Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Let's Play the Streetcar Word Association Game

Modern Streetcar on display Fountain Square, Cincinnati.
- A modern Streetcar on display at Fountain Square Spring 2011.

There's no doubt that the topic of the Cincinnati Streetcar is a controversial subject. Two years ago a special interest opposition group lead by City Council wash out Chris Smitherman brought forward a misleading amendment meant to stop not just the streetcar, but any and all passenger rail projects within the city limits. They lost. Now, they're back and so is the press coverage. Yes, the same folks who brought you (and lost) the infamous Issue 9 election have brought forth another similar amendment (even though they admitted defeat last time and said they were done). As the political issues surrounding the streetcar continue, so does the press coverage.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I support the streetcar. You also might remember that I've been critical of the press coverage the project receives - like when I took up 700 WLW's Bill Cunningham's challenge to go to OTR in the middle of the night and somehow survived. Bill never answered my emails. The talk radio slams the streetcar day in, day out, but the Cincinnati Enquirer, the largest newspaper in the region should be covering it fairly and accurately, right? Right!? After all, it's print journalism - a medium typically held in a higher regard to the talking head "journalism" of television and radio. Well, the Enquirer's coverage is highly debatable.

Modern Streetcar on display Fountain Square, Cincinnati.

At first I thought I was just being blinded by my own support for the project. A lot of the fellow supporters around me slammed the Enquirer's coverage. As a Journalism student though, I understood where a lot of their articles were coming from. Yeah, they could've done more research, but for the most part it seemed like people were over-reacting. Then it got worse. The Enquirer would repeatedly only quote streetcar opposition leaders and maybe only one supporter if at all. The Enquirer lost its credibility with me though when one of their journalists claimed he could walk the streetcar route faster than the streetcar could travel. He was debunked by simple math. The Enquirer responded that they were positive their article couldn't be wrong (so simple math must be?).

Modern Streetcar on display Fountain Square, Cincinnati.

They took their expert coverage to the next level though by introducing the "Streetcar Word Association Game." Yes, they published an "article" about wanting to play a game with readers. You can check it out here. However, I understand if you don't want to click that and go to their site. You'll probably first be bombarded by a Furniture Fair ad, then have to wait for their site to load, then you'll have to click out of the pop-up ads and if their site hasn't crashed you can then read the "article." If you don't want to deal with that, I'll do you the favor and quote it here:

Per the Cincinnati Enquirer on 9/1/2011: "Play the streetcar word association game."
"What's the first word that pops into your head when you hear the word 'streetcar?'

A proposal to bring a streetcar to Cincinnati has generated a lot of rhetoric. We want to cut through that with a word association game.

In the comments section below, leave one word that you closely associate with the streetcar. We'll compile the results into a word cloud, similar to this one."
"This one" linked to a "word cloud" they made about musical acts people wanted to see in Cincinnati. It has since disappeared. As the afternoon after that "article" was published wore on, it became apparent that the supporters were leading in the one word race. I had a suspicion that the article might eventually disappear or never be followed up on. So I started an Excel sheet with a list of the words left by users in the comment section. At the same time, in the back of my head, I thought: "Nah, they'll make the word cloud and I'm wasting my time." I kind of forgot about it until yesterday when I realized they had never in fact followed up with the article. No word cloud, just nothing. No one had commented on it since the 2nd of September - so I finished tallying the words and decided to finish it for them. No need to thank me Enquirer, it was my pleasure. Here's how the world cloud would've turned out had the Enquirer actually followed up on their "article:"

Streetcar Word Bubble.

I'm not saying they intentionally forgot about making the word cloud, but since they didn't I wanted to show the actual results. While I'm a supporter, I included the words from people who didn't support the project (a full list can be found at the end of this post). I didn't include words that weren't real, multiple words combined into one or any sexual references. The last word cloud about concerts (before it disappeared) had been made about one day after its original article was published. It's been almost a week since the streetcar word association game was published.

I can see why the Enquirer does things like this. It encourages people to comment which means they'll come back to check their comments and debate with others. All that in turn leads to more page views and advertisements being seen. Ads bring in revenue. However, is that an excuse for this kind of "journalism?" In a day and age when print media needs to adapt or die, where is The Enquirer headed?

Modern Streetcar Interior

The Word Cloud was made with Wordle. As promised, here's the list of words that were featured in The Enquirer's comment section as well as how many times they were mentioned:

Jobs: 27
Debt: 1
Catalytic: 1
Bamboozle: 1
Growth: 5
Waste: 7
Boondoggle: 7
Revival: 1
History: 1
Debacle: 1
Horstman: 1
Progress: 43
Overdue: 1
Moneypit: 1
Development: 8
Necessary: 1
Wasteful: 2
Misguided: 1
Ridiculous: 1
Cincinnati: 1
Forward: 1
Beer: 1
Anderson: 1
Investment: 2
Electric: 1
Paradigm: 1
Progressive: 2
Scapegoat: 1
Important: 1
Vitality: 1
Clean: 1
Obsolete: 1
Stupid: 2
Subway: 1
Vintage: 1
Stella: 1
Luxurious: 1
Hole: 1
Subsidized: 1
Money: 1
Annoying: 1
Tuberculosis: 1
Believe: 1
Investment: 1
Future: 2
Pointless: 1
Approved: 1
Infrastructure: 2
Superfluous: 1
Outmoded: 1
Homicide: 1
Elitist: 1
Tax: 1
Transformative: 1
Fast: 1
Uncertain: 1
Smart: 2
Value: 1
Chiquita: 1
Mallory: 1
Spotless: 1
Bold: 1
Panophobia: 1
Envy: 1
Improvement: 2
Jealousy: 1
Competing: 1
Tampa: 1
Parasite: 1
Succubus: 1
Futuristic: 1
Fun: 1


Previous Update :: August 30, 2011 - "Crawling up the Left Side of Ohio to the Right Side of Indiana."


  1. I can't believe nobody said "desire."

  2. I always take the Enquirer's articles with a grain of salt. Whenever referring to the ballot initiative, they always say "the ballot initiative to stop the streetcar". IF they ever mention it will block all spending on all rail (even design and planning) they say something like "opponents of the amendment argue it could stop all rail projects for ten years" as if it is an opinion of the streetcar supporters. They choose their words very carefully with the intent of misleading the readers.

  3. despite these comments having no potential for any significance you could at least only choose the first post by a given author. otherwise that's no different than posting multiple words in the same comment, given that the spirit of the "game" is one word association.

  4. Anon,

    That's what I tried to do. However, while sifting through all 250 comments it would've been nearly impossible to keep track of every user. What I did do was if someone had a string of comments in a row or listed several words, I took the first one since technically that's what it asked for.

  5. I know it's a counter-factual statement, but I have a strong feeling that if "Boondoggle" or "Waste" had come out on top, they would have pasted a word cloud all over their website and Twitter streams.

  6. Wow, there is a great deal of useful data above!

  7. The streetcars are a good idea, but finishing our subway (which is actually far more complete than most know) is a GREAT idea. Why spend millions on duplicating above-ground metro, locking it into rails that must be maintained during winter, when we've got a 75% finished, perfectly good subway right beneath our feet? You've already covered the old I-71 tunnels, investigate the Norwood Lateral right of way and the downtown stations. Our 75-NL-71 loop is already there, just needs some vision to move that water main and install tracks to bring us into the 20(1st)th century...