Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Catching poll data correctly...

...is tough to do in the headline. Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, took to task this week a headline on a press release from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The release's misleading headline about a poll on the public's perceptions of journalists resulted in lots of coverage -- but was itself inaccurate. The also too-long headline claimed "About One American in Four Considers Rush Limbaugh a Journalist, Roughly the Same Share as Identify Bob Woodward That Way, According to Annenberg Public Policy Center Survey." It used the data point that 30% of the respondents identified the Washington Post's Woodward as a journalist, compared with the 27% who said conservative talk show host Limbaugh is a journalist. Newport notes, however, that the poll also found that only 17% of the respondents say Woodward is not a journalist, while "a very significant" 55% say Limbaugh is not a journalist. Using only the positive ratings skews the headline to mislead. Newport's solution for a more accurate (though no less short) headline: "Among Those Who Have an Opinion, Bob Woodward Much More Likely to be Viewed as a Journalist Than Rush Limbaugh." (We'd try "Poll: Woodward Seen More as Journalist than Limbaugh," but we like our headlines crisp.) Don't get caught by using numbers in your news. For more information on our headline-writing workshops, contact Denise Graveline at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

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