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There’s ‘good enough’ reporting and there’s good reporting

June 17, 2010

A lot of Washington state news outlets coughed up an AP report about Washington state’s unemployment rate the other day; “Washington unemployment rate drops in May” was the gist of most of the headlines. The headlines are technically true, but the first line of the report points out that the job growth in question was due almost entirely to temporary Census jobs. Besides that, The Sun Break did a better job than everyone: “Washington’s unemployment rate ‘treading water.'”

Their lead:

There are likely over 100 headlines about Washington’s unemployment rate today that are using some variation of “drops” or “falls,” and it’s making my head hurt. That’s not just because the gains are almost entirely due to temporary jobs added by the 2010 Census (all but 200 of the 8,600 jobs added were governmental).

It’s because it strains the meaning of the word “drop” to use it in describing a 0.2 percent difference, especially with a measure that wasn’t designed to offer that kind of real-time accuracy (monthly results, so breathlessly reported initially, are often revised).

Between a full AP report (which manages to induce sleep while trying to convey good news) and a link out to another site’s well-thought-out (and well-presented) analysis of what the numbers actually mean, I’ll take the latter.

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