Monday, November 13, 2006

Fake news! Got your fake news here!

The yard signs are yellowing, the election analyses are growing mold, but the abuses of survey data haven't gone away. Here's a front-page tale an editor should have stopped because -- well, because it's made-up. It tortures some data until they admit to a few crimes they haven't been charged with, adds a touch of false dichotomy and garnishes with Chamber of Commerce cliche:

Carolinas newcomers find friendly reception

The majority of Carolinas newcomers say they're getting a friendly reception from the communities they're moving to.

Really? And we know that because?

That's according to this year's Charlotte Observer/WCNC News Carolinas Poll, which found that 1 in 5 of the Carolinians interviewed said they considered themselves newcomers.

Among those newcomers, 57 percent gave their communities high marks for being welcoming.

If your first instinct is to scan to the end of the story and find the numbers that support this, good for you. But don't hold your breath. They aren't there. You can politely ask somebody at the newspaper to provide them or try to dig 'em up yourself, but either way, that's strike one. Doesn't matter that the story's an acknowledged piece of fluff; if it's going to say the numbers support something, it has to provide the numbers. This is a rule. There are no exceptions.

What you want to know, of course, is how big a sample that "1 in 5" represents. Let's be generous and take one-fifth of the poll's total N (917). We'll round it up to 184. So our margin of sampling error -- let's not always see the same hands, now -- right, 7.2 points. So do we know what a "majority" of "newcomers" think? Maybe.

What exactly is a "Carolinas newcomer?" Hard to say. Sounds as if the poll asked people whether they considered themselves newcomers, but it doesn't say "new to what?" So let's see where our two Real People-type foreigners come from:

"Here, people definitely seem to have more manners. I'm finding it that way so far, anyway," said Heather Lazette, who moved to Rock Hill from Wilmington in June after living in New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and other states.

... Francois Brown, a newcomer to the Matthews area, lived in Charlotte for a few years following time in Fayetteville and his upbringing in New York.

One came from Wilmington. One's a "newcomer" to the Matthews area after living in Charlotte (that'll be the "Charlotte" on the nameplate, if you're scoring along at home) and Fayetteville. So is a "Carolinas newcomer" some sort of Yankee, not yet convinced that iced tea ought to come with so much endogenous sugar the spoon stands up straight, or somebody who's been living in the state for some unspecified number of years before moving to the World-Class City?

But even though the poll painted a positive picture of the welcome that new residents receive, another sentiment has come forth in recent anonymous postings on the Observer's blog for newcomers, New Around Town.

"Some natives don't have an appreciation for those from different parts of the world," one poster wrote. "... It was not until I started meeting people from other states that I started to make real friends."

[Villainous music up.] Is there a lazier form of reporting than quoting people from your blog? Any standards in place for when you use unnamed (and unknown) sources, or is Page 1A too news-free to worry about such trivia?

Tom Hanchett is the historian at Levine Museum of the New South, which holds occasional events for newcomers. He has found that those who believe the Charlotte area is unfriendly are in the minority.

Not that our poll found much to speak of either way, but how was it again that he "found" this?

Will the influx of newcomers dilute the native politeness and Southern hospitality? Hanchett thinks that's unlikely.

The Master Narrative comes to the rescue. You can go about your business.

Seriously, though. Was this bit of civic back-patting worth the 1A space?


Blogger Strayhorn said...

This sort of chamber-of-commerce BS has become all too common in the Triangle papers, too. For clues as to why this has happened, just check out who's running the full-page ads in the Sunday editions. If there's a paper in NC that isn't beholden to the real estate/developer crowd, I don't know about it.

Well, The Independent. But it's not worth reading except for the unintentional hilarity of the dating classified.

8:20 AM, November 14, 2006  

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