Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Quality Control Plummets at Local Daily; Advocates Decry Embarrassing Front-Page Mistakes

It was 6:15 on Tuesday morning and we hadn't fully ingested our first cup of coffee when we settled in to read the front-page story headlined "Fewer teen births in Texas still too many, advocates say." It seemed like "good news," and sure enough, the local daily reported that teenagers have been birthin' babies at notably declining rates for more than a decade in Texas and Harris County, corresponding to a national trend (not exactly "news," in the sense of "newness," but what the hey). We read the story down to what those in the journalism biz call the "jump," then we shifted our one good eye to the two small graphics accompanying the story. The first clearly showed that, yes, Texas' overall teen pregnancy rate had fallen from more than 40 per 1,000 (whether that's Texans or "teen" female Texans wasn't clear) to well below 30. Then we glanced at the other graphic, which clearly showed that the pregnancy rate for Texas females ages 9 (?!) to 17 rose steadily for all three major ethno-racial demographic groupings from 1999 to 2003.

Uh oh. We immediately began checking ourselves for signs of early-onset Alzheimer's, trying to calculate the percentages in our head and scanning the story to see if there were some statistical nuance that had escaped our attention (like we said, it was early in the morning and we hadn't achieved our requisite threshold of caffeine-induced alertness). But no. We looked again, then again, and finally settled on the explanation that, hard as it was to believe, someone at the paper had effed-up big-time and gotten the numbers ass-backwards. Could it be? At that point it was getting to be too damn much work to casually read the morning paper, so we tossed it aside and got on about the day.

This morning our suspicions were confirmed when the paper re-ran the graphic in its corrections box with the explanation that the numbers published Tuesday "correlated" to the wrong dates (and, y'know, once you start "correlating," the margin for error rises exponentially.)

So teen pregnancies actually have dropped across the board. Whew. It wasn't us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well things like that happen in the newspaper just like mistakes happen in the REAL world.