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Media Circus

Question Reality

By Tom Chalkley | Posted 7/26/2000

In the vast limbo competition that is local TV news, WJZ (channel 13) has once again managed to lower the bar. Ever since the CBS affiliate started airing Survivor, the soap opera-cum-game show that currently grips the nation, W-jeeze's Eyewitness News has been maintaining, and reporting on, its very own "online Web poll" concerning the show's contestants. The poll results--percentages of Web site respondents wishing to kick Gervase, Susan, or whomever off the island--are displayed on-screen during afternoon newscasts, while one of 'JZ's anchors provides commentary. I leave to entertainment critics the urgent task of analyzing CBS' bold remake of Gilligan's Island. What concerns me is the plummeting standard for what's passed off as news in America's favorite news medium. To begin with, viewer polls of any kind aren't legitimate public-opinion polls. Where a legitimate poll takes a random sample of a relevant population, a viewer poll surveys a fragment of the population that a) happens to be watching a given TV station when the polling question is broadcast and b) cares enough about the question to respond once or more. In the case of the WJZ poll, only people with access to the World Wide Web can participate. Apply such a selective information-gathering device to opinions about an extremely artificial, if not exactly fictional, circumstance and the relationship between findings and reality--to say nothing of news--becomes tenuous in the extreme. The WJZ poll is a meaningless measurement of a meaningless sentiment.

I know, I know--it's just a promotional gimmick for the station's hit show. And what sort of curmudgeon still objects to mixing news, station promos, lottery numbers, reenactments, whatever, into huge schmears of homogeneous info-glop?

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