technically I suppose you could be both, kinda liking life, but liking choice too, but that's nitpicky nonsense that gets away from the matter at hand -- how have things changed over time?

Not all that much.

Setting aside that this is a crappy way of asking the abortion question, the results have shifted up and down for each side over the many years.  Looking at the data since 2001, pro-choice has hit a high of 51 percent (in 2006) and pro-life 50 percent (in 2009).  If you draw a trend line, pro-life is edging up and pro-choice remains mostly the same, with a handful of various "undecided" answers decreasing.  The latest Gallup numbers from May 2010 have it at 45 percent pro-choice, 47 percent pro-life, basically a statistical tie given the margin of error involved.  See the Gallup numbers yourself here.

Another way to look at it over time is the graphic below from the American National Election Studies, available only through 2004.  This shows the proportion of people who believe abortion should never be permitted to be -- maybe -- inching up slightly.  Nothing dramatic, but it more or less fits the previous Gallup numbers.  This is one of those issues that, when it comes to what people know, nearly everyone has an opinion.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Young People and the News

We've known for quite a while that young people tune out the news, or at least the news offered in traditional formats.  There was a brief book on this that, while it received more attention than it deserved, was the right topic at the right time -- so it really struck a chord.  Now here's an article that sums up how technology isn't necessarily drawing younger folks to the news. 

There has always been an "age effect" when studying political knowledge, what people know, and if younger Americans continue their disinterest toward news, then this gap will increase.  But it's not quite that simple.  We're seeing hints of young folks picking up bits and pieces of news from social networking sites, from haphazard exposure to aggregators like Yahoo News, and all the rest.  So it may not be as bad as we think, calling of course for that phrase all scholars love to hear -- deserves more research.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who Needs a Survey?
Twitter as Public Opinion

Let the lede do the talking:
Pollsters aren’t trembling yet, but a study of Twitter posts finds that for some key political and economic questions, tracking the content of microblogs on the Internet is nearly as good as doing a traditional telephone survey. 
It's a scary proposition and probably flawed, but this story touches on something I've discussed before, how social media do a pretty good job of capturing a snapshot of opinion.  We'll need a new word for this.  Twitnion? TwitianOpintiwitin? Okay, they all suck, but not only traditional surveys are in trouble.
By tracking the frequency of positive or negative sentiments about people’s financial well-being—filtering for posts about saving and spending—the Twitter data also reproduced trends in some classic economic indicators such as consumer confidence. 
It's only a matter of time before someone does this professionally at a level in which they, with fewer costs, position themselves as a viable alternative to serious public opinion research.  The bottom line matters, and if they can model this to demonstrate it is as accurate as well-done polls, then we're going to see some interesting changes.

Do I think its a viable alternative?  No, not by itself.  The lack of generalizability bothers me, but I think social media captures some data polls might miss and will serve a complementary function in helping us understand what people think and know.  And here's a different take on the predictive power of social media.

Satisfied with Government? Not? Take the Quiz

The fine folks at Pew have a quick quiz to find out just how much you like or dislike government.  See how you stack up to my score, shown in the graphic below.  I'm kinda in the middle, inching toward more rather than less satisfaction with government.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writing Questions for the ANES

I have proposed some media items for the 2010-2012 American National Election Studies latest set of data collection.  You can see all the proposals here, including mine which you can read in pdf format here.  The overall study is the ANES evaluation of government and society, so I proposed asking questions about people's consumption of what I called (for lack of a sexier term) opinion-based news.  This includes Rush Limbaugh's radio program, Glenn Beck's wackiness on Fox News, and the like. 

The ANES in general tends to, um, suck when it comes to measuring media use, asking a broad TV news exposure question, a newspaper one, etc., with little differentiation between the kinds of programs watched, or websites viewed, or radio programs listened to.  If we're going to understand how people evaluate government, we need to know more about their exposure to content that spends most of its time -- blasting government.

Will my items be included?  I suspect not.  My theoretical rationale is rather weak despite the obvious real-world ramifications and Tea Party overtones of whether people watch Beck and Hannity and the rest.  But I had to try because I think it's important.  And there are priming and framing theoretical approaches that fit here with these items, though I'm not sure I did a particularly good job getting those across.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sympathetic, but Confused

As I scoured the web for breaking studies or news about what people know, I came across this fairly standard letter to the editor available online of the Evansville Courier & Press.  The headline says it all -- education can increase voter turnout.  And then there are these graphs:
"We the People" educates students about the Constitution and American life, and "Project Citizen" enables students to identify a public problem and solve it through a policy-focused approach.

These programs have impact. In a 2008 American National Election Studies survey, students from these programs demonstrated greater retention of civic and political knowledge than their peers and engaged in greater participation in government affairs. But it's not just about increasing voter turnout. 
I'm baffled.  Not by the idea that such programs may improve retention of civic and political knowledge, but I'm fairly certain the 2008 ANES includes nothing about these programs. I went back and skimmed the codebooks.  Indeed there are political knowledge questions available in the data, but best I can tell (correct me if I'm wrong, someone) there is no way to tell whether respondents participated in any kind of educational programs.

And here's the fun part -- the 2008 ANES hasn't even released the political knowledge questions yet, at least in how they've coded correct or incorrect responses.  You can see the questions, but not the answers coded as correct or incorrect (however, you can see the redacted raw data, if you know where to look).


I suspect the author, an Evansville attorney, is confusing the programs and some other reported survey or published research.  There's nothing controversial about his notion, just that I'm fairly certain it's an apples and oranges use of data. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Knowing Glenn Beck (and others)

Those who occupy the chattering class, the political and media junkies of the world, have no problem generating an opinion about talkmeisters like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and my personal favorite -- Glenn Beck (a Time magazine 100 most influential person, with bio written by Sarah Palin).

But what about real people?  Below, some survey results that focus not on whether have favorable or unfavorable views of talking heads, but rather on the responses that essentially say "I have no clue who this schmuck is."
  • Glenn Beck: 47 percent didn't know who he was in April 2010.  Forty-two percent didn't know back in 2009, so is he slipping?  Nah.  Not Beck.
  • Rush Limbaugh: Back in 1993, a quarter of Americans didn't know the king of talk radio. Now only about 10 percent haven't heard of him.
  • Pat Robertson: Okay, he's kinda a TV talk guy (watch his morning show, The 700 Club) and he's run for president (like everyone on Fox News) and his "never heard of him" numbers are modest, about one-fifth of folks never hearing of the guy.
  • Oprah Winfrey: You know this, only 1 percent say they've never heard of her.  Not sure exactly who these people are, but I suspect they spend a lot of time in padded cells.
And that's all I can easily get, though I will point out that another favorite of mine -- Bill O'Reilly -- was back in 2008 both the most and least favorite "journalist" listed by a U.S. sample of Americans who also do not know what a journalist actually is. Sean Hannity was the third most favorite, and sixth least favorite.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Socialism, Capitalism, and other Words

Socialism isn't so bad and capitalism isn't so good, at least not as much as you'd think, according to a new Pew Center poll.

The lede:
"Socialism" is a negative for most Americans, but certainly not all Americans. "Capitalism" is regarded positively by a majority of public, though it is a thin majority. Among certain segments of the public -- notably, young people and Democrats -- both "isms" are rated about equally. And while most Americans have a negative reaction to the word "militia," the term is viewed more positively by Republican men than most other groups.
See the table below or check out the report.  As the table shows, they looked at a lot of words to judge reactions and there's an interesting socio-demographic table looking at reactions to certain words, like militia.  I'd love to see a table on Fox News vs. Other News consumption but those data are not available in this survey.  Ah well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What Catholics Know

From the NYTimes, a poll of Catholics finds:
  • the majority of Catholics are critical of the pope's handling of the sex abuse scandal.
  • but are confident the Vatican will figure it out and take care of matters correctly.
  • and over half thinks the Vatican is "out of touch" with the needs of Catholics today
  • so everyone dislikes bureaucracy, but they also think the news media have been unfair.
  • and over half think sexual abuse is still happening in the church
  • which makes you wonder what the hell they're complaining about, given without news media coverage none of this would have come out and the friggin church would have kept on doing what it did.  Oops, sorry for that editorial moment...
  • and nearly two-thirds believe bishops covered all this up.
A complete look at the poll is here.  Disclaimer: I'm a practicing Catholic. And pissed about this.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Most Trusted Name in News? Still CNN, sez Survey

A new survey gives CNN something to brag about since it can't really brag about actual viewers compared to Fox and the other cable channels. CNN remains the most trusted name in news.  But Fox is closing the gap and leads -- not surprisingly -- among Republicans.  Actually, this is probably a statistical tie (32 to 29 percent), but CNN needs all the help it can get.  MSNBC, curiously, is not included.

Below is is the graphic from the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll.  But click on the link above to see the whole story in context.