Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cause and effect

How can you tell whether the president's remarks from the previous day were behind today's stock market's performance? At the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, it looks pretty easy. Market happy (Tuesday), it's "Trump's coronavirus proposals"; market sad(Thursday), it's those global fears gripping Wall Street.

If you read past the headlines (frankly, when we write 'em so well, why should you?), you might get a slightly different view:

U.S. equity markets cratered Thursday after President Trump suspended travel from Europe for 30 days in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

One could go on all day about Fox and framing and infectious diseases, but then we'd be writing a paper.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Please look at the damn nameplate

The local fishwrap -- one of the two that have "Detroit" in the nameplate, should you be scoring along at home -- covers the impact of the coronavirus on your major institutions of higher learning. There's your Michigan State in the lede, your U of M in the second graf, and, if you hang on for the eighth, EMU (in Ypsi).

Where's Detroit? Interesting question, given that one of the state's RU/VH universities (the old Carnegie R1 classification) is right there in midtown, a couple blocks -- actually cattycorner, if you count the Grad School offices -- from the art museum whose support is on the local ballot today. We're still a fairly commuter-heavy campus, but a big university is more than students (or people peering into microscopes, or people teaching large lecture classes), even if there are 27,000 or so of them. It's also people who open the buildings and clean the offices and staff the libraries -- kind of a hit on commuting, food service, day care, and all sorts of other stuff that goes on in big cities as well as quaint college towns, should there be a major change. One might think it worth the attention of the (ahem) local newspaper.

The issue seems to come up whenever there's a big snowfall: the press pays attention to the schools with big football stadiums and lots of graduates in the legislature, but the ones within the city limits can sit there and wait for alerts on their phones and the next round of traffic and weather on the eights. Social responsibility is an oddly distributed characteristic.

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Left hand, right hand

When the 6A jump from your 1A politics story says something about a candidate's plans -- say, "Biden hasn't scheduled an appearance in the state ahead of next Tuesday's balloting" -- it's perfectly all right to give your left hand a little bit of a clue on what thy right hand doeth on the facing page:
One of the beauties of the factory model of journalism is that at some point, both of these items should have passed the same spot on the assembly line, at which someone's job it is to make sure that "Tigers 6, Sox 5" in the 1A teaser is still "Tigers 6, Sox 5" by the time we get to the sports front -- or "nope, no Biden" on 6A is still "nope, no Biden"on 7A. War on Editing-wise, that once-vital position is now pretty far forward of the main line of resistance.

Journalism textbooks have often had a tendency to overstate the risks to credibility created by small deviations from the beaten path, particularly in the secret handshakes of the stylebook: No, your audience will not actually flee to the competition in droves should you choose to abbreviate "Rd.," in blatant violation of AP style. (I haven't tested it yet, but I'd be interested in knowing whether Real People aren't more confused by -- or, more precisely, whether they don't see a greater inconsistency in -- the mandate that "Ave." be abbreviated with a numbered address but spelled out otherwise.) Credibility tends to be less granular; here are the scales we used to index it in a study last year:

well trained vs. poorly trained
accurate vs. inaccurate
can be trusted vs. can’t be trusted (α = .913, if you're scoring along at home)

In a vacuum, it's hard to claim that cutting some position -- or taking a step out of the assembly line -- is an economically irrational decision, rather than a cost-benefit calculation that we happen to disagree with. And it is a truth certain that there were blunders -- ghastly, incredible, textbook-worthy blunders -- in the glory days of full staffing and vigilant slotting. But there are examples that make a case for building a few steps back into the process before it all degenerates to (in Roy Greenslade's term) "copy thrown online with a photo." This is one.

And for dessert, there's this perfect Thumb Lede* atop the 1A part of the story:

* Meaning, for the uninitiated, that you can place your thumb over the lede with no impact on readibility or comprehension of the following story.

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