Fixing a polling system that’s out of sync

Latest Voting Intention

Reading the various reports, narratives and commentaries this weekend about the results of the UK general election that took place on May 7, the overall perspective I’ve formed on all of that is how could the expert commentators, opinion-formers and outcome-predictors have got it all so wrong?

The election result produced a clear win for the Conservatives with a slender majority in the House of Commons (12 seats), and the virtual annihilation of the primary opposition political parties – the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all quit – that confounded every single opinion poll in the months, weeks and days leading up to May 7, which had all predicted a hung Parliament as the best outcome anyone could expect.

So another coalition government looked a likely election outcome according to those polls – followed perhaps by another election in six months or so – and many column inches and pixels have been spent in offering what-if? scenarios of who might be able to form a government with whom, etc (the BBC’s interactive tool was especially good), much of it based on those opinion poll results.

About the only thing the pollsters did get right was the surging Scottish Nationalist Party which triumphed in Scotland in almost a clean sweep, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

Having been in America since May 3 with hardly a moment spare to look at the TV never mind online news, I had been shielded from any mainstream reporting and commentary back home in the run-up to election day last Thursday (our election was unquestionably not a big news item in the US mainstream media). What I did see, though, was plenty of comment and opinion on social media channels, notably Twitter, that presented a view of Labour being well ahead as the likely voting preference of a majority, and reinforced much of the mainstream feeling about a close-run election and a hung Parliament.

Socialist Media - Economist.com

And so I flew back to the UK on Thursday night US time arriving here on Friday morning UK time to the news that took me by surprise as much as it apparently did all those experts I mentioned – not a close-run thing at all but a pretty decisive Conservative victory, nothing like a hung Parliament, and a political landscape that no longer looked familiar with the downfall of the traditional political opposition.

With the nationalists rampant in Scotland and the Conservatives resurgent just about everywhere else outside the large urban centres in England, the former looks alarmingly like a one-party state with the latter arguably close to that territory. Indeed, it doesn’t look like a very United Kingdom at the moment.

But analysis on comment like that is for more knowledgeable subject-matter experts to ponder over.

What interests me mostly now is those opinion polls I mentioned earlier – how could they have got it so wrong?

You can choose from a great deal of opinion on that question, to which I add my two-pence-worth to suggest a combination of factors such as:

1. Reliance on an opinion-polling system that, largely, behaves the same as 50 years ago when few-to-many was the only communication model: the few controlled the news and methods of communication (the mainstream media companies); the many (the great British public) formed opinion based on what they read in the newspapers or heard on the radio (TV was still in its infancy) – their only reliable sources of news and information; and the pollsters formed their predictions based on what the public told them in answer to narrow questions where you read what the newspapers said to help you form opinions.

That’s totally not the picture today where the mainstream media is but one element in an immersive crowded information and communication landscape that enables anyone with an opinion and an internet connection to become a content-creator, news broadcaster and opinion-former.

Anyone with an opinion...

2. Lack of trust in, and engagement by, the political process and politicians themselves: let’s start with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 published in January that shows a continuing trend line for lack of trust in governments and politicians on a worldwide level, not only in the UK.

3. Public tiredness and disenchantment with politics in general and this election process in particular: so much partisan opinion and commentary – yes, I do call it propaganda – where it has been tough to filter signal from relentless noise and focus on what you think is credible and trustworthy to warrant your attention and your willingness to believe.

A case in point for me was the Leaders’ Debate on BBC’s Question Time programme on April 30. Debate? Hardly. Prepared sound-bite responses by each leader individually to questions from a carefully-controlled audience. The inauthenticity of it was breath-taking.

(Of course, I should point out that some analysts are saying that this TV event was instrumental in helping many voters decide who to vote for. If that’s true, then I’ll stick to my day job.)

4. The remoteness of much of it: so much stuff by people you don’t know, with hashtags on social media like #GE2015 that are tsunamis of opinions you don’t trust because much of it is so clearly partisan; and politicians who sound so patronising with their so-sincere-sounding and constant over-use of phrases like “hard-working families” and “working people” that you eventually tune it all out.

Some or all of this probably contributed to the huge number of “Don’t know” responses when people were asked by pollsters for their voting intentions – 25 percent of voters said they didn’t know who they’d vote for on the day, according to one report I saw.

That meant that the polling organizations, pundits and others were left to predict outcomes based on incomplete data from which to glean credible insights, along with that imperfect methodology for a contemporary society – are those the major factors that let it all be so wrong?

I read of one poll where the organizers predicted the actual election outcome with some clarity (and accuracy as it turned out) but who said they didn’t publish it for fear of being ridiculed: their poll was so totally different to all the others that were predicting a neck-and-neck close race, hung Parliament, etc.

And what was their methodology? Actually talking to voters: ringing them up on the phone and directly asking them relevant questions that they would want to answer.

YouGov’s Antony Wells summarized what he thought of the polling debacle:

[…] there is something genuinely wrong here. For several months before the election the polls were consistently showing Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck. Individual polls exist that showed larger Conservative or Labour leads and some companies tended to show a small Labour lead or small Conservative lead, but no company consistently showed anything even approaching a seven point Conservative lead. The difference between the polls and the result was not just random sample error, something was wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at the 700+ comments to Well’s blog post.

So the current polling system used in this kind of significant national event has suffered a severe setback in how it is regarded from accuracy, trust and credibility perspectives. This has clearly rung a loud alarm bell as the British Polling Council, the trade body for the polling industry, has announced with some understatement that it’s setting up a public enquiry into what went wrong:

The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation.

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society, is therefore setting up an independent enquiry to look into the possible causes of this apparent bias, and to make recommendations for future polling.

The focus of the enquiry will be on polling methodology, according to the announcement.

Looking forward to learning what those recommendations are.

Rays of light amongst the gloom in the 2015 Trust Barometer

2015 Trust BarometerIf you glance through the 2015 Trust Barometer published by the Edelman PR firm on January 20, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things are bad if not dire everywhere.

The report – marking the 15th consecutive year Edelman has been publishing this – contains the results from surveying 33,000 people in 27 countries in order to paint a picture of public trust in business, the media, government and NGOs in those 27 countries and averaging across the world.

The data Edelman gathered from conducting the survey during the final quarter of 2014 enabled them to glean insights and come to some credible conclusions on the general state of trust around the world.

Three headline metrics paint a pretty bleak picture:

  • Trust in institutions drops to the level of the Great Recession (let’s start with the headline of the press release, referring to the global economic downturn that began in 2007/8).
  • Trust in government, business, media and NGOs in the general population is below 50 percent in two-thirds of countries surveyed.
  • Informed public respondents are nearly as distrustful, registering trust levels below 50 percent in half of the countries surveyed.

This picture is well presented in a chart that Edelman calls “The New Trust Deficit” showing that nearly 66 percent of countries are now distrusters among the general online population.

The New Trust Deficit

Each country has its own story to tell that throws some light on individual findings, as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman notes in the introduction to the report’s Executive Summary:

[…] We see an evaporation of trust across all institutions, as if no one has the answers to the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014. For the first time, two-thirds of the 27 nations we survey (general population data) fall into the “distruster” category. The horrific spread of Ebola in Western Africa, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 plus two subsequent major air disasters, the arrests of top Chinese government officials on corruption charges, the foreign exchange rate rigging by six of the world’s largest banks and the constant drumbeat of data breaches, most recently from Sony Pictures, have shaken confidence in all institutions.

In reviewing the 48-page report as well as the shorter summary, I was struck by these findings:

  1. The top three most credible spokespeople for an organization continue to be –
    – Academic or industry expert
    – Company of technical expert
    – “A person like yourself”
  2. There are further declines in CEO credibility as a spokesperson to the extent that this report shows that CEOs are not credible as spokesperson in three-quarters of countries surveyed. That is staggering.
  3. The pace of development and change in business and industry is far too fast for 51 percent of survey respondents, with not enough time spent on development and testing of products before the rush to market.
  4. Drivers of change in business and industry are perceived to be about technology, business growth targets, greed and money, and personal ambition. Improving people’s lives and making the world a better place hardly get a look in, with both factoring below 30 percent.
  5. 51 percent of respondents said the most important role for government in business is to protect consumers and regulate business.
  6. Most countries trust local governments more than federal or central governments. Although the numbers for individual countries vary widely, the global average comes in at 50-50.
  7. Search engines are now the most trusted sources for general news and information – very bad news for the monolithic model of mainstream media – with a 72 percent trust rank.
  8. Search engines are now the first source survey respondents go to for general information, breaking news, and to confirm or validate news. Search engines are way out front as first sources for general information and to confirm/validate news, and equal with television as the first source for breaking news.
  9. Put number 7 another way – for the first time, online search engines are now a more trusted source for general news and information (64 percent) than traditional mainstream media (62 percent).
  10. 63 percent of respondents said they refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust, while 58 percent will criticize them to a friend or colleague. Conversely, 80 percent chose to buy products from companies they trusted, with 68 percent recommending those companies to a friend. Such stated behaviour should be of little surprise to anyone in advertising, marketing and PR, although the high percentages in each case might be.

There is much more to digest and consider in this excellent report, available on free download.

And what about the “rays of light” I mentioned in the headline of this post? To me, that’s about some of the ten points above that I see as opportunities for organizations – whether business, media, government or NGOs – who recognize the continuously-changing and -evolving landscape and look upon it as a place to be that builds connections, trust and understanding between people for mutual benefit. Opportunity is knocking.

Finally, Edelman has a short video that will take you on a tour of the 2015 Trust Barometer. Worth two minutes and forty seconds of your time.

The local newspaper is dead, long live the local newspaper

The decline in print and the rise in digitalThe closure of printed newspapers around the UK counts new casualties in the battle to stem the tide of declining circulations and the ever-diminishing number of titles in print with news this past week that Trinity Mirror is shutting down seven regional newspapers in southern England.

The news has particular interest to me as my local paper, The Wokingham Times, is one of those casualties.

Founded in 1903, the Times has gone through many evolutions especially during the past decade or so as it changed ownership a few times; and as alternative sources for local news emerged as the internet and the world wide web evolved, more online choices appeared and the ability for anyone and everyone to get online becomes almost ubiquitous and continues to be ever easier, cheaper and faster.

The closure is a picture you could paint in communities up and down the country.

Trinity Mirror, current owner of the title and its siblings in Berkshire (and Surrey), said in its announcement that it intends to develop and grow its digital business around the getreading.co.uk website which offers digital versions of its Berkshire titles – Reading Post, The Bracknell Times and The Wokingham Times – and also delivers content to mobile devices via an app.

It’s not hard to see why Trinity Mirror is making this move. As its statement says:

[…the getreading.co.uk website] has achieved unrivalled market leading penetration in the area – in the last year monthly unique users have grown by 68% (Jan-Oct 213 to Jan-Oct 2014) and the site continues to show phenomenal audience growth.

In its report, Press Gazette quotes Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, from the company’s announcement:

This is a bold digital-only publishing transformation that will re-establish us as a growing media business that delivers the best quality journalism to our digital-savvy audience. We wholeheartedly believe that the future of our business here in Berkshire is online and this is an important and pioneering step that might, in time, be applicable to other existing markets or indeed new ones.

Bold indeed, with the inevitable human cost – 26 job losses in Berkshire (50 in total if you include the other closures, according to reports). The flip side of that is “the creation of around 10 new digital editorial roles and two digital commercial roles,” says Trinity Mirror in its announcement.

The type of hard commercial decisions made that will lead to the closure of seven print newspapers are confronting media companies across the UK and elsewhere – at all levels, nationally, regionally and locally – as trends continue to show the inexorable decline in print and the increasing growth in digital content that meets the preferences and needs of contemporary consumers who want to consume content wherever and whenever they want, with whatever device they wish, comment on and share that content with their networks, repurpose it, create additional insights from it, and more.

The move to digital is indeed inevitable as is the consequent human cost in lost jobs where current skills clearly aren’t what the media companies need as they evolve in the new digital-only environment to survive and grow.

Does it mean there is no place for print any more? Not necessarily – looking at it purely in commercial terms, if your market analysis, business plan and the numbers add up, you may have a workable proposition.

And The Guardian’s report on the Berkshire closures includes this:

The Reading Chronicle, which has been published since 1825, will become the town’s only print title. Editor Lesley Potter said it was a sad day for those losing their jobs and for the people of Reading.

“We have been fierce rivals over the years, but we have always had a healthy respect for one another. We at the Reading Chronicle have absolutely no intention of abandoning print.”

You have to feel a touch of sadness at developments like this even as they mark another milestone in the transition of news and information, how it’s produced and presented to readers, and what they do with it.

So print newspapers gradually vanish but they continue online in name and purpose, mirroring the look, feel and presentation of their analogue forbears.

It’s called progress.

Scotland referendum results via WhatsApp and more

Yes / No

Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will not be the same no matter what happens in Scotland today as citizens there cast their votes in a referendum to decide whether Scotland will separate from the UK and become an independent country, or not.

The campaigning is done; now it’s up to the voters of Scotland to decide what they want for their country and the union with England that’s been in place since 1707.

Obviously media of all types – mainstream, social – and from all over the world are devoting huge time and resources to coverage of an event that has got the world’s attention especially in countries where the flames of separatism may be further fanned on the outcome in Scotland.

I’ll be following events as time permits during the day on TV and online. It’s once the polls close at 10pm tonight that interest will be most strong as the votes are counted with the first results to be declared expected sometime around 3am on Friday morning.

What appeals to me is the idea of key news as it breaks coming to me in a way that lets me focus just on that and gives me just the facts. I can choose whether to look for more detail, if I want, whether that’s online or via more traditional news channels.

So an idea from Channel 4 News in the UK is most interesting – broadcast breaking news on the results as it happens, directly to your smartphone via WhatsApp and Snapchat:

[…] We’re going to publish all of our best content, as well as live updates, via Snapchat and Whatsapp, from the moment the polls close on Thursday night right up to when the results are announced on Friday morning – ahead of publishing it anywhere else.

That last sentence is most interesting: “ahead of publishing it anywhere else.” Before TV?

My interest is WhatsApp; here’s how to set it up:

WhatsApp the message INDYREF to 07768555671 and add us to your contacts list to sign up for all of our best overnight news and analysis, pictures and video, delivered to you ahead of all the other social networks.
If you change your mind, WhatsApp STOP to the same number.

I’d added C4News to my WhatsApp and can’t wait to see how this plays out.

C4News

It’s great to see such innovation from mainstream broadcasters, especially communication methods that clearly show the broadcaster not only gets audience preferences by demographic according to social medium but also is able to execute an idea well.

Channel 4 is not alone in this. BBC News, for instance, announced this week that its content will be available on smartphone instant messaging platform LINE. Earlier this year, the BBC experimented with WhatsApp and WeChat in English and Hindi.

And Sky News launched its Stand Up Be Counted initiative, described as “a place for 16 – 25 year olds to safely upload and share the videos, pictures or blogs they make on the issues that matter most to them.” It’s been a very active place in relation to the Scottish referendum.

Innovation really is thriving.

(Via Journalism.co.uk; picture at top via The Guardian.)

Weighing up the worth of sharing AP content or not

Retweet to your followers?

A news item on Techmeme caught my eye, so I clicked to read it.

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website,” the headline said, linking to a report by the Associated Press about a lawsuit against Oracle filed by the US state of Oregon alleging some pretty serious malfeasance on Oracle’s part over a health care website.

It’s the kind of business story that interests me, and one I tend to share on Twitter as some of my community there might also be interested in it. It’s also the kind of thing I might share in my Flipboard magazine – which, if I choose, can also re-share that share across Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook – to bring it to a wider audience. It might even become a news item or discussion topic for the weekly business podcast I co-host.

Much depends on the topic, who it’s about, which publication it’s in, how credible and timely it is, how well presented the story is, etc.

I don’t especially seek out stories or reports by the AP. Yet I encounter AP reports a lot, either direct reports filed by an AP journalist like this one, or as a newswire story reported in another online publication.

(AP) Orgeon sues Oracle...

In whatever case, as with all sharing of content published online by others, I’m mindful of copyright.

But get a load of the AP’s copyright statement at the foot of this story (and in every story on their website).

AP copyright text

The yellow highlight in the screenshot is my emphasis of the off-putting wording:

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I’m not a lawyer, but that looks to me like the AP won’t allow the kind of sharing I do across social networks, eg, retweeting a link to their story, never mind any content from it. Wouldn’t that be regarded as “broadcasting”?

That’s not what they intend, surely?

Well, take a look at the terms of use referenced in the full footer statement, in particular numbers 5 and 6:

AP Terms of Use

(Number 6 even mentions ‘fax’ which makes me think this wording was written in the command-and-control heyday of the mid- to late-90s and unchanged since.)

I’d say number 5 makes it clear that this is what they intend. Even retweeting a link on Twitter isn’t something they’d like you to do by the looks of it:

5. Except as provided in this agreement, you may not copy, reproduce, publish, transmit, transfer, sell, rent, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, repost, perform, display, or in any way commercially exploit the Materials carried on this site, nor may you infringe upon any of the copyrights or other intellectual property rights contained in the Materials. You may not remove or alter, nor cause to be removed or altered, any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices or visual marks and logos from the Materials.

I suppose the key words here are “commercially exploit” which I guess means making money from the AP’s intellectual property without permission, recognizing their rights or paying them for usage.

Yet surely there are better ways in communicating such intent that don’t leave you feeling that whatever you do to amplify their story under the fair use or fair dealing aspects of copyright laws, you should probably look over your shoulder just in case you see a lawyer bearing down on you.

I contrast this unfriendly attitude with that of an arch-competitor of the AP – Reuters.

Reuters actively encourages you to share its content!

Look at this same story, for instance, as reported by Reuters on its website – with social share buttons arrayed at the top:

(Reuters) Oregon sues Oracle...

Not only that, the footer in the story repeats those social share buttons and also tells you how many of your friends have recommended the story on Facebook and/or urges you to be the first to do so, as it does in every news story on the Reuters website.

Reuters encouraging sharing...

And not a copyright notice or terms of use link anywhere except among general site links in a specific area at the very bottom of the website, each of which is written in far less draconian language. Much more concise and contemporary, too.

Comparing these two different approaches to creating and publishing copyrighted content that others inevitably would wish to share, which one gives you confidence in sharing with your social online communities? Which one behaves like trusting you is the default rather than the other way around? At a time of continuing evolution of mainstream media and how people use online to get, consume and share their news, which one appears equally confident in making content available online that will be shared and so actively encourages it?

In essence, which one is the publisher who gets it about content-sharing, trends, behaviours and the social web?

I know which one gives me that confidence.

PS: As it happens, I shared the AP story on Google+ as I wanted to highlight some of the text that I couldn’t do in Twitter (more than 140 characters). Plus my community there is, broadly, more tech-oriented and so I thought I might get some interesting comments back. None yet though…

FIR Interview: Jay Lauf, Publisher, Quartz magazine

In September 2012, Quartz entered the evolving mainstream media landscape with its offering, a digital business magazine intended primarily for consumption on tablets and other mobile devices.

There is no print edition.

Quartz

In the eighteen months since the launch of Quartz – what it described as “a new type of publication in the new global economy for a new class of global business executive” – the digital magazine now reaches five million readers globally, according to publisher Jay Lauf, with 42 percent of this number outside the US, illustrating the strong international attraction of the magazine.

On the advertising front – Quartz’ revenue model is based on attracting the right advertisers that enable the magazine to be available free to readers – there are now over 50 international blue-chip companies participating, according to Lauf, ranging from car makers such as Porsche, Land Rover and Cadillac; to Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Bank of America and UBS in the financial sector; Siemens, Boeing, GE and Exxon in global industrials; and luxury goods makers like Ralph Lauren and Rolex.

In this FIR Interview, co-host Neville Hobson spoke with Jay Lauf in a wide-ranging conversation that includes Lauf’s assessment of the media landscape of which Quartz is a disruptive part, how Quartz leverages the social web, and the future of print (“I don’t believe print will completely die out,” he says); and an assessment of Quartz’ advertising model that, certainly from a reader’s perspective, is unlike most other advertising-supported digital media – with Quartz, you won’t find a pop-up ad, a flashing banner, or a sudden auto-playing video: instead, you have discreet and, often, elegant advertising that feels part of the magazine.

The conversation also covered brand journalism (with a look at the Wall Street Journal’s model of experimentation in this area), and the future for the mainstream media where the barriers to entry (and exit) in this evolving, tumultuous landscape have never been lower.

Listen Now:

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About our Conversation Partner

Jay LaufJay Lauf is Publisher of Quartz and SVP of Atlantic Media. In his role, he oversees Quartz’s business operations and acts as a senior advisor to Atlantic Media on corporate initiatives.

Lauf assumed the role at Quartz when the digital, global, business news publication launched in September 2012. Under Lauf, Quartz’s innovative advertising has garnered awards and honors from Digiday, AdWeek, the Headliner awards, Deadline Club and more.

Prior to his role at Quartz, Lauf led The Atlantic’s revitalization as its Publisher. Under his direction, the publication attained its first profit in decades and transitioned The Atlantic to a “digital-first” brand earning the label from Ad Age: “an ultra-modern, multi-platform juggernaut”.

Lauf has twice been named one of “The Most Intriguing People in Media” by minOnline (2010 & 2013), “Publisher of the Year” by AdWeek (2012), a part of the “Digital Team of the Year” by minOnline (2012) and “Publishing Executive of the Year” by AdAge (2010).

Connect with Jay on Twitter: @jlauf.

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(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)