Democrats and the census

I’m thinking about how Republicans are nervous about Obama’s pick to lead the census “because he uses statistical sampling.” It seems curious to me that only Republicans are quoted in the story. You would think that if the problem with statistical sampling is academic in nature, then there would be at least a few Democrats among the hundreds in Congress concerned about it as well.

On one hand, this could simply be an instance of poor reporting that ignored Democrats. But let’s pretend for now that most Democrats don’t have a problem with the math, and instead that the offended Republicans are obfuscating because they know “minorities, immigrants, the poor and the homeless are those most likely to be missed in an actual head count” and that more of them help Democrats in elections. If they are, it’s pretty outrageous of them to think of minorities or the poor as less deserving of representation in a democracy than people who are easier to find.

So, let’s say the Republicans are hiding the “real” reason they don’t want statistical sampling to be used in the census.

But then, the Democrats are quiet, too, and they have an incentive to remain so, just as the Republicans have an political incentive to argue against Robert Groves. Statistical sampling may help Democrats in the 2010 census. By keeping quiet, they run the risk of allowing poor research methods into something as important for the nation as the census — important both in the cost of conducting the census and in its implications for the shape of our Congress, and more.

Where’s the Times in all of this? Silent. They couldn’t even try to bring in some “expert” or other to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of statistical sampling? They couldn’t have brought in some comment from their science writers? Hopefully they will do so at some point. But not addressing whether there’s any debate on the question at all leaves the Democrats with a few free points, at least superficially.

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Deja-news all over again

Sometimes when I try to think about what news “is” (as in, for when people ask, why is x news?) I strip down the word: News is, basically, multiple things that are new.

Yet I hadn’t come across any coverage in mainstream media that suggested the same until today, when I saw it in two stories about the same topic.

> NYT: “Mr. Obama did make a sliver of news, disclosing that he intended to announce in the next couple of days what kind of help his administration would give the auto industry.”

> AP: “The president did not make news, but ran smoothly through answers to questions posed to him…”

Ignoring for a moment the slight contradiction between these media reporting on the event as “making history” and yet saying there wasn’t any news in it, the basis for the reporters saying he “didn’t make news” seems to be that he didn’t say anything they hadn’t heard before. So, apparently, there would have been “news” if there were something new.

Not that this proves my definition or anything. You couldn’t narrow down “news” to just one definition, anyway. But this caught me off guard.

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Belated reaction to the Freakonomics/newspaper micropayments discussion

After finally getting around to reading the New York Times’ Freakonomics Quorum on micropayments in journalism, (thanks to @ccadelago I was primarily struck by the lack of evidence any of the contributors offered. There were lots of assertions about how people of all stripes* but little to back up how we know what we say about them.

Now, I’m aware of the forum involved. Newspapers and their Web sites have never been places for in-depth academic discussions, and I don’t expect them to create one here. Also, as you may have noticed, I’m no savant when it comes to the right new business models for journalism. And I also want to clarify that, in the abstract, I found many of the reasons the panelists offered compelling.

But I also know humans are prolific at studying ourselves. At least some of them probably are relevant, at least tangentially, to discussions about how to best structure news business models (who’s the target or actual audience? (also here) What do they want? What are they like?). We couldn’t pull out some older research and say, “While not exactly analagous to the situation today, this has these useful similarities (and here’s why).” But no one offered such support, or hedging when it comes to research that contradicted his conclusion.

So I ask this honestly: Is it the case that people are so changed by the Internet that whatever reseach we have on what they want or how they act is made irrelevant? And if so, why?

I ask this knowing full well that there likely is tons of writing about journalism out there that incorporates the kind of research I’m curious about. I’ve even read some of it. I just haven’t found as much as I want yet. So please, point me to what you know. I’m eager to learn more about this.

…or am I just being too hard on everyone involved?

* e.g. Alan Mutter: “Consumers might not like being micro-nickled and nano-dimed for every article, but they would get over it if the content were sufficiently unique and compelling. Remember, this works only if the content is unique and compelling.”

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