Saturday, August 17, 2019

Double the forbidden fun

What's worse than a "Holy [np], Batman!" hed? A second one with the jump!

Those aren't the last of the problems, of course. If the (ahem) Detroit paper is going to run a five-day-old pickup about the (kaff) Woodward Dream Cruise, if might want to tweak the second graf to "today," from "this month," for such was the date of the Dream Cruise. And it could consider whether the Dream Cruise is a "car show" -- unlike the Bloomfield Township event heralded with the jump, which appears to be one. It might even wonder (a) how much "roaring down Woodward" there is during the cruise (hint: not much) and (b) why anyone would expect to see the thing at the Dream Cruise when it's sitting at a dealership for the bulk of the scheduled cruise.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Thurber lede

If you haven't seen one in the wild recently, here's a well-formed Thurber lede ("Dead. That's what the man was...") from Michigan Public Radio last week.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

I used to know your daddy

So you might have noticed a bit of a flap last week about the NYT's swapping out a 1A hed between editions (which the Times quickly detailed a deputy ME to explain). To the party press, this was proof of the Apocalypse:

Blowback against the New York Times over a headline about President Trump's response to recent mass shootings is a frightening precedent, according to Mollie Hemingway.

The fact several media and political figures were able to convince the paper to change its headline after the first edition exposes the collective outrage as a "mob," Hemingway claimed Tuesday on "Special Report."

"Clearly, the first headline was more factual and less opinion-y than the second headline -- which was not a very well constructed headline," the Federalist senior editor said.

Should you find yourself giving a flip what Mollie Hemingway thinks (hey, it's a free country), you're still entitled to wonder: Have none of the rubes at Fox News ever worked on a multi-edition fishwrap? Where, at least when newspapers were newspapers and dinosaurs stalked the Earth's cooling crust, things changed between editions all the freaking time? But since the America First press was leading the charge in 2019, let's flash back to an earlier case of editioning with the polarities somewhat flipped.

Confession time: I've written earlier, at least in the context of the Chicago papers, that by the time the presses rolled on Dec. 7, 1941, for Monday's editions, newspapers were of one mind. I stand corrected. As Life magazine reported (Dec. 22, 1941), the New York Daily News -- run by Joseph Medill Patterson, northeastern terminus of the isolationist "McCormick-Patterson axis" -- got the war onto the front page, but the edit page still sported a cartoon worked up in advance by C.D. Batchelor.

If you haven't heard of Batchelor by name, you know his work -- probably the death's-head seductress War tempting "Any European Youth" in 1936 to come upstairs with the line "I used to know your daddy." She was back for Monday, Dec. 8, smoking "soldier cigarets." (It's way small to read in the image above, but Life notes that they were labeled "Youth, Anzac, Asiatic, American.") This, evidently, would not do, though I'm sure The Federalist would be happy to note that it had factuality going for it, so Batchelor got cranking and had "Victory -- and only Victory" ready to go for the second edition. When duty calls, and all that.

Does that make the Times a good guy, a bad guy, or just another paper that runs into occasional unpleasant consequences from getting rid of the copydesk? Up to you (though if you canceled your subscription, you surely helped Fox more than you hurt the Times). But we can at least note that attitudes have changed fast in the great New York papers before, and if the vermin press didn't complain then, they don't have a lot of leeway now.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Separated by a common headline

Two questions:

1) What's your first-glance reading of what the headline means?
2) Where are you from? (Specifically, where did you learn to read headlines?)

Read more »

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Now let's not always see the same hands

It seems like we just went over this last week, but:

1) Tune TV to CNN
2) Sit in front of TV

Does that cover it? I don't want to have to put this on the final.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

'Caught up in the moment'

It would have been nice to get through the summer without a polling rant, but -- OK, here's Nate Silver, stating the obvious:

We’ve documented for years how polls tend to rise and fall — in what are often fairly predictable patterns — after events like debates and conventions. In general, what suddenly goes up in polls tends to gradually come back down after a matter of a few weeks. Conventions typically produce polling swings of 4 to 6 percentage points toward the party that just nominated its candidate, for instance — but the polls usually revert back to about where they were before after a few weeks.

True, though surveywise it's not nearly as interesting as the "rally 'round the flag" effect. But stay tuned; conventional wisdom usually travels in flocks:

It looks as though something like this is happening again following the first Democratic debate last month. If you look at the RealClearPolitics average:
  • Biden has rebounded to 28.4 percentage points from a low of 26.0 percentage points just after the debate. He was at 32.1 percent before the debate, so he’s regained about two-fifths of what he lost.
  •  Harris has fallen to 12.2 percentage points from a peak of 15.2 percentage points. She was at 7.0 percent before the debate, so she’s lost about a third of what she’d gained.
Harris is still in better shape than she was before the debates, but she’s currently 16 points behind Biden instead of looking like she’s on the verge of overtaking him.

Which is the setup for this:

I’ll be honest … as predictable as this pattern is, it’s easy even for professionals like me to get caught up in the moment, especially in the early stages of a race before we’re using any sort of model to smooth the data out.

With (ahem) appropriate respect -- no, it isn't. That's one of the things that separate professionals from pundits. Medical professionals don't seem to have any trouble telling female patients not to waste time steaming their ladyparts with eucalyptus leaves, because part of the professional's job is distinguishing quackery from evidence. If you can't avoid getting "caught up in the moment," that's an argument against your claim to professionalism.

If a candidate rapidly goes from 7 to 15 in the polls, our unconscious, System 1 reflex is to assume the trend will continue, and that the candidate will continue gaining ground — to 20 points, 25 points and beyond. More often than not, though, the candidate loses ground after a sharp rise.

Unless we're claiming to be a professional psychologist or something, also no. We have no idea what "our" "unconscious" reflexive response to a perceived short-term rise in poorly aggregated survey data would be, because all we know about short-term responses to poorly aggregated survey data is what hucksters tell us. If professionals did their jobs, we wouldn't obsess about how people responded to headlines like zOMG RCP AVERAGE FALLS 3 POINTS ELECTION OVER!!11!11!1!1!!11!!!!, because they wouldn't occur in grownup publications. Yes, we'd still have to worry about the clueless and the openly fake, but that's why we have professionals: to spread the word as often as possible when bullshit needs to be countered.

This is a polling rant, but I'd like to think the point goes farther. The top-of-the-hour lead (most closely following a traffic report; make of that what you will) was about whether the "conventional wisdom" about Robert Mueller's congressional appearances this week had been borne out. Ladles and jellyspoons, those who want the conventional wisdom can find it anywhere; if you want to add some market value, could I suggest you start by providing unexcited news with frequent reminders that the null hypothesis can't be rejected based on the day's developments. 

Journalistic expertise is a fraught thing. Sad to say, one of the things we're best at is making data converge into story lines -- like the "game frame" that assumes, as above, that opening a lead in the first half points to opening a bigger lead in the second. That has the advantage of making stuff comprehensible (for many) and accessible (for many), and it's delivered a lot of actionable information about political, economic and cultural matters through the years. It also means we're traditionally not very good at telling stories that aren't interesting (like most survey results), even if they're likely to be more informative. We still have some time to work on that, and the week's events suggest that it would be nice to start sooner rather than later.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Stop it with 'sound bites'

You almost hate to say it, given how well the AP has done over the past few years at calling out lies and bullshit without turning the process into a production number, but -- cut it out, you guys. Look. There are plenty of people who seem to think the point of a congressional hearing is "crisp sound bites." Your job is to ignore those people and deliver the mail. If the sound bites on offer didn't spell things out unambiguously enough for you, let me suggest you ignore the "crisp" ones and concentrate on the unambiguous ones.

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