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Times Public Editor Calls BS

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Boom_70, Feb 11, 2007.

  1. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Interesting column in Times today from Public Editor. A few weeks ago an above fold story proclaims that more women are living single. What story did not tell you was data inluded 15/16 and 17 year olds --most of whom are living with their parents still.

    The Public Editor
    Can a 15-Year-Old Be a ‘Woman Without a Spouse’?
    THE opening paragraph of the article sounded like grown-up stuff: “For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.”

    It was a statistic that put the story on a fast track to the front page, providing a noteworthy benchmark for a well-established trend. But the new majority materialized only because The Times chose to use survey data that counted, as spouseless women, teenagers 15 through 17 — almost 90 percent of whom were living with their parents.

    Major newspapers and broadcast and cable news programs picked up on this tipping point, spotted by Sam Roberts, a veteran Times reporter who writes frequently about census data. A few media outlets stopped to question the logic of including teenage females, before going on to discuss the Jan. 16 article’s interesting exploration of the “newfound freedom” for women that was reflected by the new majority.

    Several readers, including some who perceived the article as an attack on family values, challenged the inclusion of 15-year-olds, in e-mails to me and in comments posted on the Web version of The Times. “The article is a little deceiving because it is based on the percentage of women 15 and older who are not married,” wrote one reader, noting that “it’s not even legal to marry at 15” in many states. I couldn’t agree more.

    The failure to prominently and clearly explain the methodology of the survey used was one of several journalistic lapses that I found in the handling of this story. The single passing reference to the range of ages included in the overall data from the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey, or A.C.S., came below the midpoint of the article. Given the teenage “women” issue, editors should have made sure at least that the age range of the survey was more fully explained before the continuation of the article on an inside page.

    The eye-catching assertion that more women in America were living without a husband than with one obviously vaulted this article to Page One. “It is true that the 51 percent benchmark probably lifted this story onto the front page,” Jack Kadden, a deputy national editor who oversaw its preparation, wrote in an e-mail. “It is certainly what caught our attention.”

    It was discouraging to find yet another article with an unusual angle that didn’t seem to encounter many skeptical editors as it made its way to the front page. “At the Page One meeting there was agreement that the story was especially newsworthy because of the for-the-first-time-more-living-alone-than-with-a-spouse angle,” Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, wrote to me in an e-mail. “No questions about the methodology or age categories were discussed.

    Readers deserved this kind of more tempered perspective back on Jan. 16 — and a more tempered story, displayed on an inside page
  2. Pringle

    Pringle Active Member

    Time magazine debunked this one, too, on the basis of misleading stats.
  3. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Many are saying it was a typical Times attack on family values. They may be right.
  4. Pringle

    Pringle Active Member

    I think it was just representative of papers jumping on anything that looks like a trend story.
  5. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Yeah but you really expect better from the Times.
  6. Pringle

    Pringle Active Member

    If the Wall Street Journal published a story trumpeting the discovery that women say they are happier when in the home, then it was discovered that the WSJ had manipulated the statistics to advance what could be considered a conservative point of view, then liberals would rightly criticize the WSJ.

    What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

    The Times should be more careful, and it should particularly be more careful when its sloppy reporting would seem to validate people's concern that it advances a particular political agenda.
  7. Webster

    Webster Well-Known Member

    I fail to see how this is an "attack on family values" much less a "typical" attack by the Times.
  8. leo1

    leo1 Active Member

    me, too. it's either sloppy or lazy journalism. seems unlikely that the writer and editors had an agenda. why they included 15-to-17 year olds i don't know, but obviously they dropped the ball on this one.
  9. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    To me, this just speaks to the gigantic boner the Times has over trend stories. If I had three friends whose wives were living on the upper West Side and had made a decision to breast feed their 5-year-olds, I could write a Times trend story about the "growing movement of mothers who breast feed late into adolescence" and possible get a book deal out of it.

    One of the biggest problems in journalism is that reporters and editors rarely discuss how the data for these kind of stories was gathered. It's true for political stories, true for census stories, true for financial stories. If I were an editor, ever story like this would run with a box that explained how the data was gathered. People always joke about how reality has a "liberal bias" but if you think about it, it's easy for surveys, especially political surveys, to be inaccurate, and yet we base so much of reporting off of these stupid polling stories.

    Let's say you call 1,000 people, because statisticians say you can get an accurate representation of what the general population thinks by talking to 1,000 people. Well, you have to pick a time to call people, so mostly likely that's at night, because that's when most people are home (except you eliminate those people who work at night, and lots of younger people, because they're more likely to be out). You probably have to call 5,000 people just to get 1,000 to participate in your poll, because who the hell wants to talk to someone from Zogby or CBS or the NY Times/NBC polling group when they could be watching LOST or Grey's Anatomy? (Lot of lonely people, that's who.) Keep in mind your database likely also doesn't include cell phone numbers (and more and more people, especially young people, don't have a home phone, they just have a cell or Blackberry).

    So when the polls say Hillary has a 9-point lead over the next challenger, keep in mind who is telling you that. People who have home phones, are home at night, are willing to put down their book, turn off the TV, ignore dinner or their kids, and talk to a polling person, and admit they like Hillary. At the very least, you should point this kind of thing out in the story. (But it rarely happens because it dilutes the phony "authority" of the the nut graph, even if it's more truthful.)

    Obviously that's a little different than stories based off census numbers, but you see far more stupid political journalism based on political polling, and rarely do public editors point that out.
  10. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    I think they had no choice but to include everyone who CAN get married.

    And since in some states you can be under 18 and married, they had to account for these people.

    Where they dropped the ball was not making it clear from the outset that these girls were included.

    Also, they ran a chart with the story that tracked the trend over time. So if the young girls were used in the previous census reports, The Times had no choice but to use them this time, for consistency's sake.

    Everyone is making a big deal about the "51%", which admittedly is misleading.

    But the real story is the trend over time toward more women living without a spouse.

    And that's not misleading at all.
  11. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    The Freakonomics guy would argue that this kind of things proves that the Times doesn't understand math. He'd have a decent argument.
  12. Beef03

    Beef03 Active Member

    Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that.
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