March 31, 2005

More academic jargon…

Here’s the new opening paragraph of my AEJMC Conference paper (still rough):

In this essay I explore the ethical implications for journalists of the Mayer (1996, 2003) predictive model of presidential primary campaigns. I am specifically interested in press coverage of the nomination process from the candidates’ announcements to the Iowa caucuses. I accept the argument by Barger and Barney that the press has an obligation to “enable citizens, through timely access to information, to accumulate the power necessary…to control their own destinies” (2004, pg. 191). I also accept that journalists aspire to act ethically in regard to the integrity of their product and the public they serve (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2001; Merrill 1997). Recent scholarship on the effects of party election reforms in the 1970s demonstrate that the primary election process has become frontloaded (Mayer 2004). Frontloading occurs as states move primary dates forward in an effort to gain more media attention and political influence in the nomination. Frontloading has stabilized the nomination process by making it a “stacked deck” in favor of a limited set of candidates before any votes are cast (Steger 2003). Since the reforms fully took effect in 1980, the winner of the “invisible primary,” as determined by polls prior to voting, has eventually won the nomination most of the time (Mayer 1996, 2003; Gurian and Haynes, 2003). The press, however, covers the nomination process as an unstable event by creating an illusion of political drama in which several candidates may rise from the pack to win the nomination or frontrunners may stumble on political mistakes and lose the nomination (Gurian and Haynes, 2003). This illusion of drama hides from citizens the fact that the process is stable and, therefore, limits voters’ choices–hardly helping them “to control their own destinies.” By characterizing the process as unstable, I contend the press contributes to its stability; thus, the press becomes involved in limiting voter choice, a phenomenon I call the primary instability paradox.

And here is the concluding paragraph:

The empirical data from that research clearly establish two facts as articulated by the independent variables: Most of the time since 1980, the candidate who leads the last Gallup Poll before the Iowa caucuses and who has been the most effective fundraiser wins the nomination. Predictive models may surely fail, as Mayer’s did in 2004. But his data and conclusions are hardly challenged by the 2004 results. Under the current set of nomination rules and the frontloading it encourages, the master narrative of an unstable nomination campaign simply is not true. Journalistic behavior in this regard fails its own ethic of social responsibility. It also fails Merrill’s TUFF ethical system by not giving voters a truthful account of the nomination process.

March 30, 2005

Academic jargon…

Just for fun, here’s the first 1.5 pages of my essay for the AEJMC Conference. This is a (very) rough first draft. I have 7.5 pages written with another 15 pages of notes and other bits waiting to be whipped into shape. Goal by the end of the day: a finished first draft. Please do me this favor: Don’t quote this fragment. Linking and commenting are always welcome.

The Washington Post missed the story. It missed the story by not recognizing or understanding the ethical implications of its own coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign once presented with its own complicity in portraying the presidential nomination process as something it is not. Yet it published the facts of the story on 26 October 2003 when there was still time for the press to hear, understand, and adjust [explain] its behavior from an unethical position to an ethical one in regard to the profession’s stated responsibility to give citizens the information they need to make civic life work.

In this essay I explore the ethical implications of the Mayer (date, date, date) predictive model of presidential primary campaigns for press coverage of the pre-primary–roughly from the candidates’ announcements in the spring to the Iowa caucuses. Recent scholarship on the effects of party election reforms in the late 1970s demonstrate that the primary election process has become frontloaded (Mayer date; Dude date; Dude date). DEFINE Frontloading has stabilized the process making it highly predictable, and, therefore, a “stacked deck” in favor of a limited set of candidates before any votes are cast (Steger 2003). The press, however, covers the pre-primary and primary processes as unstable, i.e. the results of the nomination process remains unknown and in play during much of the primary campaign. By covering the process as unstable, I contend the press contributes to its stability; thus, the press becomes involved in limiting voter choice, a phenomenon I call the primary instability paradox.

I proceed from the assumption that certain ethical standards, associated with a social responsibility theory of journalism, presented in the codes of ethics of three prominent professional organizations and an important recent book by written by officers of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Project for Excellence in Journalism (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2001), currently represent the ethical ideals of the profession of journalism in 21st century America. Further, I accept the argument by Barger and Barney, also following from a theory of social responsibility, that the press has an obligation to “enable citizens, through timely access to information, to accumulate the power necessary to somewhat avoid being victimized and to control their own destinies” (2004, pg. 191). But I will also demonstrate that current press coverage of pre-primary campaigns fails the standards of Merrill’s (1997) individualistic and largely deontological TUFF ethical system.

For more on that third paragraph, see this earlier entry.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m.): The first draft is done, and Wife Rhetorica is helping me edit (brutally) and polish. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow 🙂 What you see above is changing. I’m losing the whole Washington Post angle. It was a nice feature-like idea for the lede, but sustaining it through the essay became untenable because it suggests–head-slap!–that the press should have immediately awoken to the facts of an obscure bit of scholarship (obscure to the press anyway). Duh. Okay, so I’ll post the new opening paragraphs sometime tomorrow in the early afternoon. And I’ll include my thesis and a short bit of the conclusion.

March 28, 2005

Free speech rights belong to the people…

Does David Shaw understand the First Amendment? Apparently not:

Are bloggers entitled to the same constitutional protection as traditional print and broadcast journalists?

Given the explosive growth of the blogosphere, some judge is bound to rule on the question one day soon, and when he does, I hope he says the nation’s estimated 8 million bloggers are not entitled to the same constitutional protection as traditional journalists–essentially newspaper, magazine, radio and television reporters and editors.

Let’s review our rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Anyone see the words “journalism” or “journalist” anywhere? I don’t.

That’s because the institution of journalism as we understand it today did not exist at the time of the constitutional convention. The institution that Shaw would have usurp our rights is included in the First Amendment by the natural growth of a living document. The people created the institution of journalism and, therefore, it is a protected profession because we the people have freedom of speech and of the press. We the people, not just a subset called professional journalists.

(BTW, in the earliest conceptions of the 1st A., free speech referred to the rights of state legislators. And the press referred to partisan political rags published by factions and individual politicians.)

We should certainly debate who our shield laws should cover (the focus of Shaw’s column). But, before attempting such a thing, one must come to the debate armed with basic facts about the history of the First Amendment.

March 26, 2005

Mind bending…

AEJMC essay update: I’ve typed in all my notes and finished the works cited page. I’ll begin writing tomorrow.

Today, I have some hard thinking to do. I’m claiming that horse-race coverage (i.e. most coverage) of the pre-primary process in presidential campaigns is unethical because it gives the process a false sense of drama. In fact, according to current research, the process is stable and highly predictable, which means the choice of candidate is made largely before any votes are cast. Such a stable political process robs voters of their choice. In addition to reforms instituted in the 1980s that have front-loaded the primary process, the press also plays a role in stabilizing the outcome by 1) choosing to focus on “frontrunners” over other candidates based on (what?), and 2) portraying the process as unstable. I call the press’ role in this the primary instability paradox.

It’s easy to call this unethical by the standards set forth by Kovach and Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism:

Journalism provides something unique to a culture–independent, reliable, accurate, and comprehensive information that citizens require to be free. A journalism that is asked the provide something other than that subverts democratic culture.

What I’m working on today is an argument demonstrating that horse-race coverage (in the context of my essay) is unethical from a competing and opposed journalistic ethic: Merrill’s TUFF system, from Journalism Ethics: Philosophical Foundations for News Media.

TUFF stands for truthful, unbiased, full, and fair. It is Merrill’s attempt to bridge the gap between deontological (duty based) and teleological (consequence based) ethics in the practice of journalism. But it has one flaw, in my opinion, on the teleological wing: Merrill creates what I believe is a false dichotomy of journalistic responsibility between the needs of the citizen and the integrity of the story. [Ed. Note: Merrill is good academic. He properly presents this system as conflicted and contested.]

March 24, 2005

Surf the wild ride…

It’s spring break!

I won’t be going to Florida. I will be staying home to work on my essay for the AEJMC Conference. Deadline: Postmarked no later than 1 April. I’ve spent the last two weeks gathering the supporting material I need. I’ve been reading and re-reading and making notes and thinking and making more notes. Now it’s time to write.

I’ll take you along for the ride, dear reader.

Today, however, I’m relaxing. No school. Right now I’m doing something I always swore I’d never do: write in public. Well, not “write” in the romantic literary sense, which is what I meant when I first made this declaration in a graduate seminar. Blogging is certainly writing. I’m sitting in The Mud House in downtown Springfield taking advantage of the free downtown wifi and slurping down my second large orange truffle mocha.

I draw the line at podcasting in public. Although it is apparently cool to do so judging from the number of them that I’ve run across recorded in, of all places, airports.


March 24, 2005

Using “facts” and “liberal” in the same sentence…

Today’s entry continues the conversation from last week about this curious assertion:

“Facts have a liberal bias.”

What does/can this mean?

March 23, 2005

A Whopper and a Coke…

In which I promote the Region #7 SPJ Conference and talk about a recent open-source journalism article.

March 22, 2005

AP offers alternate reality…

Let’s take a closer look at the Associated Press offer of optional leads for news articles. I’ve reproduced the memo and added comments in brackets [ ]. A further comment follows the memo.

March 21, 2005

Brave new world…

In which I discuss my new .mp3 player and getting boinked.

March 21, 2005

Rhetorica is 3 years old (today?)…

This is as good a day as any to announce that Rhetorica is 3 years old. A bit of ambiguity exists, however, because of a bone-headed mistake I made early on.

I suspended my Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000 site after the election that year. I had exams to take and a dissertation to write. That site included an early weblog called Timeline. Its content was similar to Rhetorica’s. After my dissertation was approved in February of 2002, I decided to start a new site. I registered on 5 March. And I launched The Rhetorica Network two days later.

By the 20th of March, I had begun writing this weblog. I was using a putzy application meant for newspaper websites. And when I switched applications at the end of April, I somehow managed to lose everything I had written before that. Oh well.

And the rest is history.

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