Statistically Significant

Take a look at this story. Based on this article, you learn that there are a number of sentiments about bring-your-own-device, the concept of employees using their own smart phones tablets, etc., for work, prevalent in today’s workforce. The study that reveals these attitudes focuses on security concerns.

A well-researched article based on a well-conducted study could provide valuable information and insight for managers to take action on.

But that’s not what this is, despite appearances.

The first red flag is that the source of the information, a company called Webroot, just happens to provide the services that its survey says people need.

That isn’t necessarily proof that the data is unreliable, but it should be a clue to look deeper. When you do, when you look at the actual survey, you find this detail all the way at the end: The two online surveys from which the conclusions are derived “are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.”

What that means, essentially, is that there is no basis to extrapolate the results to the population in general. The percentages they report cannot be assumed to pertain to anyone beyond the small number that were surveyed.

If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of probability sampling and why it’s important, read this article.


You know, that guy

We all know one, probably more than one: The person who lacks a filter, who can be counted on to blurt out some inappropriate comment at just the wrong time. The one who tells off-color jokes with no regard to whether the listeners are uncomfortable. The one who seems to have a minimal concept of boundaries or taste.

We all know them. We should know better than to hire them as editors.

alabama hed

Reporters vs. Content Creators

Most media outlets still call the people who write their articles “reporters,” but they are also lumped in with others — graphic artists, photographers, videographers, etc. — as “content creators” generically.

If you listen to the never-ending chatter in newsrooms, you’ll hear a lot of references to “content.” While I get the need for a catch-all phrase when information comes in many forms and formats, I also think it blunts the nature of what journalists (another perfectly good catch-all that already existed) are supposed to do.

In short, the job’s goal is to discover, confirm and report information that is some way revelatory and useful. “Content creation” suggests that any material that fills the requisite space in an entertaining — sellable — way is fine. Too often, that suggestion is the reality. This is why the wedding of two unremarkable celebrities passes as “news.” (Kudos to the New York Post’s takedown.)

I grant that news is not always entertaining. In fact, reading an article about Crimea or the U.S. trade deficit can be downright boring. But these things are also important, even if fewer people are interested.


The Press vs. The Policy at the 9/11 Museum

You’re on a tour of a museum which commemorates an event that was a national tragedy and outrage. A woman chirps merrily, distractingly, on a cell phone, provoking another to ask her to stop. Another woman steps up to ask what just happened between the first two women.

Which of the three women will the museum evict?

If you thought the chatty phone user would be shown the door, get real. This is America, where the right to disrupt any solemn moment with your unrelated, self-absorbed chatter is inviolable.

The one who spoke up, maybe? After all, she could have been construed as confrontational, maybe at risk of starting a fight. But nope, she’s fine too.

No, the National 9/11 Museum in New York decided that Jen Chung, a reporter for Gothamist, should hit the bricks for daring to ask a question. Where does she think she is, America?

To be fair, the museum does have a policy that members of the press must get “prior written authorization” in order to conduct any newsgathering in the museum. Yet Chung was there on her own time, as a citizen. She asked the women what the problem because it had unfolded right in front of her.

In addition, not one but two security guards warned her to ask no more questions, after she made the mistake of identifying herself as a reporter, and to both of them she expressed understanding and agreement, and asked no more questions (according to her own account at least). Then she came out of the restroom and encountered a third guard who escorted her out of the building.

The 9/11 Museum is intended to be a somber place for quiet reflection, and while I think the media restrictions are not unreasonable, there is also the matter of common sense. After Chung agreed to refrain from questions, and followed through on that promise, making her leave was just vindictive.

Incidentally, the museum’s rules also forbid distracting cell phone use. But Lady Chatterbox apparently suffered no repercussions.

What do you think, America?

Out of Style

A couple of items:

One: The Associated Press has revised its style for state names; they no longer will be abbreviated, except in datelines, political party designations and a couple of other special cases. (So instead of writing that John Jones is from Annandale, Va., we’ll now write that he is from Annandale, Virginia.)

Two: McClatchy Tribune News Service says thanks, but we’ll keep the old style.

I follow AP Style pretty scrupulously, and it is important for consistency. (That’s the thing about style rules: It’s almost never a matter of one choice being actually correct or incorrect; its purpose is to ensure that a publication makes the same choice consistently). I do sometimes wonder, after a discussion of a particular style matter, if most readers really care.

A quick hello

I have been neglecting this site for a while, I know. I have been busy getting up to speed on my new job, and handling some other things, which combined have sucked up a lot of my time and most of my creative energy.

I am still here, though, still paying attention to the world of media and journalism and still working on building my personal brand. There will be more great content here soon, I promise.

Yes, more about copy editing

Abraham Hyatt, part of the problem:

I spent three years as an editor at the tech news site Before that I was an editor at a print news magazine. The transition from print to digital was jarring and ultimately a lot of fun. But after my first six months, I still had one little vestigial wish from my print days: I wanted to hire a copyeditor. Just like Vice wants to.

It would be groundbreaking, I thought, to bring that kind of quality to tech blogging. And a few years later, I had the chance to do it. I found two very talented editors who worked from morning Eastern time to late afternoon Pacific time. Every story went through them before being published. They were fantastic.

They also slowed the publishing process to a screeching near-halt. And, even more importantly: No. One. Cared.

Hyatt’s blog post is intended as advice to Vice Media, which ran an ad seeking a copy editor for its online operation.

Is Hyatt correct that copy editors only slow things down, and readers don’t care about clean copy free of typographical errors, grammatical gaffes and misspelled names?

Maybe … but if he is, it’s because blogs and low-rent online news sites have conditioned readers to have low expectations about such things. They don’t care only because they no longer expect such attention to detail, which means providers have an incentive to bypass the copy editing step, which means readers come to accept its lack.

It’s not really that readers don’t care, it’s that they come to a blog or news site already expecting to have to mentally disregard the errors they will inevitably encounter. (Just this morning I read an article on a mainstream website that described someone as a” spaker,” rather than “speaker.”)

This reader does care. I will accept the slipshod quality because it’s inevitable, but I would appreciate any effort to counteract that trend. Quality matters.


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