Signs and Wonders
Nate Silver
Getty Images/Photo by Paul Zimmerman
Nate Silver

Signs and Wonders 11.02

Newsworthy

Mouth, meet money. Political polling statistician The New York Times’ Nate Silver bet MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough $1,000 that Barack Obama will win reelection. Scarborough had criticized Silver’s math, saying, “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a toss-up right now is such an ideologue. They’re jokes.” Scarborough was referring to Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, which now gives Obama an 81 percent chance of reelection.

Bottomed out? Newspaper readership has been in precipitous decline for the past 25 years. In 1984, daily newspaper circulation in America was around 64 million. Today, it’s only about 44 million. That’s even worse than it sounds, because since 1984 the population of the United States has grown by 75 million, to about 310 million. But the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported this week that newspaper circulation was essentially the same in the six months ending Sept. 30, compared to the same period a year ago. Does that mean the decline has bottomed out? Not likely. Interest in news always gets a bit of a spike during presidential election years. Also, these numbers now include online subscriptions, so long as they are paid. “Paid digital,” as ABC calls such subscriptions, rose to 15.3 percent of the total, compared to 9.8 percent of the total in 2011. That means print numbers are falling by roughly an equal amount. More than 300 papers now charge for digital, with 70 of Gannett’s 80 community papers making the switch and McClatchy’s 30 just beginning a similar rollout.

Religious liberty on campus. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a student who found his right to distribute pro-life literature restricted by Louisiana State University. The student wanted to hand out material as part of October’s Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity. LSU officials said she could do so only in the school’s “Free Speech Alley.” “By limiting the distribution of material and free speech to less than 1 percent of the campus, Louisiana State University is violating the constitutionally protected freedoms of students who should be free to express themselves on the sidewalks and open spaces at the university,” ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp said. Lots of colleges have these so-called “free speech” areas, so if Sharp and his client win this case, it could have implications for free speech areas on campuses all across the country.

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Anti-climactic? All week the stock markets and the political pundits have been waiting for the October jobs report. After all that anticipation, the report itself was sort of anti-climactic. This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that unemployment remained essentially unchanged at 7.9 percent. The 7.9 percent rate is definitely not great, but it’s the second month in a row below 8 percent. The BLS also said the economy created 171,000 new jobs, which is above average for the year. Again, not great, but an improvement over months past and a trend in the right direction. I think the new jobs number and not the unemployment rate will be the big news out of this month’s report. Neither candidate has much time to spin these numbers between now and Tuesday, but they do play into President Obama’s “stay the course, don’t turn back now” narrative. So I would say they help Obama more than Mitt Romney, though I don’t see these numbers as much of a game changer either way.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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