Last Friday WPLN's local politics reporter, Daniel Potter, completely mistook how the Metro Council dealt with Mayor Karl Dean's plan to sell the Fairgrounds in a story on the referendum results:
Dean had hoped to redevelop the fairgrounds, but the council rejected that plan. Fairgrounds activists then forced the referendum in hopes of protecting the property.
The council did not reject redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. They merely mandated a community-based master plan. I have yet to meet anyone who is opposed to any redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. And this is not the first time Potter has misrepresented opposition to mayoral initiatives.
Another WPLN reporter Rae Ellen Bichell, covering a Vanderbilt study on the influence of yard signs seemed to overstate conclusively that the signs have powerful influence in elections without regard to analyzing the Vandy researchers' methods or the merits of their claims. I read the PR piece from the university's flack magazine and I spotted several potential problems that Bichell does not address:
- the authors themselves seem too conclusive about the study proving their hypothesis. Social scientific research first indicates conclusions; evidence is only "conclusive", as the researchers claim, when the study findings stand up to both time and scrutiny. Same goes for the claim that field experiments "confirmed" their lab findings.
- the authors say they emailed their surveys to parents on a PTO mailing list. Were those parents part of the small percentage of "likely voters" (which is the more dependable survey set in elections)?
- the authors' use of the survey rather than an exit poll seems itself problematic. Did the Vandy researchers factor out subject motives like name-dropping candidates whose signs they saw in order not to appear as ignorant about local politics? A survey may not tell researchers exactly what they want to find: a connection between a yard sign and pulling the lever in a voting booth. Instead, research subjects could be doing what the Vanderbilt magazine is doing: managing their public image.
It may be the case that Bichell does not have social science experience to challenge the Vanderbilt team on these questions, but that does not absolve WPLN from accuracy and balance in political reporting on studies of yard sign impact on voting patterns. Someone in the newsroom should have been asking critical questions rather than strongly repeating a hypothesis that yard signs have "powerful influence" over elections as if the questions are settled.