What’s the significance of 538?

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That’s the number of members of the Electoral College (based on 100 senators, 435 House members and three delegates from the District of Columbia). It’s also the name of a political blog at The New York Times, founded by Nate Silver in 2008 and acquired by the Times in 2010. Here’s its mission statement:

FiveThirtyEight’s mission is to help New York Times readers cut through the clutter of this data-rich world. The blog is devoted to rigorous analysis of politics, polling, public affairs, sports, science and culture, largely through statistical means. In addition, FiveThirtyEight provides forecasts of upcoming presidential, Congressional and gubernatorial elections through the use of its proprietary prediction models.

Watch the blog this week to see how accurately it predicts the results of the Florida Republican primary.

Update (Feb. 3): FiveThirtyEight predicts the outcome of primaries in Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.


Newt Gingrich and the CNN debate

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I looked this morning for Roy Peter Clark’s writing tips, including the “Rule of 3.”  Instead, I found his comments about the CNN moderator’s first question to Newt Gingrich at last week’s South Carolina debate. Here’s the headline: “10 reasons Newt Gingrich is right about John King’s first question.” (Clark is fond of making lists.) He raises some good points about the relevance of raising Gingrich’s past marital troubles in the 2012 campaign. He also takes King to task for the timing and tone of the question. Read more here.

Roy Peter Clark

Meet Barry Bilderback, guest speaker for Jan. 25

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Barry Bilderback, assistant professor in the Lionel Hampton School of Music, will speak to our class Wednesday, Jan. 25.  Dr. Bilderback, who specializes in music history and ethnomusicology, will talk about his study abroad course: Africa’s Calling: Culture in Ghana.  His presentation will tie into this week’s topic, cultivating diverse sources.  Here is a link to the course and here is Prof. Bilderback’s biography.  Please come prepared to ask a question about his background, the course, or music and culture in Africa.

Barry Bilderback (Argonaut photo)

Learn about U.S. media patterns

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The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press surveys Americans every two years about their media consumption patterns. The most recent survey, taken in June of 2010, shows a decline in news from traditional print and broadcast sources, accompanied by a rise in online news.  You can see the overall trends in the chart below and read the full report here.

Consider these national patterns as you talk to your peers about how and why they follow the news.  And check out a  recent  Pew Center report about the generation gap in American politics and the beliefs of Millennials.

Source: Pew Center for People and the Press

New York Times story for discussion

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Here’s the story from the Times that we will talk about Wednesday, Jan. 25, in class:

“For Gingrich, Rival’s Gift and Wife’s Allegation,” from Friday, Jan. 20.  It’s on Page 1, above the fold, of the print edition and online (with a slightly different headline) here.

As you read the story, take note of the sources the reporter used and the way the information is presented about two different developments: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to withdraw from the presidential contest and Gingrich’s former wife’s charge that he asked her for an “open marriage.”  Do you think this information about the candidate’s personal  life is relevant to his candidacy for president? Why or why not?

You can also see the Times’ editorial about Gingrich on Page A22 of the print edition or here.  Here are other relevant stories:

  • The September 2010 Esquire article.
  • The ABC News interview with Marianne Gingrich.
  • The Jan. 27 New York Times story about the House ethics scandal.

Newt Gingrich (AP photo)

Meet Andrea Vogt, guest speaker for Jan. 23

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Andrea Vogt

Andrea Vogt is a freelance journalist who covered the Amanda Knox trial in Italy. She will speak Jan. 21 about how she used the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain cables between the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Rome to report this story: http://www.seattlepi.com/amanda-knox/article/Cables-show-State-Department-has-monitored-Knox-1383417.php

Here’s a link to Andrea’s biography  Please come to class Wednesday prepared to ask a question about her career or her coverage of the Knox case.

Andrea’s visit has been postponed until Monday, Jan. 23.

Assignment: Media habits of Generation Y

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Generation Y refers to the population cohort born in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s also known as the Millennial Generation, Generation Next, Net Generation  or the Baby Boom Echo.  Most University of Idaho undergraduates fit into this category.   Please use Exercise 4 on page 18 of Reporting That Matters as the basis for our first assignment, due Friday, Jan. 27, in class.  Ask the first four questions and add one more: What types of stories about the University of Idaho and Moscow would you be interested in reading about?


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