Friday, April 26, 2013

It'll Always Be the J-School, Dammit

Dante screwed up.  He failed, in his Inferno, to include faculty meetings as one of the nine circles of Hell.

Allow me to set the scene: an end-of-the-year faculty meeting, a discussion of that most soul-sucking of documents -- the college's strategic plan.  Seven themes, we don't talk about at all.  Instead, we spend 10 or so minutes talking about whether we should talk about the strategic plan (honest to God), and another 35 minutes or so talking about the preface (or mission statement, or visionquest, or whatever the hell that 1980s era Breakfast Club crap is that you put at the beginning of a strategic plan).

Yes, 35 or so minutes on whether we should take out the word journalism from the mission statement because, oh my god, we didn't mention all the other majors or specialties or departments or cousins or pets.
Head, striking desk.  Repeat as needed.

We didn't even talk about the actual content of the plan.  We talked about a whether the mission statement should say "journalism, media and communications" or some such stuff, and whether we should take journalism out since we didn't mention public relations or advertising or our other perfectly fine and acceptable and quite good majors.

Lemme help you out folks.  Henry W. Grady, he wasn't a PR guy.

Ya see, we're formally the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication -- a fine name, one ripe with history and a sense of truth and social justice.  And yet there's a move out there, bet money on it, to change our name to some awful combination of words that signify both meaninglessness and bad writing and a surrender to the popularity of majors rather than the role in democracy.
So in this spirit of assistance, I have my own suggestions for a new name.  They follow, with a few comments.
  • College of Hacks and Flacks.  I like this one.  It reads well, flows nicely, rhymes, but excludes our friends in advertising and, I suppose, some in Telecom.
  • College of Integrated Communications.  Just shoot me now with a sharpened paperclip, because this is bureaucratic hell.
  • College of Media and Communication.  This has the advantage of being meaningless and soulless and an example of just plain bad writing.
  • College of Informing, Persuading, and Entertaining.  Okay, this really gets at our mission (which we could have put in the awful mission statement instead of journalism, etc., but I have a paralyzed vocal cord caused by thyroid cancer and can't easily speak to suggest it).  That said, it's a terrible name for a school.  Too bad.
  • College of Public Relations.  Because, let's face it, the world needs more PR people (and lawyers).  Plus it has to be our most popular major.  I teach a lot of PR students.  They're terrific.  But no.
  • College of Journalism.  Why not?  It used to be the Grady School of Journalism, so in honor of our centennial it's a good idea to, for a year, change the name back to one with historical significance.

It's a fun game.  Offer your own suggestions, but for me it's simple:

It'll Always Be
The J-School,

Yes, I'm getting mugs and T-shirts made with that slogan because I'm an annoying person.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fox News is Different

As I work on a manuscript, I came across some fun data that continue my argument of Fox News exceptionalism.  In this case, let's look at the overlapping audiences of the three major cable news outlets and the three major broadcast news networks.

First, the easy stuff, the alphabet soup that is ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Among these, the overlapping audience ranges in the double digits, usually around 18 percent.  Among the cable networks it's much smaller, in part because of which are available on people's cable networks, in part because -- let's face it -- the partisan/ideological differences. See below.
  • Fox/CNN overlap: 11.2%
  • Fox/MSNBC overlap: 5.4%
  • CNN/MSNBC overlap: 8.0%
That 5.4 percent is by far the smallest if you look at all six networks.  The biggest overlap, if you care, is CBS-NBC (19.5 percent).  For fun, let's look now at how CNN and Fox overlap with the broadcast networks.
  • Fox/ABC overlap: 13.6%
  • CNN/ABC overlap: 12.5%
  • Fox/CBS overlap: 14.8%
  • CNN/CBS overlap: 11.4%
  • Fox/NBC overlap: 14.2%
  • CNN/NBC overlap: 12.9%
Notice anything?  While the differences are small and not statistically significant, the trend clearly shows Fox has a somewhat larger overlap with the traditional broadcast networks than CNN.

This is part of a much larger project I'm working on, something I'll probably blog about in more detail on another day.  And of course what's fun about these overlaps is to see if there are socio-demographic or political differences.  Without crunching the data, clearly the more politically interested will be likely to overlap and report using lots of different sources.  Age is probably also a factor, as Fox and the traditional networks tend to attract older viewers.  Finally, ideology plays a huge role here, especially in explaining the small overlap between conservative Fox News and liberal MSNBC.  Again, this is all part of a bigger research project I'm trying to finish off this summer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First Boston Poll

Fox News put out a poll just a little while ago.  You can read the results here. I find questions 5 and 6 interesting. They ask respondents who is the greater threat from terrorism on U.S. soil (first question) and then who is probably responsible for the Boston attack (second question).  Who's the bigger threat? Fifty-one percent say "homegrown terrorists" and 26 percent "Islamic terrorists." 

Can't "Islamic terrorists" also be homegrown?  Why not say "foreign terrorists" instead?  That would be more accurate.  

Who's likely responsible for Boston? Bigger margin, with 62 percent saying "homegrown" and 20 percent saying "Islamic."

No doubt the discussion of the Boston case, and the belief by many it's homegrown given it happened on Patriot's Day (as did Oklahoma City back in 1995) had an effect on these results.  Younger respondents (and women) were more likely to say "homegrown" than older respondents (or men). 

I write this as reports are flowing across Twitter about an arrest, then not an arrest, then maybe someone in custody, then someone not in custody.  The news is fluid today, so I'm ending this and getting back to the news.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It Depends ...

For decades we've wrestled with explaining why some people seem to learn from TV news and some don't.  A subset of that work is trying to understand who learns from faux news programs like The Daily Show, an area of my own research.  There's a new paper out that goes a long way, I think, in explaining why some people learn from late-night comedies and some do not.  You know it's good.  It cites me.  Twice.

Anyway, the basic finding is summed up nicely in the study text:
The results suggest that viewers who orient to The Daily Show as news, or as a mix of news and entertainment, activate greater mental resources than those who orient to The Daily Show as purely entertainment.
So, to put it another way, it depends on how you approach the program.  This is not unlike a small body of work I've cited myself that argues one reason many people don't learn all that much from TV news is that they approach the medium as "easy" and relaxing, while they approach print as "hard" and requiring more mental effort.  The result is obvious.  Greater mental effort, greater learning.  As an aside, the less educated or interested do tend to learn something from TV news, in part because of the way stories there are structured as opposed to traditional print articles.

Here, this study published in Mass Communication & Society suggests much the same effect for late-night comedies.  It all depends on why you watch.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April is ... Financial Literacy Month?

Really, I looked it up -- April is not about The Masters, it's Financial Literacy Month.  Wikipedia says so. I bring this up only because, yes, there was a survey about people's knowledge of finances, specifically high school students.  The lede:
Nearly half of U.S. high school students say they do not know how to establish good credit, according to new research released today by EverFi, Inc., the education technology company that teaches, assesses, and certifies students in critical skills including financial literacy. 
The survey of high school kiddies between ages 13 and 18 finds the state of financial literacy is "grim."
You can follow the survey link above for more details, if it interests you.  My favorite survey factoid?  A third of high school students think a credit score of 300 is good.  I didn't know it was possible to get a credit score that low.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I Sorta Kinda Miss MSNBC (and CNBC, too)

For a few weeks now, we've had to live without MSNBC.  Well, and a couple of other channels too, like CNBC and HLN and whatever the hell Channel 68 is on my Charter Cable system.


Because we've not had a cable box on our two oldish TVs now for ages.  Why?  Because I'm cheap, because I didn't really need it, and because the cable coming out of my wall worked just fine, thank you very much, giving me the channels I wanted.  But now Charter is slowly moving some channels off the non-cable-box system.  In other words, we've been losing some channels as time goes by.  Among those, MSNBC and CNBC.

I'm a journalism guy.  In the mornings I skim from channels 41 to 46 to see how stuff is being covered.  For those of you not Charter customers in Athens, Ga., that's, in order, The Weather Channel, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, HLN, and Fox News.  Of those, I still have weather and CNN and Fox, so I have access to news (including the always amusing and seldom sensical Fox & Friends in the morning). 

But I miss Morning Joe.

I don't miss Morning Joe because it's particularly good.  It's not.  It is better than Fox & Friends, but that's damning with the faintest of praise, and it's a show I enjoyed watching while ironing my clothes and finishing my coffee because there was usually something said so dumb I can use it later in a blog or class.  Plus I like jumping across channels when big news breaks to see how CNN is covering the news and how Fox hosts are staring off at an unseen monitor on CNN so they can talk about the news (rather than cover it).

Joe Scarborough is annoying, but okay.  Co-host, Mika Brzezinski, is just annoying. While I'm not sure how I feel about Willie Geist, he'd be fun to have a beer with.  There is a chemistry of sorts among them and others on the program that works, even as they drive you nuts, and I do miss them in the mornings.  I also miss comparing the networks later in the day or in the evening when something breaks, and it's probably time for me to pony up and buy/rent cable boxes to go on my aging regular (not flatscreen) television sets, but that seems an awfully high cost just to see Joe Scarborough.  And let me be clear, most of the rest of the MSNBC lineup I don't miss at all.  Yes, Rachel Maddow is excellent at what she does, I just don't watch her that often.

I don't miss Headline News.  At all.  I do miss CNBC just a little, but luckily I have their app on my iPad to show me how I'll never retire.  And whatever the heck Channel 68 is, I don't really care.

The point is, I'm not exactly sure why I no longer get these channels because getting an answer out of Charter Cable is damn near impossible.  I assume those channels have gone to a digital signal that requires a box, or it's just that Charter wants to torture me until I rent their box, or maybe I'm not supposed to know exactly what is going on. 

Sigh ... I probably will surrender.  But not without a fight.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Feeling Sleepy?

Many times over the years I've pointed out surveys that, coincidentally, have results that fit an organization's interests. This Monday morning, grab another cup of coffee because you could get sleepy after this latest example.

Here's the (too long) lede:
An online survey conducted by the Sleeping Disorders Centre has found that almost three quarters of respondents were at a high risk of suffering from sleep apnoea. Half of the 52 respondents were classified as obese (with a BMI over 28), a key indicator of risk, 69.2% said that they snored loudly, and 92.2% complained of feeling tired during the daytime. 55.8% of all respondents to the survey were men, who traditionally have a higher risk level than women, although recent evidence suggests this gap is closing.
Let's try and set aside the crappy writing for a moment.  Yeah, my beginning newswriting students could do better, but as I've emphasized time and time again on this blog, this is one of those examples of getting a survey result that just so happens to nicely fit your interests.

A sleep center.  Who's likely to use their online survey?  People with sleep problems, that's who.  Here's a bit of "methodology" of the survey:
Visitors to the Sleeping Disorders Centre website were asked to complete the STOP-BANG questionnaire, a set of eight questions regarded as the most accurate means of indicating a person’s level of risk of suffering from sleep apnoea from a self-conducted survey. 
Still awake?  C'mon, the STOP-BANG thing, that's gotta get you at least a little bit interested.  What the hell is a STOP-BANG, other than something I probably did in college?  It's a real questionnaire. Here's one version, so despite the silly name it's legitimate.

My real issue, of course, is this qualifies as a really bad SLOP, a self-selected opinion poll.  In other words, non-scientific BS.

The point of all this?  Beware poll results that just coincidentally support an organization's aims and goals -- even if you like that organization.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Information-Rich Environments

Studies in the knowledge gap tradition examine the differences between those who know a little and those who know a lot about, usually, local issues.  They also focus on education as a key explanatory factor.  This new study in Acta Politica (full pdf here) comes from a comparative perspective of European countries to establish that information-rich environments can "crucially narrow knowledge inequalities between
high- and low-status citizens."

The study uses respondents from Austria to the United Kingdom, 27 countries in all, to support previous work that two concepts best explain what people know about politics and public affairs -- motivation and ability.  Simply put, if you care (motivation) and are able (education and information) you tend to know more.  This study adds a new twist, arguing for opportunity, that "their contextual opportunities to become informed about politics" are also important.  So we have a triad: motivation, ability, and opportunity -- which sounds a bit like a suspect in a murder case, but makes sense here.