(Note I haven’t been doing much blogging for the past several months. I took early retirement from CBC News and moved back to my old hometown of Kitimat, British Columbia, a process that took much longer than I anticipated and is still ongoing as I wait for electricians to finish some electrical upgrades on my new house. I am now resuming my quest to find hints on the long term future of news and so the blog and related projects will slowly appear here.)
The old adage from the earliest days of computing, Garbage In Garbage Out still holds.
The beleaguered news industry is obsessed with metrics, too obsessed in my view. That obsession also seems to be based on the idea that the data being gathered is good data, not junk.
Yet this week, up popped on my iPad a sad example of what is wrong with the efforts to save journalism, sad because it comes from one of the United States’ most respected journalism schools. It is a survey, a survey that shows just how out of touch with reality some studying the future of news are, a survey that is so seriously flawed that when I was teaching journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, in the 1990s, I could have used as an example to teach students what to avoid.
When I lived in big cities, and being part of the generation raised on print, I would devour the morning paper along with my breakfast, mostly the Globe and Mail in Toronto, but in the various other cities I have lived, also the Ottawa Citizen, the Times and the Guardian in London, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, the Vancouver Sun and The Province.
Now, in Kitimat, British Columbia, there is no newsprint waiting on my doorstep at dawn.
The iPad (as opposed to a netbook computer) is the next best thing. I can prop the tablet up on the breakfast table and still get my morning news fix (I mean update) without having to go to the computer in my home office. I check the Globe and Mail, AP, the BBC, New York Times and the Daily Telegraph. I enjoy the Guardian’s Eyewitness best of the day photo gallery. (And I would actually consider paying for a Guardian iPad app, but for some mysterious reason, it is only available for the iPhone and I’m an Android user.)
So there I was Saturday morning, scanning the Associated Press app, when there appeared at the bottom of the screen, a very enticing ad.
Since I am interested in shaping the future of news, I tapped.
The first page was both a further enticement and the usual academic disclaimer needed when surveying human subjects. The survey was from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the best institutions south of the border, so I was quite optimistic.
There were warning signs. The disclaimer added a further enticement for ongoing participants, but only to Americans, saying that to win the goodies, an iTunes gift card, you had to be United States resident over 18.
I am interested in shaping the future of news. So I tapped. The first screen came up. My heart sank.
The first question asked for the subject’s five digit US zip code.
That meant immediately that everyone outside the United States didn’t count. I filled in the field to let me see if I could continue. I could, but now the survey has no idea where I’m from.
So much for shaping the future of news.
Here’s the first problem, just the day before the ad popped onto my iPad, on Friday, October 22, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Morgan Stanley estimates that about 13 million Apple tablets will be sold this year, out of 15 million total tablet sales world-wide.
For 2011, Morgan Stanley estimates that Apple’s number will rise to 30 million, while non-Apple tablets will skyrocket to 20 million.
So assuming the figures are correct (and if you check these other links, the Morgan Stanley figures appear to be in the right ball park), 15 million people around the world use tablets at this moment.