Grumbling (again) about only getting half the story
October 9th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

long appreciated Ford Fessenden's forceful analytic journalism at the
NYTimes, but a piece he has in today's Week in Review section leaves us
yearning for more. 

In “Where Home Prices Rise Steeply, Bankruptcies Fall,”
Ford raises some interesting — and appropriately inconclusive
questions — about the relationship between real estate prices and the
number of bankruptcies.  And we're given a nicely colored map of
U.S. counties and their changes in bankruptcy rates, 2000 to
2005.  The quartile scale is huge: zero to 35 percent and greater
than 35 percent, both up and down.  The problem is there are no
hard numbers to put the bankruptcies in context related to county
population.  And one or two counties down in southeastern Arizona
have a greater than 35 percent decline in bankruptcies, but we know
they have very sparce populations. 

you might say, “there's simply no room to put all those numbers in the

Right, but they surely could be put online in a
variety of ways.  If there were three bankruptcies in 2005 and two
in 2005, that's pretty close to a 35 percent decline, but hardly
statistically significant.

I'm sure
this isn't Ford's fault; he has the data and is probably far more aware
of its analytic pitfalls than we are.  But editors — Editors! —
have to begin thinking of stories as having many fascets, and work to
deliver the richest amount of data as possible that is related to the
stories and their context.


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