prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for March, 2008

Data Driven Decision Making

Posted by prof e on March 30, 2008

curry.jpgThe best arguments appeal to both reason and emotion. But if you have to choose one over the other, data-supported arguments that appeal to logic and reason are usually preferable. And while the idea of math is frightening to many mass communication students, the preferred method of creating and sustaining a rational argument involves the use of statistical analysis. So whether you’re taking my Audience Research class, or Marketing Research, or you’re thinking about signing up for Sport Writing and Statistics class offered this fall…sooner or later you’ll be face to face with stats. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Thinking and reasoning with numbers can be an extremely valuable skill set to bring to a potential employer, and once you get over the initial “fear of math” you may even find that you like it.

All of us use statistical reasoning on a regular basis…whether we acknowledge it or not. We talk about averages, percentages and even probabilities. Given a sequence of numbers we can spot a trend and most of us know about the basic concepts of central tendencies and variance…even if we don’t know the lingo. If you are going to be a news reporter or editor you’ll need to know how to write about events using statistical concepts that your audience will understand. Simple stats turn confusing sets of numbers into understandable concepts. For example, sports statistics such as FG% and RBIs reduce a pile of data into simple numbers that are easier to understand and compare. According to, Davidson’s Stephen Curry ended the season with 25 points against Kansas for a season average of 25.9 PPG and a 3P% (three-point-shot percentage) of 44.8%. There’s even an online stats resources that uses sports and exercise science examples to teach statistical concepts.

On 60 Minutes this evening, Morley Safer filed a report about Bill James, a statistician for the World Champion Boston Red Sox. The segment illustrated the importance of statistical analysis when making critical decisions. So whether you’re a media content creator or consumer, a sports fan or reporter, a basic understanding of stats will serve you well in the long run…and in the short term it may even increase your GPA.


Posted in journalism, research, tv | 9 Comments »

Creativity: The Stuff of Advertising

Posted by prof e on March 26, 2008

Advertising is a very attractive career path because of its potential for creative expression. While only a fraction of jobs in the advertising profession mention creativity in their job description, the business itself attracts people with artistic and creative skills…nothing at all like the accountants and sales people that work for Dunder Mifflin. Watch the opening scene from The Office: Local Ad to see what I mean.

But despite their creative moments, advertising pros are sometimes faced with a different effect than intended. The Hillary Clinton 3am Spot raised a few eyebrows when viewers questioned her use of scare tactics and whether Senator Clinton really was the candidate best qualified to take those national security calls, day or night. But an interesting twist was added when the young girl asleep in bed turned out to be–8 years later–an Obama supporter.

Use of stock footage is not an uncommon practice, especially for those on a tight budget. However, in this case, it is a classic example of penny wise and pound foolish. (And if you don’t know what that means, ask your grandmother.)

Posted in advertising, media industry, tv | 6 Comments »

Political Transparency for Journalists?

Posted by prof e on March 22, 2008

Radical transparency is a trendy concept in the world of corporate public relations…but not so much in the world of political reporting…until now. In The Case for Full Disclosure, Time Magazine writer James Poniewozik argues that journalists should put all their cards on the table…let us know who they’re voting for and where they stand on the issues. Instead of pretending to be unbiased, reporters should, “expose the sham of neutrality” and expose the lie that journalists are somehow able to remove themselves from the story. One problem, which Poniewozik freely admits, is that reporters may alienate half of their readers/viewers. And it will be much easier to dismiss a story as biased and unfair if the reporter is on record as a supporter of the opposing candidate/party/position. And what if we find that journalists are predominately Democratic or, more specifically, Obama supporters…would public trust and confidence in journalism and the political process suffer? Transparency will likely come slowly, if at all, to mainstream media which, for now, is using the “sham of neutrality” to differentiate itself from the sometimes rancorous and partisan political reporting found on blogs.

Posted in journalism, politics | 4 Comments »

Manipulating Magazine Metrics

Posted by prof e on March 17, 2008

The average American household spends about $10 per month on magazine subscriptions. The average number of subscriptions per household is 6 magazines, and the average subscriber spends about 45 minutes with each magazine. (I know that’s a lot of averages…but hang with me.) On average, monthly magazines have a longer shelf-life than weeklies, and both stay around the house longer than daily publications, e.g., a daily newspaper. My personal experience seems to support these data…we subscribe to 5 or 6 magazines and I pick up a newsstand copy now and then. From time to time I also pick up and read magazines in public places–e.g. my dentist’s office. From the look of some of them they have been read by quite a few equally bored patients.

Most magazines are about 50% editorial content and 50% advertisements. And like nearly all mass media, magazines live or die on advertising revenue. So it should be no surprise that publishers want to know who’s reading and to what extent the magazine’s ads are engaging the reader. Just recently the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) announced that they want to measure their audience by total readers, not just paid circulation. According to the MPA, magazines are “passed along” to other readers and these readers should count. Translation: advertisers should be paying for the privilege of reaching all the readers. According to their press release, the MPA also wants to provide more detail about issue-by-issue demographic data, advertisement engagement data, and,”consumer action as a result of the ad.”

But convincing advertisers that print magazines are such a good deal that they ought to be willing to pay for the secondary audience may be a tough sell. One thing is clear–print publications are trying to hold onto their audiences and prove their relevancy in a time of media upheaval. These latest measures may signal a desperate attempt to slow the hemorrhaging.

Posted in advertising, media industry, research | 3 Comments »

Childhood Obesity and Screen Time

Posted by prof e on March 12, 2008

screen timeTurn off your TVA couple of studies recently published confirm what we’ve suspected. Screen time and obesity are positively correlated. And the news gets worse. A study out of Canada found that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods were 3-4 times more likely to fall into these high-risk groups. Another study, this one out of SUNY Buffalo, found that kids whose screen time was reduced lost weight. According to a report in Bloomberg,

Children whose viewing was eventually cut in half ate less, spent less time on sedentary activities and developed a healthier body mass index, a ratio of height to weight. The reduction in screen time didn’t translate into additional physical activity, providing insight into how sitting in front of a television or computer contributes to obesity in children, the researchers said.

Caveat Emptor: The Bloomberg article linked above is an advertisement dressed up as news. The article spends as much space pitching a $100 electronic device called the TV Allowance as it does reporting consumer information. This blurring of PR/Advertising and Journalism is almost as frightening as a 5th grade classroom full of 200 pound screen junkies!

Posted in advertising, journalism, media effects, research, tv | 26 Comments »

Off the record “[Hillary Clinton] is a monster”

Posted by prof e on March 7, 2008

Samatha PowerSamantha Power is no longer an adviser to Barak Obama. Another casualty of the war of words being raged in the quest for the Whitehouse, Ms. Power went a tad too far in her assessment of the Senator from New York–too far, that is, for a spokesperson for the campaign that is trying hard to avoid politics as usual.

As reported by The Scotsman, Power said, “We f***** up in Ohio. In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win. She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything.”

Even after issuing a public apology to both Obama and Clinton, and confessing to admiration for the former first lady, Power felt obligated to resign her post.

But what about this on/off the record thing? Journalists will occasionally conduct an interview off-the-record, at the request of the interviewee–if that is the only way the information can be obtained. Although information gathered in this manner is not available to be used directly, e.g quoted or attributed, the information can be used as background research. The Scotsman, the paper that broke the story, includes an explanation of their policy on off-the-record interviews at the end of their story. According to The Scotsman, an interview can only be considered off-the-record, “when the rules are established in advance.” Trying to withdraw a statement made in the middle of an on-the-record interview by saying, “off the record” does not make it so. And according to one source, Power should have known better. As a graduate of Harvard Law School and a journalist herself–who has written for Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist and The New Republic–Power should have shown better judgment.

BTW, just yesterday Clinton’s communication chief accused the Obama team of “imitating Ken Starr.” When will the name calling stop?  😉

Posted in journalism, politics | 5 Comments »

Oprah’s Big Give

Posted by prof e on March 2, 2008

Oprah's Big GiveThere’s a new feel-good reality TV show in town. Imagine a cross between The Apprentice, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and The Amazing Race and you’ve pretty much got The Big Give. The similarities with the other reality TV shows are both an admission that certain formulas work, and the fact that the executive producer of TBG is also the executive producer of TAR. The Emmy-winning Bertram von Munster got his start with the long-time reality TV show COPS, but made his mark with the four-time-Emmy-winning Amazing Race. I had a chance to meet von Munster at the BEA/NAB conference a few years ago and was impressed with his producing skills. He has figured out how to create drama without stooping to the contrived interpersonal conflicts so common to the reality TV genre.

Oprah’s Big Give takes individuals who have a track record of service and gives them a chance to change the lives of complete strangers by organizing and coordinating giving campaigns to address their unique situations. Contestants are judged on Creativity, Leadership, Presentation, and the size of their “Give.” Like most reality TV shows, someone loses and is sent packing. In the words of Oprah, “You either give big, or you go home.”

The charity recipients are hard-luck cases that will pull your emotional heart-strings. If you’re at all the sentimental type, you may need a box of tissues when they announce the “gifts” that have been donated. If you like the “reveal” segment of EM:HE, you’ll love this show.

Posted in tv | 5 Comments »