Online McSurveys Cloud News Media Credibility

News media-sponsored public polls are under constant attack. Every person or organization who isn’t pleased with an outlet’s findings vigorously questions its methodology.

So how are papers responding? Curiously, by featuring daily surveys that use indefensible methodology.

I’m talking about the online instant polls almost every major newspaper features on its website. Vote one second; see a running tally the next. Vote early; vote often. Instant gratification, baby.

Should Paris be allowed aromatherapy in jail? Should the Twins trade Rondell White for ARod? Should the weather be sunny on Independence Day?

Here’s a good one: Should newspapers report crap?

The Star Tribune and other outlets are quick to disclaim these online polls: “Editor’s note: Instant polls are intended as entertainment. They are not considered to be true measurements of public opinion.”

There is good reason for the disclaimer. As the National Council on Public Polls says: “Whether the effort is a click-on Web survey, a dial-in poll or a mail-in survey, the results should be ignored and not reported. All these pseudo-polls suffer from the same problem: the respondents are self-selected. The individuals choose themselves to take part in the poll – there is no pollster choosing the respondents to be interviewed.”

These instant polls are sometimes fun. But plenty of readers don’t know enough about survey methodology to know good from bad. And when newsies are constantly in the business of alternating between telling folks “this survey is accurate” and “this survey is inaccurate” the credibility of news overall and polls in particular erodes further.

So how do I cast my vote? Leave the instant unscientific pseudo-polls off news media web sites. Outlets that aspire to report the truth, shouldn’t confuse the issue by knowingly reporting fiction impersonating truth.


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