So this happened.
I sat down to write about credibility and sources. I was procrastinating a teeny tiny bit and poking around online for a clever, pithy quote about credibility when boom…Virus Detected. Malware. Danger. DANGER.
Two hours later, malware successfully deleted without falling for the scam embedded in it, ten million cookies removed, blood pressure and heart rate returning to normal and I’m taking that as a sign.
Note to self: Credibility isn’t about clever quotes. In all seriousness, ascertaining the credibility of articles in online pubs is plain old-fashioned online detective work, coupled with some cynical thinking. The authors of my grad school textbook Blur (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010) say that there are many components to evaluating the value of a given source, so let’s get to it.
I’m digging in to an article about Ben Carson, published last week in The Huffington Post. The article captured my attention with this headline:
Ben Carson Is The Smartest Guy In The Room. And The Weirdest.
and is available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ben-carson-campaign-trail_560eccabe4b0af3706e0a39b
I like the enigmatic Carson but the guy seems to defy description or traditional labels, so the credibility of someone writing about him takes on some especially serious significance.
I found the article credible because of both the writer and because of his sources.
The story is written by one Scott Conroy who is described by HuffPo as:
Senior political reporter for The Huffington Post. He previously covered national campaigns for RealClearPolitics and CBS News and is the author of the forthcoming book, VOTE FIRST OR DIE, about the New Hampshire presidential primary.
So who is this Conroy character? And why do I find him credible?
Right now Conroy, who looks to be about twelve years old, is the new(ish) senior political writer for HuffPo after a multi-year stint at RealClearPolitics.
So is he an experienced journalist? Yes.
Does he qualify as an authority? Yes, again because he is well versed in the art of campaigning and this isn’t his first rodeo. I checked out his last gig at Realclearpolitics.com and found this:
Before joining RealClearPolitics, he held several positions at CBS News. He was the network’s embedded reporter for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and Sarah Palin’s VP campaign.
Let’s think too about the publisher of this story. The Huffington Post. Granted it was one of three possible pubs I could use for this post but…
The question of bias becomes interesting when you compare Conroy’s last two employers, HuffPo and RealClearPolitics. I know what I think about them but in the spirit of scholarly review I wanted some actual data. So I reviewed an assessment of readership available from the Pew Research Center for Media and Journalism.
The peeps at Pew assessed the political affiliations of online pub readership to draw conclusions about which group the publication is written for. I know, sounds like a lot of blah blah blah but it’s actually pretty cool so stay with me here.
In a nutshell the readers of HuffPo were found to be slightly left leaning.
OTOH RealClearPolitics wasn’t included in that study so I did more digging. On its website Realclearpolitics bills itself as centrist.
RealClearPolitics is the trusted, non-partisan, convener in a content-rich media environment; thoughtfully curating the best coverage from every angle of the day’s most critical issues.
BUT the website boasts only one testimonial and it is from Megyn Kelly at FOX News. Methinks that RealClearPolitcs may tilt slighty to the right. Interesting dichotomy. Really.
Got me wondering if a conservative reporter writes for a liberal publication does that increase the credibility of the writing or marginalize it? Probably easier to debate the chicken and the egg.
I’m going to leave that question for another time because my head still hurts from that whole malware drama. Regardless, from my perspective Conroy is as qualified as any and more than most.
Besides his campaign coverage, Conroy has written two books Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe (Nov 2, 2010) and the soon to be published Vote First or Die about the New Hampshire primary.
This writer can find nothing approximating peer-reviewed scholarly publications in re Mr. Conroy although he IS often quoted in The Washington Times and Politico. They are reasonably well-regarded in their own right but probably about as far from scholarly publications as you can possibly get.
One more plus on the credibility side, the online info about Scott Conroy is current and valid, including social media and an email address. The info for HuffPo is current and valid too, and much to my delight the article itself contains the correction to a relatively minor detail which appeals to my sense of accuracy and integrity.
Peer reviews notwithstanding Conroy turns the subject of quirky Ben Carson in to some solid journalism. Like this:
During a swing through the New Hampshire Seacoast region on Wednesday, Carson — who has never sought political office before — demonstrated a wide range of knowledge on national and world issues, at one point elucidating the differences between the YPG and PKK Kurdish factions as effortlessly as if he were explaining the groundbreaking surgery techniques that he once helped develop.
This is written in the style that Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) call Journalist as Witness. and in their words represent “the height of reliable news.” As we apply this to the Conroy story I completely agree.
If an experienced writer who is transparent about his own background and experience personally attends, documents and writes about a series of events – I am comfortable with the conclusions that he draws. I may or may not agree with his conclusions but he has given me enough factual basis to begin forming my own opinion. And I do love great writing which Conroy demonstrates beautifully.
I mean, how can you not respect reporting like this:
The room, at this point, remained quiet, as it does most of the time when Carson is on stage. It’s the only way you can hear him.
Finally, Conroy uses firsthand accounts a plenty. The authors of Blur (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010) write about sources as witnesses and it applies in this case.
Mary Collins, a British immigrant who plans to vote in her first New Hampshire primary in February after passing her American citizenship test, drove an hour and a half from the town of North Sutton to see Carson on the stump in Durham. Collins said that just like the candidate, she grew up in poverty without a father in her home and went on to become the first member of her family to earn a college degree.
Conroy is no mere blogger or self-proclaimed citizen journalist He is professional credible reporter who also happens to be a damn fine writer.
I don’t mean to be pejorative about bloggers (hypocritical much?) I mean, some of my best friends are bloggers but with a few exceptions most of them don’t have the chops, experience or resources to be considered a seriously credible source of info, particularly on the campaign trail. Can you say travel budget?
Overall, I found the article an interesting compelling read. It was written by a journalist with demonstrable expertise in this area and including interviews with other people in attendance. Doesn’t get much better than that. Conroy ends his article like this:
And with that, the most beguiling contender of the 2016 campaign smiled tightly, let out a little giggle, and walked out of the room.
And I’m just going to leave it at that.
Kovach, B., and Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Where Did This Come From? Blur. pp. 76 – 78. New York: Bloomsbury
Conroy, S. (date, year) Ben Carson Is The Smartest Guy In The Room. And The Weirdest. HuffingtonPost.com Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ben-carson-campaign-trail_560eccabe4b0af3706e0a39b
Conroy, S. Bio (undated) Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-conroy/(info re Conroy bio) Author? (date, year) title. HuffingtonPost.com Retrieved from
Conroy, S. Bio (undated) Realclearpolitics.com Retrieved from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/authors/scott_conroy
Realclearpolitics History. (June 2015) Retrieved from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/about.html
The Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media. (October 20, 2014) Ideological Placement of Each Sources Audience. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/pj_14-10-21_mediapolarization-08/ )