Monday, August 24, 2009

Poll up your arse?

an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly -- a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers. Kurtz.
As if anyone still needed to disabuse themselves of the discovery value of polling. Some elements that factor into polls:
  • Sampling method
  • Topic
  • Wording of question(s)
  • Wording of possible responses
  • Timing of poll vis a vis media coverage, other events
  • Body language of pollster (including tone for telephone)
Doubtless there are more. And the weight of each element all goes to the work of innuendo, social manipulation, etc. For the tweeterers: Do social media help or hinder our awareness of the limitations, distortions, of broadcast polls?

Afterthought: It is with commercial products like polls that one can, I think, make advances toward enlightenment by invoking David Weinberger's notion of Transparency (see his post, Transparency is the new objectivity).

For years I've ignored polls. Instead of providing objective evidence, they are mostly about serving some insect lord's nefarious agenda. That's a reasonable inference, since they usually fail to provide any of the transparency David calls for.

I.e., knowing all about how the poll was conducted: seeing the questions, watching the questioner speaking them, looking at temporal context, understanding the sampling method, and knowing who paid for the poll -- all this can give the dumb, silent public (which is always what's posited as the receiver of broadcast commodity information) a means of gauging the "objectivity" of any particular poll. So long as that information is withheld, the poll is useless.

With that in mind, I'm tempted to modify David's formula. Transparency might not be co-terminous with objectivity, but without what might be called genetic transparency - how a thing was made - we will never begin to gauge the complex bearings of political media messages.

So, given that all news programs are, before anything else, performances (shows), it stands to reason that what we end users want is not the show itself, but a window into the making of the show - the places where the story choices, emphases, editorial decisions, reportorial obsessions, advertorial repercussions - are made manifest. Again, like polls, news commodities are designed to hide the very things that would help customers reach informed judgments.

What we need less of is the stage. The fourth estate needs no fourth wall. Stop re-porting what you think is the news, and start bringing us into the news Room, the space of the news. That might not ensure objectivity, but it could provide a vantage from which a useful evaluation of your reportorial and analytic skills could begin.

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Blogger Zo said...

45%. Surely I shall shoot myself.

8/24/2009 1:31 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Television news is...television.

8/24/2009 1:42 PM  

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