Monday, October 04, 2004


Weird Dispatch decision

Several people have asked me if I thought the Dispatch deserved more criticism than I initially gave them for the way the editors handled the results of their new poll that was taken pre-debates.

In brief, yes. I first saw the poll results in the Dispatch's online version. The problem with online versions is that you don't get a feel for the effects that story placement have on readers. Consciously and unconsciously, story placement means a lot for print readers - especially when it is the headline story on the A section.

Now that I have seen a printed version, I do have to wonder what the editors were thinking. Running "Bush pulls in front" across nearly the entire top half of the front page with 51-44 number highlighted is inexcusable, especially when by the second and fourth paragraphs the editors start running from the results with caveats and warnings.

Further, the editors in retrospect have to see that the scheduling for this poll was a total blunder.

So what happened? Here are some potential ideas:

1) They just screwed up and it never occurred to them to think about the timing. Even given the obvious post debate bounce for Kerry, once they committed the time and resources and the likelyhood that the results would be leaked anyway, they decided to go ahead. The weakness with this argument is that it doesn't explain the banner positioning. (A mea culpa is overdue. How about an explanation in the next Ben Marrison column?)

2) The editors had already bought into Republican spin that the race was already over, the debates will ultimately be insignificant, and the timing was meaningless.

3) John Wolfe issued the orders about where to place the poll results, and the editors did their best to not get fired but offer some sort of apologies through the numerous caveats.

My guess is all of the above.


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