Monday, September 29, 2014

SLOPpy Journalism

A SLOP in surveys refers to a self-selected opinion poll.  Such a poll has no random sample, no systematic sampling at all. Basically, it's crap. But don't take my word for it. Here's the take of AAPOR, the leading group of polling professionals (bold face my own):
The Internet is awash with SLOP polls that invite people to answer a question and then view the results. In addition to attracting only those with an ax to grind on a particular issue, even the best Internet-derived convenience samples currently tend to include too few older people, minorities and less affluent, less well educated. In short, they tend to miss people who don’t have access to a computer or an Internet connection. These surveys also invite manipulation, as a number of news organizations have learned to their dismay.
Why am I writing about this? Because my j-school's student-run television newscast is "slopping." Here's the tweet out Monday morning:
This blog post followed shortly after. I figured someone in the newsroom would see it and they'd kill this idea. Nope. In fact, Tuesday morning this one came out:


If you follow the link you can add your opinion on what's a pretty important story, the campus going tobacco free. Sure as hell newsworthy. But a SLOP is next to useless. Also ... if you fill it out, there's even a link if you'd like to fill it out again. In other words, you can fill it out again and again and again, even more biasing to the results.

Here's a screenshot of ending of poll (below). See? You can click to do it again via the "Submit another response" link. That's never ever a good idea. By the way, I've completed three surveys so far.

To report on such results is journalistically unsound, if not ethically challenged. About the only way to do it would be to preface the results like this:
"In a completely unscientific and useless self-selected poll on the Internet, we found most students ..."
Um, no. Apply the same rules to poll results you do to interviewing official sources or experts. I don't want to pick on the students too much. If the student newspaper did a SLOP I'd blast it too. I probably have in the past. And if our local daily paper did it, I'd hammer it. And finally, in fairness, SLOPs are okay if used only for entertainment purposes and are labeled as being complete bullshit on your site. But a SLOP's results should never go in a news story. Ever. Period.

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