Conventions offer opportunity to revisit fact-checking, journalists with opinions

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Most likely Poynter Online’s last roundup of material about the major parties’ political conventions until 2016

Last Thursday night’s Democratic National Convention lineup got four million tweets flying, double Twitter’s weekly average for political tweets, Emily Schultheis reports. Less data-y, but maybe more important:

“I wouldn’t be shocked if a fair amount of the attention paid to the convention was through Twitter primarily,” said GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini of EngageDC, a digital advertising firm. “If you’re like me, someone who hangs on every word someone is saying, you have far fewer options for TV apart from C-SPAN.”

Maybe we should focus more on how the 15 percent of adult Internet users who are on Twitter use the service rather than on statistics whose utility is not exactly clear? Or maybe we should focus on the 85 percent of voters who are not on Twitter?

Since there’s not really much news to be found at conventions anymore, journalists are defaulting to commentary, David Bauder writes.

“What you’re seeing is a much greater emphasis on what the political pros call optics,” Columbia University Professor Bill Wheatley tells Bauder. (Optics again!) “There’s an increasing amount of theater criticism, if you will. There’s often more being said about how things look compared to how things are.”

“I don’t think the coverage overall deserves too much criticism,” said longtime CBS anchor and current AXS-TV host Dan Rather. “But if there is any criticism – and I don’t exempt myself at all from this – it’s that there is not enough analysis and way too much commentary.”

Rather sheepishly admitted to tweeting that Clinton had hit “a home run” in his convention speech.

Here’s where pressure to keep active on social media may hurt television coverage, he said. People tweeting during a speech have less time to absorb what is being said and are less likely to work with researchers and fact-checkers to see if what comes from the podium is accurate.

Opinion journalist Kathleen Parker deplores the blending of opinion and journalism typified by MSNBC’s starring role at the Democratic confab:

The blending of news and opinion isn’t new, but activism posing as journalism is a cancer on the body politic. While some viewers may be savvy enough to understand the difference and choose their medicine accordingly, many are not.

That doesn’t mean those easily led saps have to stop, say, reading opinion columnists:

Just to be clear, opinion columnists are supposed to be opinionated. It’s what they’re paid to do. But this arrangement is understood between writer and reader. Thus, transparency is the critical ingredient, sometimes missing in our “Hollywood Squares” approach to discourse, in which all participants are presented as equal players. Rarely is this the case.

Then again, do readers even even need the media to do fact-checking, the convention’s hottest meta topic, for them? L. Gordon Crovitz takes me back a decade, drawing a line between the “true untruths and pretend untruths” fact-checkers should and shouldn’t be checking, respectively.

The credibility of reporting has enough problems without claiming objectivity while practicing subjectivity. Not when anyone with an Internet connection can discover the difference.

Dan Conover says news orgs can address critiques of fact-checking: Stop pretending it’s a science, focus less on lying (“Is it a lie when the speaker doesn’t know the truth?” is a useful journalistic koan) and avoid the cute ratings treatments that mask fact-checks’ subtleties.

Where does the cutesy-snarky tone come from? The idea that fact-checking journalism is still in the catchy headline business, not the credibility business. So long as modern media’s business model is based on nothing more than renting people’s attention to advertisers, political journalism will be long on sensation and short on substance. That’s why we’re forced to treat fact-checking as a separate discipline for now – a new feature of modern political journalism, not a replacement for it.

Another hot mega-topic: Are the conventions too long? Both were three days, not four, this year, and both parties candidates got outshone. John Boehner tells the AP’s Matthew Daly conventions should be shorter and the party platform should fit on one piece of paper. But the parties aren’t eager to give up the chance to present their message, nearly unfiltered, on national TV, says Purdue University political scientist James McCann:

“If it’s the end, it’s a slow end,” McCann said, noting that each party received three nights of prime-time television coverage they would be hard-pressed to obtain any other way.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    What the conventions really offered this summer was a ”scare quotes” gabfest online via tweets and FB, not to mention the “fact checkers” (scare quotes mine) meme. And yes still no one in the American journalism scene is willing to go on record as to WHO coined the term scare quotes and when and why. Some say as early as 1920, perhaps earlier. First google ref is 1946 book by Carey McWilliams. Yet not one USA website or blog wants to report the fact that 90 percent of all people who use the term “scare quotes” in their tweets and blogs have NO IDEA who coined the term or why or when. It’s like the ”blind” leading the blind” – both blinds in scare quotes. Why the radio silence on the current epidemic of scare quotes as the election cycle pumps up? Even Poynter here refuses to report the scare quotes epidemic? WHY?