FKe New Precision Journalism - American Marketing Association

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FKe New Precision
Review by Glenn H. Roberts
Ithough much of Phil Meyer's
new book will enlighten ihc
reader on how research and journalisiTi can work together, its
target market is unclear at first
reading. Is The New Prccisioti
Journalism designed to reach the working journalist., is it an academic text for journalism students, or
is it for survey researchers?
I think the author aims for the journalist and the
student, but the book is probably best suited as an
academic text for journalism students. Its style and
approach are more suitable for the student than the
professional journalist.
The book will be helpful in setting the stage for
the tasks that lie ahead In a career that has dramatically changed in the past 10 years. The new technology, the use of computers, and the urging to dig
deeper (with help of new lechnology) for "the rest of
the story'" could inspire the young journalist. II" Ihe
author really wanted to appeal to the working journalist, however, the book would give less detail on
statistics and more on how they are used and misused by editors, reporters, and journalists.
Meyer does not address the issues of 900 telephone polls and in-paper research and polls, which
I consider to be a serious omission. The need for
working journalists to understand and take positions against these research practices is crucial to
the future of research in today's journalism environment.
As a newspaper researcher. I take some exception to Meyer's creation of the journalist/researcher—not because reliable ones don't exist, but
because it may establish a risky precedent for the
journalist to bypass the trained research profes54
September 1992
By Philip Meyer
(Bloomington and
University Press,
sionai. I'm sure the journalist would object, on the
same grounds, to creating the researcher/journalist.
At the same time, some of my best friends are
journalists and are pretty good researchers. 1 have
Ibund that reporters can be the best resources for
polling topics and "flrsl draft" poll questions. However, 1 think the author should have put greater
emphasis on the pitfulls of no n re scare hers wording
questions, designing guestionnaires, and making
other research decisions.
I have not read Meyer's original Precision Journalism published in 1973. but that shouldn't matter
because the author tells us 90% of the material is
new. the exception being the ehapter entitled "More
About Data Analysis." I might have liked the original version more than the new because this chapter
was one of the highlights, with ils treatment of
meaningful erosstabs of survey data and the difficulty and care needed to prove causation from data.
I like Meyer's position on statistieiil testing and
search for probable eause, which should give guidanee to all who work with research data. He says the
search for probable cause is where the aetion is in
survey researeh and that statistical testing is trivial
by comparison, though "tests help you guard against
the temptations of over interpretation."
Meyer stresses the value and protection against
wrong interpretation gained by going behind the
superficial iwo-variable relationship with the introduction of third variables. He concludes that this
analysis of tables provides "your opportunity to
discover causal sequences and explanations of the
way things work in your community that you didn't
suspect existed before."
This 10-chapter book has seven that are appealing, strong, and hit their mark: "Journalism and the
Scientific Tradition."" "Some Elements of Dala
Analysis," •"Computers," "Surveys," "More on Dala
Analysis," "Databases," and ""How to Do An Election Survey." I do not agree with Meyer's treatment
of everything in these chapters, but feel they are well
balanced. '"Journalism and the Scientific Tradition"
provides the key to coping with the abundance of
data generated in today's sociely. Meyer says.
"Knowing what to do with dala is the essence ofthe
new precision journalism."
Some chapters, such as ""Computers" and ""Databases," are good if you don't try to absorb all the
author's detail of how these tools operate but concentrate on understanding how to use them. To
understand computers, use one. To understand databases, use a database program.
The chapter '"How to Do an Election Poll" is
mislabeled. I applaud the author for no! telling you
how to do a poll, but rather leading (he reader
through an eusy-to-understand examination of the
various elements of election polling. Meyer's review is outstanding and covers sampling, question
wording, identifying likely voters, dealing with the
position on
statistical testing
and search for
probahle cause
undecided voter, weighting, timing (when to do the
poll), reporting election polls, exit polls, and election night projcriions.
T!?:v,e haptcis with less i..
' are "H;'. -'essin :
tiie Pow-r -;• SuUisties," '"Mi.^
lO^jt Dati: Analysis." "'F-;id P.\c vimentb," iv 'T'lv. Pol^'^ics of
Precision iov.-.:.--, ut."
This book has some rewards for al! _e ..udi
ences—lhe Journalism student, the working journalist. and the survey researcher. Perhaps that's i.:
ultimate deficiency-—not targeting one audience.
However, if you liked the original, then you'll want
to read this version. ^
Glenn H. Roberts is President of
Glenn Roberts Research, Des
Moincs, Iowa. He was (bnnerly
vice president of research and director of The Iowa Poll, The Des
Mollies Rei>i.sler.
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