Magazine article Nieman Reports

Predicting Outcomes Is Not Our Job

Magazine article Nieman Reports

Predicting Outcomes Is Not Our Job

Article excerpt

Poll stories masquerade as serious journalism. We're in the business of providing real news and analysis so people can make their own decisions

ONE THING I WORRY ABOUT is the seeming expectation that the press should have been able to predict the outcome of the election. And that "we got it wrong." Clairvoyance is the stuff of fortune tellers; journalists report on the world. We find truths, examine ideas; we tell stories of experience, struggle, aspiration. Editorials provide interpretation, perspective, advocacy.

There's a legitimate discussion to be had about whether the media told a full range of stories to accurately portray America's mood leading up to this election. But to morph that assessment into fault for failing to predict the election's outcome seems a subtle but significant error in expectation.

All the media mea culpas I'm reading are starting to feel a bit like schadenfreude.

Yes, scientific polls have value as a diagnostic tool. For example, learning that white women--across the board, college educated or not--favored Trump over Clinton by 10 percentage points is useful information for what it tells us about message-resonance with that cohort.

But the media too often portray election polls as implicit predictors of an outcome. Poll stories masquerade as serious journalism, bumping more meaningful and, admittedly, complicated stories to second-tier status in both development and presentation. This reduces political coverage to a horse-race spectator sport-- who's up, who's down, who said this, who said that. …

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