This website hosts my master’s thesis, Argument quality in Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, which I wrote in 2011 as a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Read the abstract
There are two ways to access the thesis.
The first way is to download a PDF copy of the thesis as submitted to the graduate school. Unfortunately, the formatting required by Missouri is ugly. I might create a prettier downloadable copy of the thesis.
The second way is to read the thesis online using the links below. The online version of the thesis contains a few very minor typographical and grammar corrections from the official version (it also uses endnotes, not footnotes) but should be otherwise identical. In any cases where the two versions disagree, the PDF is the “official” one.
Table of contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Theoretical framework and literature review
- 3. Methodology
- 4. Results
- 5. Discussion
- 6. References
- Appendix: Story analyses
- Los Angeles Times
- ‘Is a city manager worth $800,000?’ (July 15)
- ‘Bell’s money flowed uphill’ (July 27)
- ‘Bell property tax burden second highest in county’ (July 30)
- ‘Big benefits boosted Bell official’s take’ (August 8)
- ‘Bell told to reduce property taxes’ (August 14)
- ‘Rizzo’s horse had come in’ (August 22)
- ‘Rizzo loaned Bell’s money to firms’ (September 1)
- ‘Bell assessed illegal sewer fees’ (September 3)
- ‘Bell impounded cars to boost coffers, police say’ (September 6)
- ‘More illegal taxes by Bell found’ (September 17)
- ‘Audit finds Rizzo got Bell funds’ (September 21)
- ‘Bell leaders hauled off in cuffs’ (September 22)
- ‘Business owners face big fees in Bell’ (November 2)
- ‘How Bell hit bottom’ (December 28)
- Sarasota Herald-Tribune
- ‘How regulators put Florida homeowners at risk’ (April 18)
- ‘Regulators take gamble on discount insurance’ (April 19)
- ‘Sending billions overseas’ (October 24)
- ‘How Bermuda rigs rates’ (October 25)
- ‘Creating an $82 billion threat’ (November 14)
- ‘Hurricane models: garbage in, gospel out’ (November 15)
- ‘How State Farm cashed in on a crisis’ (December 5)
This thesis uses techniques and theory from argumentation, informal logic, and critical thinking to assess the quality of arguments presented by journalists in Pulitzer Prize-winning stories.
Journalists strive to inform citizens about the way their world is, was, and will be. These claims about the world are descriptive arguments, which can be accepted or rejected based on the quality of their reasons and evidence. Argumentation, informal logic, and critical thinking provide tools for determining whether the reasons and evidence given in an argument support its conclusion. So one way to test whether journalists fulfill their goal of informing citizens is to see whether they offer good reasons and evidence to support their conclusions. This thesis carries out such a test on Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting. It finds that the stories frequently presented insufficient evidence in support of their conclusions, while also struggling to justify important assumptions and appeals to authority.
- Los Angeles Times