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Sensationalism trumps accuracy in Channel 10 news story News hits, PR musings

Last night, News 10 NBC aired an incredibly sensational and inaccurate story about the research that has been conducted by an RIT professor.

The piece focused on a Greece pastor and parent who was upset with some of the questions that were asked in an RIT survey about the Internet habits of local adolescents. He was particularly concerned about questions in the survey related to online pornography and voiced his concern to the Greece School Board in November 2007.

The survey, which was spearheaded by RIT professor Sam McQuade and taken by students in 14 area school districts, was designed to determine the nature and extent of cybercrime offense and victimization among youths. The RIT-led Rochester Regional Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative (which is made up of a number of organizations, including more than 30 area school districts and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) will use the results to formulate a community-wide strategy to protect our children online.

I tried to convince reporter Catherine Varnum that the station was taking an inappropriate angle to the story by explaining several things:

1) The parents of every student who took the survey were notified in advance by a letter from the school district.
2) The letter included a link to sample survey questions and gave parents the opportunity to request that their child not participate.
3) McQuade’s contact information was included in the letter for parents. More than 20,000 parents were notified in 14 various school districts, and McQuade received only five inquiries—but no complaints.

In my opinion, the criticisms of one parent out of the thousands of parents whose children took the survey is not news. But News 10 proceeded anyway. When the story led its evening broadcast, the words “School Pornography Survey” were plastered on the screen. Behind the anchors desk was a screen that contained the RIT logo and the words “Pornography Survey.”

The introduction to the story goes on to say that the questions in the survey focused on pornography and some parents may not even know that their children took the survey.

Both statements are misleading, if not outright false.

McQuade had explained to Varnum that the survey was about much more than pornography. In fact, less than 5 percent of the questions on the survey dealt with pornography or sexual-related issues. He also explained that the parents of each student were notified by mail prior to their children taking the survey.

Thanks to University News Director Paul Stella, who voiced his displeasure to News 10’s news director, the inaccuracies have been corrected in their online story. However, the video stream of the newscast is still up on its Web site.

It’s disappointing that such groundbreaking research, which is being conducted as part of an effort to keep our children safe online, is being wrongly attacked.

  1. Greece Taxpayer
    May 13

    Greece Taxpayer Awareness

    For additional real inside information on the Greece School District and the mishandling of the NYS Audit please visit:


    Smarter Citizens for Accountability & Truth in the Schools

  2. Herb
    May 17

    Is a full copy of the McQuade survey online anywhere to be viewed by parents? Hilton's website references RRCSEI's site for a copy of it, but I could not find it there, only survey results. Perhaps they removed it. I would be interested in seeing a copy of it myself rather than having to rely on news stories. Thanks if you can help me with this.

  3. Silence DoGood
    May 18

    Part of the problem and issue with the survey was this: I believe that "full disclosure" was legally used but certainly not ethically used. I saw the survey, I saw the notice out to parents. A very surface level set of questions was put out on the materials given to parents.

    Could they have dug further to get "full disclosure". Yes they could have, BUT, it required some digging, more than a few clicks to get there and some motivation on the part of the parent.

    Is it the parents fault, to a point yes. BUT (you have to love the word "but"), the more aggressive questions were not outlined without effort of a significant nature on the part of the parents.

    So yes, legal full disclosure, but it certainly appears on the surface that it was an attempt to "soft soap" the controversial nature of the survey.

    Most of the parents I spoke to, were very displeased with learning more detailed questions and decidedly felt they had been deceived.

    The end results will be this: In Greece at least, anything the school board sends out will have to be vetted by the parents more thoroughly. The school board did not screen this survey, made numerous "in-loco parentis" assumptions to allow these type of questions to be asked.

    So while the topics on the survey have validity, I do question the ethics of full disclosure.

  4. McQuade respond
    May 19

    [...] May19  John McQuade responds to Internet Survey concernsIn my last post, I questioned News 10 NBC’s handling of a story about a Greece pastor who voiced his concern [...]

  5. John
    May 19

    Herb, Silence and others...we decided to reach out directly to Dr. McQuade and give him the opportunity to respond to your questions. Please see "McQuade responds to Internet Survey concerns" at this link: www.rit.edu/news/tigerbeat/?p=446

  6. Yetta Desautels
    Jul 01

    Great story and example

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