November 22, 2003

The news media are biased!…

It’s a day late, but not a dollar short. I’ve finally added the expediency bias to my list of the structural biases of journalism. Thanks to Jay Manifold and Lex Alexander for their refinements.

UPDATE (10:00 a.m.): No sooner do I add the expediency bias to the Critical Meter than a perfect example presents itself (and the fairness bias, too). Go read Jay Rosen’s deconstruction of “Spin Alley,” the zone where news goes to die. One of the reasons reporters enter this zone: “It’s convenient, given my deadline and the need for reactions and quotes.”

UPDATE (10:25 a.m.): I added this comment to Rosen’s post (typos corrected):

As I was reading your post, and saw that you were going to give a definition of “information,” I naturally assumed you’d go with Postman. But I was pleasantly surprised by your choice and your subsequent comments about the 2004 nomination in light of the Mayer predictive model of primary campaigns (Re: Mayer, William G. “Forecasting Presidential Nominations or, My Model Worked Just Fine, Thank you.” PS: Political Science & Politics. APSA. 36(2) 2003: 153-57.). The Mayer model demonstrates that there is no uncertainty to the nomination. Since 1980, the leader in the last national Gallup poll before Iowa won the nomination for both parties. The only anomaly was Hart in 1988 for obvious reasons.

[Ed. note: For a refinement of the Postman and Shannon-Weaver definitions of information (or how/why I’m making the distinction above), please read this post.]

Now that is a great predictive track record. Mayer uses his data to make claims about the McGovern-Fraser reforms. I use his data to suggest that the press needs to take a harder look at what’s really going on.

In terms of information being a reduction of uncertainty: If the primary process is nearly 100 percent predictable before the voting begins, then that suggests that press coverage of it as an uncertain horse race constitutes subtracting information from the process by adding unnecessary complexity!

UPDATE (2:55 p.m.): Jeff Jarvis comments on Rosen’s post and mentions the concept of “spin spam.”

2 Responses

  1. Raze Spin Alley, Strange Creation of the Press

    It is not easy to explain why space is set aside for spinning the press, and the press walks right into the space. These notes on Spin Alley include recommendations. Close down. Blow up. Invent better way.

  2. It all reminds me of something I heard recounted by one of my fellow attendees at the Chicago Boyz blog bash: Jesse Jackson got on everybody’s Rolodexes in the ’70s by going downtown and giving interviews at the Sun-Times and Trib offices. The alternative would have been for the papers to send a (white) reporter out to, say, 87th & Halsted for civil-rights news stories. There were plenty of outfits besides Operation PUSH doing things out there, but whaddaya know, they just somehow never seemed to get as much coverage …