CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?

My television tuned to the network morning programs; my browser displayed a handful of news sites and Twitter. With breakfast in hand, I was in full breaking news mode Thursday morning, awaiting word of the Supreme Court’s opinion on the Affordable Care Act. More simply, healthcare reform; more partisan, Obamacare.

A few minutes after 9 a.m. central time, every major news network was on the air, trying to be the first to summarize the 193-page opinion. CNN, the former cable news king now in dire need of ratings, was the first major source to make a declaration. Individual mandate: Unconstitutional. Healthcare law: Thrown out. On-air, online, on social media, through email blast, CNN was ready to celebrate an all-out, multi-channel, breaking news of the year scoop!

Except they were wrong. A misreading of the opinion, they claimed.

Individual mandate: Constitutional. Healthcare law: Upheld.

Courtesy Gary He (http://twitter.com/garyhe)

CNN wasn’t alone (though they were certainly most prominent). Fox News displayed the incorrect opinion on a banner during their live television coverage. A number of Republican political figures jumped the gun in celebration. Others goofed. Read all about it.

It used to be that getting a scoop mattered. Beating a competitor by an entire day in a printed newspaper really meant something. But today, when information is disseminated over various channels within minutes (or seconds) of each other, does being first really mean that much? Is it worth being wrong? Ask CNN. Sure, the tagline could have read: “We get you the news 11 seconds before the other guys.” Enviable, to be sure. Instead, they made “The most trusted name in news” read like a relic from a time when their newsroom had some sense.

Continue reading “CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?”

[Clickworthy] How companies learn your secrets (a “Target”-ed case study)

We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.

So says Andrew Pole, a researcher for Target. The major retailer’s name seems more accurate than ever after a lengthy piece in the New York Times Magazine by Charles Duhigg about data stores collect from consumers… and what can be done with it.

(If you’re not up for the 9-page read, Forbes blogged an abbreviated take on the story.)

The highlight of the article is the story of a Minneapolis teen who received personalized mailers from Target that started offering her maternity and baby products. Her father complained to the store, furious that Target would seemingly promote teen pregnancy. But they weren’t. What Target knew – even though the father didn’t – was that his teen daughter was indeed pregnant.

Pole explains how Target calculates a so-called “pregnancy score” based upon common purchases over a period of time. Buying unscented lotions and particular vitamins? Expect to see coupons for diapers in a few months. Subtly mixed with other offers, of course. Target wouldn’t want you to realize you are in the Matrix.

And it’s not just consumers who enroll in a variety of rewards programs. We know the drill there – we give you access to our purchasing habits, you give us a few pennies off our toilet paper and sodas. It’s a deal most people are comfortable with.

In Duhigg’s piece, we learn that retailers like Target track each credit or debit card swiped at their stores for future purchases. They then use that credit card verification – which includes your name on the receipt – to seek out and purchase, if need be, even more demographic information about you.

Retailers constantly complain about credit card transaction fees, but it appears they have found a convenient way to profit from our love of plastic.

The question is, do we really care? Sure, when it is explained on it’s face, we are discomforted, but is it enough to give up rewards programs; to switch back to cash and constant trips to the ATM; to avoid shopping at certain stores altogether?

I would argue we are perfectly content sacrificing our privacy for discounts and convenience. What say you?

[Clickworthy] The Media Primary

We are still over a year from the 2012 presidential election, but, as the New York Times reported today, even primary debates are delivering large audiences to cable news networks. People are hungry for politics, and it seems like the Republican pool of candidates face off three times a week in an attempt to gain a few extra points before the Iowa Caucuses.

So how does the media coverage of the 2011 phase of the 2012 election look so far? The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study this morning detailing tone and extent of coverage across multiple media from May 2 to October 9.

Look at the study and you will find all sorts of interesting nuggets. The central findings are as follows:

– The GOP candidates seem to be getting a pretty fair shake from the media in terms of tone of coverage. Newt Gingrich looks like the only current candidate who can claim he is being treated unfairly by the media [which he already does, with every other breath (Look at your watch. Now back at the screen. Newt just blamed the media for his poor poll numbers again.)].

– The candidates may be receiving similar coverage tone, but they are not receiving similar coverage. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michelle Bachmann have dominated the news cycle, leaving scraps for the remaining candidates (I’ve already discussed this phenomenon, and Ron Paul in particular, in an earlier post). The most striking part of this finding is that Perry, who has been covered more than any Republican candidate, didn’t even enter the race until August, which means he was absent for 3 of the 5+ months measured in the study. That’s some serious agenda-setting coverage.

– And finally, the finding that jumped out to me:

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the president positive in tone.

 

Clearly, the positive coverage Candidate Obama received in 2008 has dissolved over almost three years in office. If the media reflects public opinion (which is my interpretation of this relationship) and voters feel the same way, things don’t look good for a second term.

[Clickworthy] An old-fashioned hero

Are newspapers dead? Not yet, says Stephen Colbert. At least not when we have old-school reporters taking to the streets in search of a scoop. The nose for news can still smell, as exhibited by this package that ran on The Colbert Report last week.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Coming from a journalism program right next door to a state capital, teaching basic news reporting in a small-town setting has taken some adjusting. Certainly, the bar for newsworthiness must be lowered if you ever want to allow student reporters to roam free and actually find something to write about before the deadline. Covering a meeting – one of the assignments toward the middle of the semester – has to be issued over a month in advance in order to give students adequate time to find a newsworthy proceeding (last year, the Magnolia city council, which only meets once a month anyway, decided to cancel their monthly meeting in that period, throwing a group of students into panic).

So, “Too hot to fish” rings true around these parts.

The really interesting part of the story was the news ecology angle. The New York Times article Colbert references is real, but it’s not about the story so much as it’s about how the story spread to social media, radio stations, other newspapers, Colbert’s program, and eventually to the Times.

That’s how our modern day news aggregators operate, and it is a problem the news media has yet to solve. Consumers seek out large media outlets, providing them with revenues, or the page views necessary to obtain it, but these large outlets are simply reporting on reporting already performed by smaller outlets that are struggling to make ends meet.

The folks doing the reporting are going broke. The folks browsing Twitter are rolling in the dough going less broke.

That’s a business model even Bobby Kirk will tell you doesn’t add up.