I don’t know what is wrong with Journalism in the 21st century, but I have some ideas.
And those ideas can pretty well be summed up by the press coverage of the Greek referendum going into today. The projections by the press of a close vote belied the truth and gave away all the problems facing modern Journalism.
The Odds Don’t Justify This
In order to have projected a close vote in the Greek referendum, with Greece voting so overwhelming “no”, the press would have had to talked to the “yes” vote population at a ratio of almost 3:2 “yes” to “no”. That’s a 20% swing away from a true sampling of the Greeks. Such a linear combination screams bias on the part of a profession that still has the nerve to call itself the eyes and ears of the planet. If you just fed a phone book into a random number generator, the odds of you being this wrong are astronomically bad.
Consider Bernoulli trials. If you sampled just 100 people who had a 60/40 preference for some outcome, what are the odds of a random sampling of the same population telling you the result would be 50/50 or worse in favor of the 40% position?
The answer is soundly less than 3%.
Even if I give the people that forecast such an unclose race as a close race some serious leeway, it still falls apart pretty quickly. There’s only an ~18% chance of predicting a 55/45 turnout or worse from real data; that’s the cliff’s edge of a 50/50 +/-5% poll, folks.
In order to be this bad, there’s almost no way it happened naturally. Which leaves two likely scenarios. Either the media didn’t actually talk to anyone. Or…
Living In A Bubble
One of the most pernicious problems with Journalism today is that Journalists and media personalities appear to increasingly consider themselves not as mere impartial observers, but as actual participants in the goings on of the world themselves.
This isn’t to say that Journalists shouldn’t have their own preferences. They all do, of course. And being open and frank about those things is actually an improvement from the old way of doing things, where a Dan Rather sinks or elevates stories based on a preferred outcome and for decades nobody calls him on it.
But Journalism has taken it all a step further, to actually mixing cultures almost exclusively with the rich, affluent, and active socialites. Journalism sees itself as being “refined” and “elite” in status, and my suspicion is that Journalism almost never gets out anymore, to talk to the masses of real people who actually make the world work day to day.
Take this Vox article that Dylan Matthews decided it would be great to write on the 4th of July, of all moments.
I’m not sure what type of delusions it takes to write an article like that on the birthday of America. But I am getting increasingly sure that the conditions for those delusions include isolation from everyday life.
America’s Top 4 media companies NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox are all headquartered in either Washington DC or New York City. The decisions on what to run nationally come from Washington DC or New York City. The perceptions of what current events mean come from Washington DC or New York City.
If you’re a major media outlet trying to be the unbiased sight of a nation, then having every nerve ending routed through America’s capital (a place hardly renown for its realism or connection with the rest of the country) or a single small island of billionaires in the Atlantic is probably a rough means of getting there.
The same problem is going on in Europe. The European Union is probably the least thought out idea to have been implemented in the past 50 years. I would challenge you to find a worse example. Yet, because of how it was created, Europe’s elite class (and I use the word “elite” quite lightly here) are totally wedded to the concept.
Despite the grand enthusiasm on the parts of rich multinational businessmen and suddenly elevated technocrats, there has been little in the way of success on the part of the EU to improve the lives of ordinary Europeans. The sudden resurgence of nationalism is not a mere unexpected bout of nostalgia for the old countries and their fading sovereignty. The lives of men and women across Europe have markedly declined since the formation of the EU.
Where is the coverage of these people? European media is firmly in bed with the EU project. They feel like they are an active part of it and root for its success. They physically cry at the thought of it failing.
That is my personal belief in how you get media outlets trumpeting a close referendum outcome all week, only to have this happen. So many large media outlets projected a close race because somewhere in their minds they feared it wouldn’t be one, and a 50/50 call is the best hope they could give the outcome that they really wanted.
There’s no other explanation I can think of for this type of behavior. It is hardly the only isolated incident; I see this kind of awful, detached commentary almost daily.
Journalism needs to start getting off its island and away from its money if it wants to be taken seriously as the trustworthy record keepers of a civilization again.
Here’s a fun fact. Since so many media outlets claimed their polling was based on thousands of responders, I re-ran my numbers.
The odds of predicting a 50/50 vote or greater in favor of “Yes” from a 60/40 outcome in favor of “No”, based on 1,000 responders, is 1 in 10 billion.