Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Catching up with a few things

I have been wayyyy behind on my reading, so some things I'm just getting to that you may or may not know:

-- When I was with the AP, I hated two words: Morgan Quitno. The Lawrence, Kan., publisher of statistical guides is also a purveyor of some of the most statistically suspect rankings going. M-Q still haunts me -- our students regularly get their hands on some press release or wire story about the latest slop and want to do a story on it. I usually badger them enough to back up the numbers that they drop it. WSJ's "Numbers Guy," Carl Bialik, took apart this statistical chop shop in a November column about one of its education rankings. Among the points:
  • "Mr. Morgan says the company has no special expertise that qualifies it to determine which factors to include and how to weight them."
  • "He told me any person is as qualified as he is to compile these rankings."
  • "Morgan Quitno doesn't consult with education experts in setting up the rankings. Instead, Mr. Morgan says the company responds to critics by tweaking the rankings in future years."
You've been warned. At a time when we, as an industry, keep crying about our declining audience and how other media forms don't have as much credibility as the MSM that willingly runs this stuff, think about it.

Which brings us to Dave Copeland. Last time we checked, he was in Pittsburgh and stopped blogging with a thought-provoking post about the whole blogging idea. (No, it was not one of those "bloggers stink" posts, but one that took a hard look at the occasional angst of actually doing it.) Well, he's moved to Boston and is back blogging. His latest post takes a zinger at another of those newspaper "woe is us" columns, this one by Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald. As Copeland notes: Well, maybe if you knew a bit more about the inner workings of the real world of business you'd know why newspapers are doomed. They lose money, partly because their once loyal readers don't want to spend "pocket change" to read whiny drivel about how great those papers are. Grimm, like a lot of newspaper people, uses the medium interchangeably with the broader profession of journalism. The reality is good journalism can occur anywhere, and increasingly it's occurring on the Internet and in books.

Finally, back to a good site that will help you deal with the mystery of political polls as we start an election year. Check out Mystery Pollster run by pollster Mark Blumenthal.

And on that note, let me propose that you check out this month's Common Sense Journalism column. It has a few election year resolutions, including how to report polls correctly.


At 1/4/06, 6:05 PM, Blogger fev said...

What irks me about the "safest cities" bit is not the rank-ordering of cities by crime occurrence but the idea that a couple of crime rates are an accurate measure of "safety." Nothing in your murder rate has anything to do with whether people are dumping carcinogens in the water supply (remember the Little Washington Pulitzer?), or whether there are enough state safety inspectors to make sure employers aren't locking emergency exits. To name a few.

Call 'em "cities with lowest rates of murder, rape and auto theft" and rank-order away. Just don't call 'em "safest."

(I admit to being slightly baffled by: "The outcome of this equation was then multiplied by a weight assigned to each of the six crime categories. Each of the six crimes was given equal weight." So Morgan Quitno weights the scores, but weights them all by the same number?)


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