FRIDAY, AUGUST 25, 2017
Time for some back-to-school bungling: It's that time of year again! But first, a pair of factual claims:
According to the New York Times, 15 percent of our country's "college-age population" is black.
Also according to the Times, 22 percent of our country's "college-age population" is Hispanic.
We'll assume those statements are accurate. Now we'll ask two additional questions:
What percentage of the college-age population is white? Also, what percentage of the college-age population is Asian-American?
In a gigantic, sprawling front-page report which is amazingly short on the forest while long on the trees, the New York Times doesn't say!
(Why do we say this report is gigantic? In hard copy, it's the featured report at the top of today's front page. Inside the paper, it consumes the entire page A15.)
It's an amazing tradition! At this time of the year, the Times almost always presents some sweeping back-to-school report. By tradition, the reporting will almost always be bungled, in some sort of head-scratching way.
(In 2015, the bungling involved an elementary fact the Times didn't seem to know: most black kids live in the South! The ridiculousness of that year's bungling proceeded directly from there.)
We've just wasted a lot of time trying to complete the picture of the college-age population. (Trying and failing.) It didn't seem to occur to the Times that the questions we've asked are extremely basic, given the (very important) topic they've chosen to mangle this year.
The problems with this frustrating front-page report extend beyond the absence of those two basic data points. Putting the details aside until later, let's turn to the larger question which underlies this puzzling annual mess:
How can the New York Times be so reliably incompetent? Also, how can it be that New York Times readers, and the rest of the press corps, never quite seem to notice?
We'll likely cover today's report in our own back-to-school reporting. But good lord! Every year, the nation's most famous newspaper seems to present an informationally-bungled back-to-school report.
What can it mean that they do this each year? What does this practice say about them? What does it say about us?
Inquiring minds want to know: According to The Conversation (on this morning's page A3), this frustrating back-to-school report was "The Times's most emailed article on Thursday," when it appeared on line.
It deals with a very important topic. Overall, we'd say the work is amazingly bad, though in a familiar old way.