Talk-shows hosts, bloggers, columnists, pundits and letter-writers have all had fun with that online poll, organized by the august historical magazine The Beaver, in which respondents named Pierre Trudeau “the worst Canadian.”
It’s all good fun, we suppose, but it should also be a reminder online polls of this sort are not worth the paper they aren’t printed on.
I looked up the story, and most of the bloggers I’ve found saw right through the lame, transparent attempt to get free publicity. The paragraph leaves out the paper itself in those it names as having “had fun”. After all, it put the non-story on its front page Tuesday morning, one day after the Beaver issued a press release about it. (Little tip folks: Get something on Canada Newswire that’s not business-related and some paper somewhere will rewrite it into a story to fill space. Don’t bother trying to support your outrageous claims with facts, nobody cares about those.)
The editorial makes a couple of points: that online reader surveys shouldn’t be taken at face value (duh), and that “participatory journalism” has its problems:
Reader-participation journalism, a clear trend in print as well as online, has many virtues and can be a valuable tool.
But without the constraints of rigorous sample-selection techniques and careful choice of questions, the findings of some such processes are not only laughable, as with the Trudeau choice, but they can also be potentially dangerously misleading.
At the risk of repeating myself, the following things are NOT participatory journalism:
- Letting readers vote in multiple-choice online polls and writing a story about the results.
- Blogs written by columnists and newspaper staffers
- Publishing “online extras”
- Writing about what you found on Facebook
- Writing about what readers posted as comments to your blog
- Republishing blog posts as articles
- Republishing articles as blog posts
- Asking readers for stories and quoting from them
- Publishing writers’ email addresses with their stories
Many of these things are good ideas, but they’re not participatory journalism.
Sorry, mainstream media, but you got suckered in by a press release about an outrageous unscientific survey. Don’t blame it on bloggers and new forms of journalism that are entirely irrelevant here.