Friday, February 9, 2007

Rockford TV newscast touts worthless "poll"

On its 10 p.m. newscast Thursday night, WIFR-TV reported the results of a worthless poll it conducted on its Web site earlier in the day on the matter of the drunken-driving arrest of Rockford City Administrator Jim Ryan.

The poll asked what kind of administrative sanctions the city should impose on Ryan if he's convicted: the loss of his job, a suspension, a requirement to perform special public service, or a pass on the grounds that his "embarrassment is enough."

A plurality of poll respondents favored firing Ryan. But that doesn't mean the results would be the same if public opinion had been measured in a survey conducted by acceptable scientific methods.

The proliferation of news media Web sites has spawned an epidemic of such worthless polls. Oh, they're innocuous enough when the questions are as trivial as whether respondents like or dislike the harsh winter weather. But when the poll poses questions on serious matters or public policy, the exercise is irresponsible. And then, when the results are reported in an on-air newscast, the irresponsibility is only heightened.

A disclaimer that the poll is "unscientific" (or, as WIFR notes in fine print on its Web site: "The opinions expressed in this poll do not necessarily represent the collective views of the community.") doesn't absolve the survey's sponsor of irresponsibility. When numeric values from an unscientific poll are reported as news, the public has been ill-served.

In a poll conducted this morning by The Rascal, 100 percent of respondents said WIFR should be ashamed of itself.

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