Friday, June 09, 2006

Think it through

We'd like to think all assertions in stories are true, but that doesn't mean they're all equal when it comes to abstracting out goodies for headlines. Today's case in point:

Site fills growing need
Rising number of aging baby boomers sparks more interest in services

Easiest things first: If you start with a general assertion in the main hed, you need to sharpen it in the deck. Go from vague to specific, not vague ("site," "need") to vague ("services").

How do you get the space for that? (Not that "adult day care" is all that much longer than "services," but...) That leads us to the causal assertion in the deck. The growing need, or the increased interest, or whatever, is sparked (ack!) by the rising number of aging baby boomers. Is it? Here's the eighth graf:

The increase in demand is driven by several factors: the aging of the baby boom generation, more retirees in town and more awareness of adult day care as an option to the traditional nursing home.

That's the writer's summary, not a source's. How good is the ground it rests on?

Data from the U.S. Census also show that the number of Columbians older than 65 rose fairly dramatically between 1990 and 2000, from 9,392 to 11,644, a 24 percent increase. As that population continues to age, it can put an unexpected strain on services such as Adult Day Connection.

“This is the baby boom,” said Sonja Barnes, director of programming for Adult Day Connection at The Intersection. “That population is getting older. The need for adult day care in Columbia is only beginning to be addressed.”

No, that's not the baby boom. The folks in the cohort she's describing are on the other side of 70 now, and the oldest of the boomers are just turning 61. The post-WWII boom will indeed affect adult day care in the future, but as the driving force behind events in 2006, it looks like a bad choice by the copy desk.

While we're neatening up, watdh out for adverb overload:

the number of Columbians older than 65 rose fairly dramatically between 1990 and 2000

What makes this only "fairly" dramatic? Could we publish the scale we use for those decisions? Or could we just let the 24 percent speak for itself?

“I think it’s great,” she said. “Great for people my age.”

OK, not to be rude, but -- what is her age? She's the lede, she's the conclusion, she's attending adult day care. How old is she?


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