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Archive for January 2013

The new transparency: Newspapers mine public data, and not everyone’s happy about it

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Better get used to it, people. As governments increasingly place public information online, news organizations are going to demand access to it and print it — but not always with appropriate context. That must change.

Among the leaders of the data-mining charge appears to be media conglomerate Gannett Co. Inc., owner of 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including USA Today, and 23 television stations. You’ll recall that Gannett-owned The Journal News published an interactive map of addresses of gun-permit holders in the New York state counties of Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam.

The News has been roundly criticized for that act. But there are reasons for criticism beyond the rabid fear-mongering.

The News has a First Amendment right to print public information (lawyers would argue some limits do apply). But any newspaper printing public information, especially when unpopular, has the responsibility to carefully and intelligently construct context for those data. Simply printing that these households have a gun permit does not do a damn thing to advance a public debate about guns, deaths related to guns, and the Second Amendment.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is $6 billion in political spending a big deal? Depends on context.

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Is $6 billion a lot of money?

Depends. To Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, perhaps not so much. To me and 99.99 percent of Americans, yeah, it’s a lot of money. But, like much in life, the assignment of value often lies in placing context around any piece of data. So what context should embrace the more than $6 billion that the Center for Responsive Politics says “was spent by federal campaigns, super PACs, political nonprofits and the party committees” in the 2012 election cycle?

In a Dec. 27 donation-seeking email to supporters, the center referred to “these massive sums” [emphasis added]:

Presidential candidates….$1,377,000,000
House Candidates………….$1,010,000,000
Senate Candidates…………$720,000,000
Party Committees……………$1,800,000,000
Outside Groups……………….$1,210,000,000

Are these, in fact, “massive sums”? In the context of political spending, yes: They are the most in American history, surpassing the $5.3 billion in the 2008 election cycle, and that was double the $2.6 billion spent in the 2004 election cycle. Of course, what makes the 2012 election cycle even more memorable is that $1.2 billion spent by “outside groups.” They spent nearly as much as the presidential candidates alone.

It appears that, like death and taxes, record-breaking spending by politicians and “outside groups” is inevitable.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized