Author Archives: David Herrera

The Keller-Greenwald exchange: What is there to question?

“Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?” provokes large quantities of questions. One of mine is this:

Given the reasons why Keller prefers his style of news reporting to Greenwald’s, what, if anything, would he question about the conclusions drawn by Greenwald and the Guardian in their coverage of the Snowden documents? Why?

There are many commentaries available with more questions and analysis. Some that I read and enjoyed include:

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Opportunities for critical thinking about data journalism

The 1988 compilation of essays Selected Issues in Logic and Communication included one by Ralph Johnson called “Poll-ution: Coping with Surveys and polls.”

Johnson wrote about critical thinking questions that help you decide whether to accept the conclusions in news coverage of polling data:

Polls are often reported and are increasingly significant in political life. We need to know how to assess reports of polls. Crucial information such as the nature of the sample and the precise question asked is often not reported. No matter how accurate sampling techniques are, a poll cannot provide valuable information if its question is misleading or loaded.*

I liked Jacob Harris’s recent essay in Source because it provided a similar collection of entry points for critical thinking questions about data journalism:

Data journalism does not fall perfect from the sky. It’s painstakingly built. … in my own experience it generally involves the following steps:

  • Acquisition
  • Cleaning
  • Loading
  • Verification
  • Analysis
  • Cherry-picking
  • Presentation
  • Maintenance

The fun of data journalism is that each of these steps can introduce errors that can affect the final story.

Read “The Times Regrets the Programmer Error” at Source

* When I added Johnson’s essay to my bibliography manager, I included this quote in the “Abstract” field. But I did not mark a page number and no longer have access to the book. My search for this essay in Google Books returns the beginning of the quote, so I feel pretty safe in assuming it is Johnson’s, but there is a chance I am wrong.

Photo by Anthony Catalano:

‘Blogging and public intellectuals’ follow-up questions

The panel. Photo borrowed from @Arendt_Center

The panel. Photo by @Arendt_Center

This post is a response to “Blogging and public intellectuals,” a panel discussion featuring NYU’s Jay Rosen and The Atlantic’s Megan Garber. I considered asking these questions by email, but I’m placing them here instead, in the spirit of the event.

Dear Dr. Rosen and Ms. Garber,

I attended your panel at Bard College on Sunday and found it challenging in the best way. Thank you for volunteering your time for it.

Two sets of questions have stuck with me since then. If you ever have the time and interest to respond to them on your blogs or another outlet, I would enjoy reading it.

The questions:

  1. Who are some of today’s public intellectuals you think are worth following? What do they do that you admire, and how can journalists apply those things to their work?
  2. In your work as bloggers and public intellectuals, how do you decide what to read day-to-day? What intellectual habits are you striving to improve? Dr. Rosen, has your routine changed since you were featured in “What I Read” in 2010?

Thanks again,

Recommended: ‘Investigative Storytelling Gone Awry’

The NPR ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, produced an extraordinary investigation-of-an-investigation earlier this year:

My finding is that the series was deeply flawed and should not have been aired as it was.

The series committed five sins that violate NPR’s code of standards and ethics. They were:

  1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
  2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
  3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
  4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
  5. No response from the state on many key points.

I was convinced after the first couple of chapters that Schumacher-Matos was worth reading for those who are invested in the issue covered by the original report. I found his writing to be fair, cautious, and reflective.

To me, his report is a model of critical thinking applied to journalism, and I was disappointed that NPR responded with only a defensive memo.

The argumentative power of data and narrative in journalism

Nick Diakopoulos, summarizing discussion at the Computation + Journalism Symposium:

This brings us back to the raw cultural difference of the value of “theory” or “model” (i.e. understanding the central tendency and abstraction of data) versus the “anecdote” or “outlier” that is so important to journalists feeling they’ve got a good story to tell. We may be just at the beginning of understanding the benefits and tradeoffs of the narrative-dominant frame versus the analytic-dominant frame, but it’s certain that the cultural dilemma of how news communication is approached underscores a central challenge in integrating computation and journalism.

Read “Finding tools vs. making tools: Discovering common ground between computer science and journalism” at Nieman Lab.

Recent research about argument and narrative: an aside for journalism

A recent article in Informal Logic is worth reading for those interested in argument and journalism because of its discussion of the relationship between narrative and argument.

The article is “Logic and Parables: Do These Narratives Provide Arguments?” by Trudy Govier and Lowell Ayers, and it’s is freely available from IL. The (abbreviated) abstract:

We explore the relationship between argument and narrative with reference to parables. Parables are typically thought to convey a message. In examining a parable, we can ask what that message is, whether the story told provides reasons for the message, and whether those reasons are good reasons. In exploring these questions, we employ as an investigative technique the strategy of reconstructing parables as arguments. We then proceed to consider the cogency of those arguments.

What journalists typically write is closer to narrative than to straight data-warrant-claim arguments. As news consumers, we need to know the extent to which narratives can be treated as arguments before we can subject the narratives to the tools of argument analysis.

It’s true, though, that journalists do not write parables. So the conclusions of “Logic and Parables” are not strictly applicable to journalism.

However, the paper works well as an introduction into research in argument and narrative (as it was for me). It provides an overview of key questions that studies of argument and informal logic put to narrative and a few useful-looking citations.