Thursday, February 27, 2014

Putting the wood to the TexTrib

James Moore isn't done beating Evan Smith and the Texas Tribune down, but here he turns the paddle over to the former Houston Chronicle writer R.G. Ratcliffe.  Yes, it's their polling.

During the course of my journalism career, I wrote about dozens – if not hundreds – of political surveys. The poll is to a political reporter what the tout sheet is to a horse-race junkie. From the perspective of having watched the sausage made, I can tell you all political polls have about them an element of voodoo.

But the opt-in Internet survey methodology used by the U.T. pollsters and the Texas Tribune may be one of the most black magic of all the polling methods. It essentially uses people who have volunteered to be surveyed and then uses statistical weighting to make the results match the expected voter turnout. (Click here to see About These Polls). It’s a survey methodology so suspect that news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Roll Call magazine have refused to use it.

Ratcliffe discounts the effect of Nugentpalooza, which erupted after the poll was conducted.  I think that's a gloss-over, as the poll would thus only reflect the brouhaha over Wendy Davis' resume'.  But anyway...

The biggest problem with the U.T./Tribune poll was not when it was done but how it was done. The opt-in survey is fast and cheap and may only be more reliable than one of those television station click surveys because a trained professional political scientist is weighting the results.

(Click here to see the Sampling and Weighting Methodology for the February 2014 Texas Statewide Study. Keep in mind, they say there is a YouGov panel of 20,000 Texans registered, and 1,327 opted to take the survey and then they winnowed that down to 1,200 to create the final dataset. Here’s some key numbers to keep in mind, the Republican primary results were drawn from a panel of 543 voters while the Democratic primary numbers were drawn from a panel of 381.

I'm one of those YouGov surveys.  Actually I am two of them, as I have two separate e-mails and accounts with YouGov.  (But they might have, as Ratcliffe indicates, screened me out.)  You can finish reading the rest of that piece as Ratcliffe dissects the polling methodology and assembles a list of  the various media who refuse to use anything similar.

Let's move on to Carl Lindemann's Inanity of Sanity, where he destroys the whole "donation media" model, particularly as practiced by the TexTrib, PBS (Part II) and NPR (Part I).

Is this entertainment or infotainment? Does this really rate as public journalism serving the PUBLIC INTEREST? Or is PBS, as David Sirota recently wrote, "becoming the "Plutocrats Broadcasting Service"?

Now, this isn't an isolated instance on NEWSHOUR. About two weeks ago, a feature about the union vote at the VW plant in Tennessee fit the same pattern -- a "debate" between a legit source and a Koch-connected State Policy Network propagandist. The propagandist didn't really have an argument. Instead, he spouted an "anti-union feeling masquerading as an argument." Yes, he actually got called out on this -- but not by the moderator.

Do such "contests" in the "marketplace of ideas" help inform us in matters of public interest? Recently, (Ray) Suarez bailed from NEWSHOUR. Maybe he got sick of this charade.

Looking at PBS' flagship news program is especially interesting when considering the Trib; Smith serves on its board of directors. Also, as I've written before, his "confrontational" interview style delivers mild discomfort rather than a moment of truth.

Is this how to "speak truth to power" -- or to cozy up to it?

I don't really think any of this criticism is going to bother the TexTrib all that much... unless their donations begin to wither. And I don't really see that happening.  It IS going to make those of us who read it do so with a far more jaundiced eye, and to that extent I suppose it's worthwhile.

The bloom is definitely off Evan Smith's rose.

Update (March 3): Nobody can deconstruct a lousy poll like Charles Kuffner.  God love him just for reading that Jim Henson defense all the way through; once I got to the "Democratic peanut gallery" crack, I stopped.  And Carl has pinned on his badge and is on the beat.


Gadfly said...

I forgot I wrote a blog post almost 2 years ago, about nonprofit papers general, and as part of that, bitched about Evan's $315K salary.

Gary said...

I like Plutocrats Broadcasting Service to go with my Nice Polite Republicans.

Both of these sections are terrific. Using self-selecting Internet audiences as stand-ins for typical populations by adjusting them demographically JUST DOESN'T WORK and this has been demonstrated time and time again so often I thought everyone had retired it. The Internet self-selected interested people are both more knowledgeable and more extreme than a random population and this does odd things to your results.

And excellent links to the polite Republican Plutocrat fiction of nonpartisanship at TX Trib, PBS and NPR.