When Seton Hill University(SHU) was rated as the second worst investment, the question of credibility was raised. The fact that the media picked up on this questionable study and capitalized on the information also highlighted on important ethical journalistic questions.
“This is an excellent example that demostrates how we need be alert and pay attention to how the results of research studies are interpreted. Who is doing the research and why?” said Edith Cook, SHU’s institutional researcher.
It’s clear, from further study, that PayScale’s calculations are not the most reliable sources of information. Most students, who struggle through paying for college, are all likely to believe that they are being scammed at some level. So it makes sense these articles gained that much attention so fast.
Also, journalists don’t necessarily have the best reputation for fairly presenting facts. Any statistic can be manipulated to represent any bias. Even if a journalist isn’t purposefully trying to represent a bias, they may not necessarily understand the statistics or the biases of those conducting the research.
We are often frustrated by the depiction of the media because as young, idealistic journalists, we are not fans of being the enemy. There is no doubt that journalists don’t always make the best, most credible choices, but there are also many dedicated journalists struggling to make the truth available to the public.
Readers, however, don’t have to to be chained to what a reporter writes. There are definite signs that an article might not be telling the whole story.
Take, for example, one of the articles about the ROI ratings from PayScale: “This College Is The Biggest Rip-Off In America” by Abby Rogers from Business Insider. The story comes in at under 200 words and only recaps the website’s infographic on “The Worst Schools for ROI.”
If you find yourself asking a lot of questions, you probably are not alone. The article is not clear about how or why the ROI is calculated. It doesn’t show any attempt to contact anyone but PayScale, and even then, it doesn’t seem to look any further into PayScale than the infographics for the best and worst schools.
Compared to another article on the same topic, “What Do Your Grads Make? Students and Parents Deserve to Know,” by Kevin Carey “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” you can immediately see a difference. The article, even though it is an editorial, has gone into much more detail about PayScale’s practices. Still a better article would have had opposing opinions.
“It is important to be careful not to over-interpret any one source of information, however, and to keep in mind that school choice is one of many factors that relate to starting salary,” said Cook, who examined PayScale’s practices closely after SHU’s rating was announced.
There is plenty of pressure for journalists to produces stories that will attract readers quickly. A sensational story about “rip off” schools is bound to draw in readers and and cause conversation. Try to remember that these journalists are, in their defense, trying to sell papers because journalism is a business after all.