Journalism, or Graphic Design?

Monday, February 19th, 2007, 9:46 pm

We’ve seen reports like this before; college kid starts playing poker, gets in over his head, disaster ensues. You’d think a story like this wouldn’t be “news” anymore, unless the kid went bonkers with an AK-47. Or started dating Britney Spears.

Don’t get me wrong–gambling addiction is real, and people who have problems should get the help they need. I’m not a fool and I’m not a hack. Unlike the people who put together the piece I linked to. Watching it it’s painfully obvious that they spent more time on post-production than actually gathering the facts and analyzing those facts.

For example, this line from the clip:

“Studies show students are two to three times more likely to become problem gamblers than any other age group”

Great reporting there. Let me ask a few questions of my own: Which studies? Conducted by whom? What was their methodology? Did they look at other forms of behavior (drinking, smoking, drug use, sex) and determine if college kids are more likely to engage in them? And while I’m not a statistical superstar, “two to three times” is not an especially precise refinement. The difference between something happening 2x times instead of 3x times is a…50% difference, yes? If I recall correctly from my B-school stats class, that would be a “big” difference.

The piece is constructed on these ephermal, nonsensical factoids. Several students are quoted as saying things like “I know a couple people who have had to kind of drop out of school because of gambling debt getting pretty high”, and “One of my friend’s friends has won like 10k over a year”. Wow, talk about some damning evidence. People had to “kind of” drop out because their debt got “pretty” high. And a friend of a friend won “like” ten grand. Can’t argue with facts like that.

A school counselor and the director of a local hospital’s recovery center talk about their experiences with students who have had problems with gambling. But, again, all we get are vague statements. We learn that “some kids have stolen, sold things to pay their debts.” I’m sure that’s happened, but I’m sure students have stolen and sold things for reasons other than to pay gambling debts. I once had to sell a couple of books to get enough money to buy food. True, I could’ve asked my folks for the money, but I had my pride. Pride, not money.

I don’t mean to rip on these people who are actually trying to help young people make good decisions and treat those with problems. I wish them all the luck in the world, and I’m not trying to be funny. But I DO want to rip on the “journalists” who put this piece together. Because let’s be honest here–they don’t care that there might be college kids with gambling problems. They don’t care that the vast majority of people can play poker or gamble without being at risk of becoming addicted. They aren’t interested in the debate over whether the government should “protect” the people from activities that are “bad” for them.

All they care about is coming up with a sensationalist little piece that will grab the audience’s attention. Like I said, the fact that they spent far more time and effort on the clever graphics and quick-cuts and recreations of players raking in chips proves that point. Why bother checking the facts? Why even bother gathering facts? Seems like no one else does these days.

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5 Responses to “Journalism, or Graphic Design?”

  1. TripJax Says:

    AK vs 47 all-in. The new rage with all the cool kids…

  2. Maudie Says:

    which is why i turned off the local news years ago…

    by the way, they were probably quoting the study done that ultimately lead to the UIGEA – i came across it when i attempted to research the genesis of the legislation…

    …or they could have just made it up – who (save for a few with a modicum of intelligence) really questions “studies show…”


  3. Drizztdj Says:

    “Give the audience what they want to hear” should be a line from a political candiates handbook, not journalism.

  4. Darcy Says:

    Dude, it’s Fox, what are you expecting?

  5. KenP Says:

    It was probably followed by a report from their health expert who reported on how good/bad the beverage of the week is for you — depending on who sent them the PR. Red Wine? WCTU or Fine Dining Magazine?

    Then there are the ones that obviously came from the sales department. The smaller the station the more obvious the ploy. And they run endless teasers before releasing their dreck on the viewing public — who usually deserves what it is getting.

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