18 May 2007

Doing the same thing ... and expecting different results?

I haven't written about the debates for presidential nominee that the Democrats and Republicans are having amongst themselves (and about each other). So, let me say a few things.

I think we should have lots of debates, the more the better. It's not too early or too late to have debates and the debates should be hosted by as many organizations as possible.

I don't like the news coverage, already. It is too early for horse-race coverage. The only time horse-race coverage is appropriate is after the polls have closed and the votes are being tallied.

I agree with Andy when he writes,

But we can predict the future, or, rather, we can look to academic models that predict with a high degree of accuracy how systems will work. If journalists were to read this about the ethics of pre-primary campaign coverage, for example, they might begin to learn something about how the system actually works and what their role in it actually is.

Greenfield is right about slowing down, but he needs to urge his colleagues to make one more step in the direction of good political coverage--the kind that gives citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.

and here ...
The reporter could have answered the questions that would have made this horse-race story politically useful: Who's telling the truth? Who has their facts straight? How are they trying to persuade? How are their claims related to what they've accomplished in office?
Since the silly season in political reporting is starting early, perhaps it's worth remembering "frames" and the media's role.
The 'gender gap' story was turned on its head. The Nexis search revealed no recent references to 'angry white men' voters in the major American papers prior to November 10 1994. By the end of the year thirty-two stories had appeared about this, with the number escalating to 208 stories in spring/summer 1995. Therefore in successive elections first the Democratic edge among women, then the Republican edge among men, (angry or not), became the conventional interpretation of gender differences in voting behaviour, the dominant frame which could be adopted in a flexible way to cover stories about different regions, candidates, or party strategies. As shown in Figure 1, the basic gender difference between women and men voters had not substantially altered, but the media frame switched with the suddenness of a roller coaster.
In 2002, William Schneider picked up on this media framing phenomenon in The Atlantic (subscription req.):
Back in 1994, "angry white men" ruled the electorate. They were mad at President Clinton, and they brought Newt Gingrich to power as speaker of the House just to torment the president. In 1996, Clinton pollster Mark Penn discovered the counter to angry white men: "soccer moms." They were upscale suburban working mothers turned off by the meanness of the Republican-controlled Congress. Soccer moms wanted leaders who were nice to women. Clinton was nice to women—maybe too nice.
Soccer moms, NASCAR dads, the angry left ... all convenient frames that get in the way of doing good journalism. There's plenty of time to get it right for 2008!

UPDATE: Although I continue to think that journalists would be better served looking to "academic models that predict with a high degree of accuracy how systems will work" than relying on horse-race coverage, I have argued against "predictive intelligence" journalism measured by its "predictive accuracy."

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