The Gallup survey misses the point (but what do you expect?)

I want to pose a question to the Gallup people over their poll on blogging. As I explained below, something doesn’t sit right with me about the study. It’s not that I’m feeling defensive; it’s the central question being examined that bothers me.

One of the monikers I enjoyed in my days as a news director was “Captain Statistics.” I liked the idea of scientific public opinion issue surveys as a way to “own” issues, and I had a gift for ferreting out stories from all those numbers. I wrote many surveys, too. In Hawaii, we examined the state of family life. There was religion in the Tennessee Valley and race relations in Eastern North Carolina. In Richmond, we looked at differences between living in the city and in the suburban counties for an overall examination of economic development.

My point is I know about the great flaw in public opinion research: the quality of the answers is directly proportional to the quality of the questions. Moreover, those questions begin with an overall question or assumption, and this is where I have a problem with the Gallup report.

In this study, Gallup attempts to ascertain where blogs rank in terms of media recognition and use in this country. In so doing, they ask fairly typical questions. How familiar are you with blogs? How often do you read blogs? And how do those answers vary by demographic and Internet use, among other things. The problem with this line of questioning is it assumes a top-down, mass-marketing paradigm. As a result, they miss entirely the point of blogs.

For example, where do they get the idea that their ratings and rankings for blogs — compared to forms of mass market media — mean anything whatsoever? Memo to Gallup: it’s not about reach and frequency; it’s about the conversation, the empowerment of the citizenry. And so the question to the Gallup people is why don’t you explore that?

And in terms of influence, why don’t you repeat the survey but ask a defining set of questions to determine the level of interest in the news first? I’d bet the ranch that the news junkies of the land are vastly more interested in blogs that the rest of Americans. And who are they? They are the leaders of business, industry, government and the arts. (Take a look at the BlogAds survey.)

When an organization like Gallup produces a survey of over a thousand adults that spawns headlines like “Blogs Not Yet in the Media Big Leagues” and subheads like “Very few Americans read them with any frequency,” it speaks volumes about their ignorance. But think about it. What can one expect from a purely Modernist/logical institution?

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