Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Racial Attitudes and Sports

This is less than a first blush, but I'm messing with a large data set that includes questions about how interested you are in certain sports and also happens to have questions elsewhere that asks about attitudes about race and racism.

The news hook is obvious, the Clippers owner being banned for life from the NBA.

This is a difficult data set to work with and I'm trying to grade papers at the end of the semester, but lemme just share a glimpse of what I'm talking about in simple correlations. That means there's a lot of other explanatory factors that need to be controlled for, but just go with it for now. I'm busy on other stuff.So, I'm looking at how interested one is in various pro sports and how that stacks up with how rare one sees racial problems. High scores on the "racial" question means you see them as rare.
  • NBA : -.09*
  • MLB :  .04
  • NFL :  -.05
  • College Basketball : .02
  • NASCAR : -.08*
What's this mean in English? If there is an asterisk (*) that means the relationship is statistically significant, so a relationship is found only for interest in NASCAR and NBA. In both cases the coefficient is negative, meaning the more interest you have in those two sports, the more you disagree with the idea that racial problems are rare and isolated. To put it another way, the more you follow those sports, the more likely you think racial problems exist today. Interesting.

Here's another. In this question respondents were asked whether racism is a major problem. Being interested in any of the sports above was unrelated to this question. In other words, following these sports, any of them, had no relationship to racial attitudes, at least among the 600 or so folks surveyed.

Again, these are correlations, roughed out in a hurry.

I need to root around in the codebook for a really good measure of racism itself and see how it stacks up with these variables, if at all.

When the Null Hypothesis IS Your Research Finding

In journalism, the notion of native advertising is seen both as controversial and as a path toward financial stability. The question, then, is whether native advertising threatens the credibility of a news site. In other words:
They worry that, at its core, native advertising is about tricking your reader into reading an ad and thinking its editorial content. 
The results in this study (via Nieman Journalism Lab) suggest no.

Read the article for yourself, or the original research here (begins on page 78 of the PDF). Lemme point out I know nothing about this journal or its peer review process.  Skimming the research itself, I like its use of a college student and human (i.e., adult) samples as a comparison. I hate the use of "mediums" (please, media), but otherwise the procedure seems straightforward. Subjects were randomly assigned to view one of two versions of a site -- one with native advertising, one with "traditional" advertising.

Okay, but here's the weird part:

H1: Ad type will have minimal effect on credibility.

All of you who suffered through and passed a graduate class in research methods will recognize this as an example of hypothesizing the null hypothesis. In other words, this is usually not done. The null hypothesis is of no effect and you hypothesize a difference, and what they've done here is run an experiment with a fairly mild, subtle manipulation and have taken the lack of an effect on credibility as a, excuse the pun, credible finding.

No. No. No.

I'm buried in grading so I can't vent more, but this result should not be taken as evidence that native advertising has no effect on a news site's credibility. Perhaps there is no effect, but this study is not conduced in a fashion to truly answer that question.

Not Gonna "Make"

I hoped to teach a graduate class this summer in secondary analysis. In other words, how to avoid IRBs and human subjects committees and analyze all the data that's out there, freely available, for scholars to exploit. I'm talking ANES, GSS, ICPSR, ABCD, EFG, and all the other acronyms.

The class is stuck at four. Ya need five to "make." I've told the grad office to let students know so they can make other plans.

I could push it, maybe. Certainly other faculty in an unnamed department downstairs have insisted their grad class "make" with fewer students, but that's not me. I certainly have enough research to do in the summer without teaching a class -- and it's partly my fault, or my vocal cord's fault, that I had to offer it in the "through summer" session rather than one of those short, brief, all-at-once semesters. I can't talk four hours a day.

Anyway, this means a lot of other stuff I need to do -- manuscripts, yard work, PlayStation games, will get my attention instead.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Importance of "Say"

So this tweet just came across my Twitter feed:

Let's think about this for a moment.

The fine folks at Pew, who do amazing work, have a survey that suggests people are increasingly likely to own a gun for protection. Face it, a 22-percentage-point increase, that's significant. That's huge. That's ... friggin scary, as in mean and scary world scary. Hunting going down, that's reasonable and not particularly surprising. But has the world become so very scary? Not really. Crime has, instead, gone down in this time period.

Let's talk, methodologically, about a tiny word. That word is: say.

My lede for this would be that the reason people say they own a gun has changed. I suspect there's a lot more at work here, more than a single survey item can capture. You'd need some follow-up questions and a bit of sophisticated analysis to tease out what's happening. Ultimately, though, what we have is a crashing of perception and reality. Fear. And a host of other partisan and ideological mishmash of information that probably explains this.

Of course, perception is reality. So perhaps using "say" isn't necessary after all.

And thus ends this methodological moment.

Walking and ...

As we come into campus many mornings I'll see this young woman at the intersection of Oak and Baldwin streets, near Carr's Hill, waiting to cross. She's always looking down, staring at the object in her hands. Even when she crosses.

And no, it's not a phone. It's always a book.

I find this fascinating. She may be the only person at UGA walking while reading a book rather than a smartphone. I've wanted to get out and ask her why. Is she a word nerd? Work at the nearby grad school office? Studying for a big GRE or MCAT or LSAT? Any close calls while walking in most mornings, eyes locked on her book? And does she even own a mobile phone?

There's a story there.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

That Pesky Margin of Error

There's a Politico horserace poll story today that, among other things, finds Rand Paul leading Hillary Clinton in Colorado.
Sen. Rand Paul appears to be the man to beat in Colorado in 2016, a new poll says.

Colorado voters would favor the Kentucky Republican over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 48 percent to 43 percent in a potential 2016 presidential race, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll has a 2.7 percent margin of error.

Let's do the math:
  • 48 + 2.7 means the actual result could be from 45.3 to 50.7
  • 43 + 2.7 means the actual result could be from 40.3 to 45.7
So here's the thing. Paul could be as low as 45.3 and Clinton as high at 45.7. That's called a statistical tie. Yes, only barely a tie.

On the other hand, if you look at the polling shop's previous Paul vs. Clinton polling it's been fairly consistent, with Paul at either 47 or 48 percent in Colorado, Clinton at either 43 or 44 percent. So while the pesky margin of error suggests something of a tie, if you look at the polls as a whole, it's fair to say Paul leads Clinton in that state.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fudging the Numbers on Race-Based Admits?

As many of us know, there was a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week about affirmative action in universities, essentially upholding a Michigan law that bans attempts to diversity campuses by race.I'm not getting into the for it or against it argument. Instead, this quote in a The New York Times article caught my eye:
“I think this issue is largely settled,” said Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute. “Most Americans have made up their minds that the government should not treat people differently based on race, and they’re kind of impatient that we continue to wrestle with the question.”
Whenever a partisan hack sums up public opinion, I wonder whether the person is right or just blowing smoke out their ass. So, what do people think? Luckily, Pew released a survey recently on just this topic. See the graphic below.

The poll above suggests smoke is being blown out of said ass. But not so fast, my friends. Note the wording. Is affirmative action a "good thing?" Well, yeah. Sounds good to me. But what about race specifically? This survey for ABC asked respondents:
Overall do you support or oppose allowing universities to consider applicants' race as a factor in deciding which students to admit?
The result? Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults oppose race as a factor (62 percent do so "strongly") and only 22 percent support it (and only 8 percent "strongly").

Our lesson here? When it comes to surveys, it all depends on how you ask the question, but in this case the guy quoted in the article seems to be right in summarizing the public's thoughts on the issue.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The "Empty Calorie Hypothesis"

Drink too much Coke and you fill up on empty calories. Does the same apply to the news?

I've written about this before (see here, and here). The idea is simple -- if people fill up on "news-like" stuff (late-night comedy, talk radio, TV cable talking heads) do they feel so "full" that they are no longer motivated to seek out traditional (real) news? My "empty calorie hypothesis" predicts that yes, consuming such sugary content will make you less likely to eat your spinach (news).

Okay, fine Hollander, but how do you explain why people who watch Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly tend to do better on tests of political knowledge than people who don't watch those programs? Explain that, Mr. Researcher?

Er, good point. And that's Dr. Researcher to you.

First off, we have to control for the fact that people who seek out such programming tend to be news junkies to some degree, so the causal direction gets mixed up. Also we need to control for education, the single most powerful predictor of what people know. Experimental research suggests you don't really learn all that much from humor faux news programming, or at least not as much as you think you learn. My idea is this -- the more you watch or listen to such programs, the more you feel as if you've met some subconscious goal of staying informed. Because of that, you're a little less likely to consume regular news. And because of that, you are less informed (all other things being held equal).

Some interesting studies have examined the kinds of news The Daily Show covers (the funny stuff) and the kinds of news it ignores (tragedy, death, etc.). In other words, relying on something like faux news programming is amusing as hell, but it provides a spotty view of the world. Stewart would say as much himself. He's there to entertain. Sure, inform to some degree -- especially those great interviews he does with folks -- but really he's there to make us laugh. News junkies, they'll watch him (or Sean Hannity, or whoever) but my argument is basically one of time. We only have so much of it. And goal-based motivation. We want to be informed, some of at higher levels than others, and if we "fill up" on some stuff, then we can't consumer the other stuff. And in this case, the "other stuff" is traditional, comprehensive, fact-based news.

I'm mulling over a grant proposal to study just this. I'm attending a grant-writing workshop in a week or so and this is me thinking out loud, in a less-than-theoretical way. I can baffle you with PhDweeb stuff, but there are sound theoretical reasons why my hypothesis should hold up, if tested in the right way. The consequences of this, of course, is all of us amusing ourselves to death. Democracy relies on an informed, not an entertained, public.

So exactly how will I research this? A few vague ideas:
  • First, demonstrate how people define what is news differs greatly from what scholars and journalists might define as news. In other words, entertainment is also seen, by many, as news.
  • Second, establish that people have some internal level of feeling informed that makes them comfortable. News junkies, high need. Most people, less so.
  • Third, establish that for some people entertainment-based programming indeed helps fill them up with, if not empty calories, a very selective set of less-than-nutritional calories. 
  • And of course prefacing this is why this matters, and what are the consequences if I'm right for the public, and for democracy.
Okay, that's my idea. So very easy to do, I'm sure. Nothing a big fat NSF grant couldn't fix.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Grady College Structure

Here's the lede: Grady College faculty voted 49-7 to move Digital and Broadcast Journalism, presently in the Department of Telecommunications, into the Department of Journalism.

In other words we'll still have three departments. They are:
  • Advertising and Public Relations
  • Journalism
  • Media Studies (Arts)
Lemme be clear, the names of those last two may change. We have a department focused thematically on persuasion (Ad/PR), one focused on news, and one focused on media studies and entertainment and critical cultural approaches. That latter department, Media Studies (or whatever it'll be named) will be where we expect growth in the coming years.

Also -- important. This will take a year or two to go into effect. Nothing happens fast in a university.

The meeting took 1 hour and 18 minutes from the initial motion to the final secret ballot vote. Why secret ballot? To protect junior faculty from some of our, ahem, less-than-sane senior faculty who might hold a grudge in how they vote. For those of you not in academe, just trust me that this is important. Some of our senior faculty are a taco short of a combination platter.

It was an interesting debate. For example, we had a what I can only describe as a poison pill amendment to stop the initial motion for the "three-department solution." We had a 10-minute lecture from behind a lectern (hint, it's never a good idea to lecture your peers, unless of course you don't see them as your peers). We had good, honest debate from both sides, some damn good points made for and against the proposal. Indeed, in a smaller department meeting earlier in the week the arguments against this change were far more persuasive, but somehow in a large room they were not persuasive in the least (hence the vote total). And we got lost in a maze of Roberts Rules of Order. In other words, this is what ya get when you pile a bunch of PhDs in a room.

I could write more. I could name names. Hell, I even have a legal pad full of quotes because, dammit, real journalism people never stop thinking like journalism people. But it's done. There's a lot of hard work that we face on curriculum, and my position is this is one of those rare opportunities when we can blow up the curriculum, the classes, and start from scratch to teach kids what they need to know for tomorrow's jobs, not last year's jobs.

And now, back to my bottle of celebratory bourbon.

A Vote Today (maybe)

The Grady College faculty meet today and we expect to vote on whether to change our departmental structure. The most likely options are:
  • Keep Ad/PR as is, combine Journalism and Telecommunication. In other words, two honking big departments.
  • Keep Ad/PR as is, combine Journalism with the Digital and Broadcast Journalism portion of Tele and create a Media Studies department with the remainder that's focused more on entertainment and critical/cultural stuff. In other words, three departments.
There are good arguments for both. There are good arguments against both. There are some terrible arguments also being made, some conspiracy theories being woven, and the kooks are having their say, nitpicking at process. In full disclosure, I favor three departments. I want a department focused on news.

So ... in other words, welcome to academe -- where people you never see all week suddenly show up and have their say.

And then we'll never see 'em again.

Okay, what's my Nate Silver-esque prediction? The model is ever-changing, of course. A week or so ago I put it at 2/3 likelihood of the "three-department solution." After some meetings this week, I've lowered that to a toss-up with the slightest of edges to the "three-department solution," but I don't feel confident about even that.

I think the dean breaks all ties. He may have to.

I've also added to the model a third option -- that we postpone the thing. I'd give that a 15 percent likelihood because, as you may or may not know, in academe there's never anything we won't spend more time studying to death.

I may live tweet the event. Check @barryhollander on Twitter to see if I am because, frankly, I doubt I'll actually speak.

Update (11:20 a.m.): because it's important we live up to the academic stereotype, there's talk we may have issues with the bylaws and will have to vote to vote, or some such nonsense, and the vote to vote may take a 2/3 vote. Got that? Good. I am updating the percentages. See below:
  • Three departments -- 40 percent
  • Two departments -- 42 percent
  • No vote at all -- 17 percent
  • Me killing several faculty -- 1 percent

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Polling Time in the GOP

Another poll, another group of "leaders" in the race to represent the GOP in the 2016 presidential election.

A Fox News poll puts it at:
  1. Chris Christie at 15 percent
  2. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul at 14 percent
  3. and leading the also rans, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio and several others and 6 percent who preferred "none of the above."
What's this mean?

As the story notes, hardly anything at all. It's just fun. But it's also more than that as we move through the "invisible campaign" period in which seeming electable attracts more money, which makes you seem more electable, which attracts more money, which ... well, you get the idea. You can see the raw results here, if you're dweeby enough to care.

The Fox folks do something nice in the poll details, on page 12 providing the margins of error for various subgroups. Funny, as I was just talking about this in my basic reporting class. Following this, they provide a long list of crosstabs that break out responses by gender and party ID and all the rest, EXCEPT they do it for every question OTHER than the candidate preference questions. No idea why. Weird.

About the only other takeaway from this poll is Ted Cruz has dropped some in support, but even then it doesn't mean a lot because he's a favorite of those who actually vote in the GOP primary. It's early, remember, and such polls are really designed to appeal and inform the political chattering class.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grady College, Conspiracies, and the Tinfoil Hat Crowd

A week from today the faculty of Grady College will meet to decide between essentially two structural changes:
  • Option 1: Merge the Department of Journalism and the Department of Telecommunications into one department.
  • Option 2: Merge the Digital and Broadcast Journalism portion of Tele (five, maybe six faculty) with Journalism to create a news-oriented department, and create a Media Arts (placeholder name) department focused on entertainment and related critical/cultural interests.

Ad/PR, being practically perfect in every way, would remain the same. Any tinkering there will probably come later as we deep dive into curriculum issues.

Seems a straightforward choice, right? Option 1 gives us two honking big departments of equal weight, at least in terms of number of faculty. Option 2 gives us Ad/PR as it is, focused on persuasion, and a news-oriented department focused on non-fiction storytelling, and a media arts department that will do all kinds of interesting things, from documentaries to screenwriting to, oh hell, all kinds of stuff. And it's the department with the most room to grow, with the right leadership, especially if we pursue a media studies major that is non-skill related, as well as media literacy courses.

In full disclosure, I favor Option 2. Because I'm rational.

Now let's talk about the irrational, the tinfoil hat conspiracists out there asking for membership lists of the committee that hammered out these details or the vitae of all the journalism faculty. You know who the hell you are. Please, on Friday, wear the tinfoil hats so everyone else knows. This has been the most transparent process at Grady I've seen in ages, and I've been here 23 years. The TV station? Not a damn thing transparent about that, and yet some who favor Option 1 or see boogie men and a lack of transparency -- ironically they were involved in the TV disaster. Funny, little ironies like that. Or how they complain about the non-transparent makeup of one committee -- with three Tele faculty -- but think the other committee -- with three Tele faculty -- is just fine.

Am I being hard on a few well-meaning faculty who prefer Option 1? A little. There are good, though not persuasive, reasons to favor two big departments. I've discussed them earlier and I see no reason to go over them again.Needless to say, the committee hashing this out -- running focus groups and holding a college-wide discussion -- voted unanimously for the three-department solution.

Lemme say that again. Unanimously.

Friday is going to be great fun. Maybe I'll live tweet it.

Even better, Thursday at 5 p.m., before the full college meeting, we'll meet as a department to hash out any concerns because, ya know, nothing transparent about that.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Latest Poynter Survey

Like making soup, making a good survey often depends on the ingredients.

The latest Poynter survey that compares the attitudes of educators, professionals (managers), and j-students has some interesting findings. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is in how important educators and students see multimedia skills compared to the pros. Below is the key graph:

What explains this gap? Pros not getting it? Educators getting it too much?

Hint: it's what you put in the soup. Or in this case, the survey.

The Poynter survey, useful as it is, rests not on a random sample but instead on those who chose to participate. I know. I participated. I may have participated twice. Regardless, you're talking about a biased sample. And while it's true you can get decent results from biased surveys, that requires sophisticated weighting and statistical correcting to make it work well. That's not the case here.

So, are the results real or a function of the sample? It's hard to say. Do the results in the graphic above make sense on their face? Not really. What kind of pros answer a Poynter survey, and are they representative of all pros? And educators, how about them? Representative? I'm guessing not so much in either case, but in general the results tend to track one another. Managers and educators often agreed in their priorities of key journalistic skills, such as the importance of accuracy curiosity. That's comforting.

The takeaway from all this? I don't have one yet. I want to read carefully the full report.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grady Changes

As you know from my earlier posts, Grady College is about to undergo some changes. These involve (possibly) the space presently occupied by WUGA-TV and, perhaps more visibly, the merging of the newsgathering function of the Department of Telecommunications with the Department of Journalism.

The most likely scenario, then, is three departments:
  1. Advertising/Public Relations (persuasion stuff)
  2. Journalism (combines Journalism with Digital and Broadcast Journalism) (news stuff)
  3. Media Arts (entertainment-oriented stuff)

A college-wide faculty meeting is set for April 18 (Good Friday, appropriately enough) to hash this out and take a vote. The dean just sent an email saying as much (see below).The names I used above are merely placeholders. Media Arts could be called something else. So could Journalism.

There is a small but vocal argument for two whopping big departments, essentially merging Tele and Journalism as a counter to Ad/PR. The arguments are sound, but not compelling.  Still, let's air them out.
  • Research faculty will be marginalized in the new "news" department. This is a concern, but I don't see it being likely, especially not given how voting is done on tenure and promotion.
  • Ad/PR is too big and needs a counterbalance. I find this one smacking of a conspiracy theory, tinfoil hat theme.
  • The Media Arts department will be small and not stable. Again, a good question, a substantial concern. As the dean said, it's my business to make sure that isn't the case. I believe him.
There's even a push to keep Ad/PR folks from voting on the restructuring of the College because they're not directly involved. Except, of course, they are. And it's a sad way to try and shave off votes for the three-department solution in hopes of a two-department solution. Kinda obvious. Kinda ham-handed. Or at least not particularly subtle or demonstrating of any political skill.

This is a College decision. Everyone will vote.

FYI, Dean Davis' Email:

The Programs Visioning Committee has given me its first formal motion, and I would like to add it to next Friday’s agenda. The motion, of course, stems from the group’s hard work and our college-wide visioning session last month, in which we all saw consensus form around two competing models for college reorganization. I would like us to discuss and then vote on one of two models that clearly garnered the most support:

Model 1 (three departments, one merging the news gathering functions of Journalism and Telecommunication, one tentatively titled Media Arts, comprised of our current media studies and research faculty and production faculty and AdPr)

Model 2: two large departments, one combining Journalism and Telecommunications and the other AdPr.

It will be a signal day for Grady College.

Politics Makes Us Stupid ...

Or, if you read this excellent piece carefully, it's partisanship that makes us stupid.The best and most demoralizing thing I've read this week. Take the time. Read it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Grady Update

I'm on two different committees looking at restructuring Grady College and how to use the space occupied at present by WUGA-TV. I wrote a month ago on the process. See that for background.

So where are we?

Running out of time, but making (I think) significant progress.

There are two committees I'm involved with. The Alpha committee is about structure and curriculum, the Beta committee is specifically about the space downstairs. Beta is further along, in part because its mission is more specific. Right now, that WUGA-TV space looks similar to what I wrote about before, at least at the top level, of themed courses. But let's talk about the bottom. At this level, students would take a large course and then perhaps a set of 1-hour technology-specific courses so everyone in Grady walks into their next set of classes with some expertise. Departments would choose which of the maybe 10 different classes are best for their students. Yes, we'd hire a professional faculty member or two.

Again, this is all in the air, but a proposal of some kind is due to the provost in a few weeks.

Alpha meets this coming Monday. That's the biggie, because at present I see us continuing to have three departments. They'd be:
  • Advertising/PR. No real change. The department is practically perfect in every way.
  • Journalism (combining Journalism with Digital and Broadcast Journalism from the awfully named Department of Telecommunications, which sounds like it's about telephones). The new department could simply be Journalism, or something longer.
  • Media Arts (a work in progress, this name, expect some to push to put critical in the title). This is the more entertainment-oriented folks from Tele but also a few from Ad/PR whose research tends to focus on entertainment kinds of stuff, or critical-cultural kinds of stuff. It'd be the smallest of the three departments. Too small? Don't think so, but its stability is critical.
Theoretically, people could have appointments in two departments, which works really well for some folks in Ad/PR who might be more at home in the Media Arts but who teach a lot of stuff in Ad/PR, like graphics.

(there's also a push for two big departments but its getting no real traction)

Any proposal of restructuring would, of course, go to the faculty for a big up-down vote. I'll move for a secret ballot because I don't want a lecturer or assistant professor pissing off some our full profs who, frankly, are a taco short of a combination platter.  If it comes to a vote, I predict a 40-10 vote for three departments listed above (assuming 50 votes, I don't know how many voting faculty we have). Of course Nate Silver may handicap it differently. The real nitty gritty, then, will be crafting a curriculum in the new-and-improved-yet-maybe-not department that may-or-may-not go by Journalism or may include lots of lazy modifiers before it. Stay tuned on that one. A lot of work needs doing there.

Funny. I put out an email to Journalism faculty updating them on the process and asking them to email or catch me in the hall if they had any concerns, etc. No. One. Did. At least not to me. Perhaps they spoke to other committee members. Dunno.

There is so much we (the Journalism we, not Ad/PR which is practically perfect in every way) need to update in our curriculum. That's another post for another day.