I’m thinking that if newspapers are to survive, they need a better way of delivering information. It’s not only a paper vs. web dichotomy. A lot of folks, me included, cannot envision a world without a paper to hold in one’s hands and the ability to have a story catch your eye while reading another. That’s harder to do on the web.
One way to improve delivery is to re-think the need for every story to be a narrative. But I’ll leave the larger question for a future post.
But certainly, a story that doesn’t lend itself to a narrative is reporting a poll. Sure, some analysis is necessary for some readers. But too often the interpretation inherent in a narrative is worthless. Today’s poll story in The Washington Post is one example, It would have been a better use of newsprint to simply present a chart with the key questions (if the entire poll results are too space consuming).
The problem comes with the headline and adjectives and adverbs that inevitably accompany poll stories. The Post’s headline is “Poll Shows Obama Slipping on Key Issues.” That’s the most many readers will see. It’s accurate, but polls need to be taken in their entirety. And the picture is more mixed.
At the same time, there is no slackening in public desire for Obama to keep pressing for action on the major issues of the economy, health care and the deficit. Majorities think he is either doing the right amount or should put greater emphasis on each of these issues.
So whatever his slackening of support about his specific policies, folks want him to continue fighting to change things. And in many ways, politics is an either or proposition.
Obama’s handling of the economy, the deficit and health care reform outpaces the Republicans by about 20 points.
So if his handling of things is 20 points better that GOPers, and folks want him to continue fighting, a stalemate is not what they’re looking for, much less the GOP solutions (if any).
And while, 49 percent approves of his handling of the healthcare issue,
On health care, the poll, conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday, found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) approve of the outlines of the legislation now heading toward floor action. The measure would institute new individual and employer insurance mandates and create a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. Its costs would be paid in part through new taxes on high-income earners.
What that “legislation” is, is questionable as there are several plans now working their way through Congress.
But the problem I have with many of the poll stories is that the reporters feel compelled to interpret them for us. The tenor of this report is that Obama is slipping and people are losing confidence in him, despite the findings that most people still consider him a strong leader.
Obama’s leadership attributes remain highly rated, despite some slippage. Seven in 10 call him a strong leader, two in three say he cares about the problems of people like themselves, and just over six in 10 say he fulfilled a central campaign pledge and has brought needed change to Washington.
As an example of perhaps misplaced adverbs,
More than three-quarters of all Americans say they are worried about the direction of the economy over the next few years, down only marginally since Obama’s inauguration. Concerns about personal finances have also abated only moderately since January. [emphasis added]
That “moderate” abatement in concern about their personal finances is seven percent, from 70 percent in January who were worried to 63 percent today.
Yet the key figures that support the thrust of the story – he’s slipping significantly — are reflected in eight to nine point drops:
Approval of Obama’s handing the economy dropped from 60 percent in February, the earliest date available in the poll, to 52 percent, an eight point drop.
Approval of Obama’s handing the economy dropped from 57 percent in April, the earliest date available in the poll, to 49 percent, an eight point drop.
Approval of Obama’s handing the deficit dropped from 52 percent in March, the earliest date available in the poll, to 43 percent, a nine point drop.
So what makes an eight to nine point drop significant enough to support the thrust of the story but a seven percent drop is only “moderate.”
The answer is simply: If the story was “Obama drop in support for policies is only moderate,” well, it might not make the front page.
The Post would have been better of simply printing a chart of the results, and let us interpret them.