Friday, December 30, 2011

Don't bogart that calculator

Copyeds, still searching for a last-minute New Year's resolution? You've come to the right place. Here are two:

1) Never put the alleged "street value" of naughty drugs in the hed
2) Never pass a story containing an estimated "street value" without making sure that the cops are placed on record for the rates they use in calculating "street value." (If there's a fivefold change, of course, you'll want to see that the cops also get to explain that.)

Here's why:

Police say officers confiscated more than 100 pounds of marijuana from two houses. ... Authorities say they found the marijuana -- which they say has a street value of more than $1 million -- along with heat lamps and other equipment used to grow pot.

Let's round down to an even $1 million and 100 pounds (contents may have settled during shipment, or whatever). A million divided by a hundred is $10,000 per pound, or $625 per ounce. In the "His Girl Friday" days, reporters would have had shady underworld acquaintances who could provide current market quotes on short notice, but failing that, we could look into the archives, where we'd find guesses of $1,100 to $2,000 a pound, depending on which agency did the speculating and where.

Breathless reporting of "street value" predates the War on Editing, true, but it's another chunk of evidence that journalism needs more layers of processing, not fewer.



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