Over the weekend, PaidContent.org’s Staci Kramer passed along a joke via Twitter she heard at the Online News Association awards:
How does a journalist count?
“One, two, Trend!”
I thought of that joke a few minutes ago when I saw the WSJ.com headline, “Recession Spells End for Many Family Businesses.”
Curious about the source of the statistics underlying the intuitively-sounding correct story, I skimmed a few paragraphs before learning that the writer didn’t want the lack of research to get int the way of her “journalist counting.”
“Hard data are hard to come by on the number of small family-controlled enterprises that have closed in this recession, but experts say the prolonged slump has hurt a significant number.
Wow: “Experts say” — so it must be true.
As I always point out in posts regarding the way in which journalists display a disdain for statistics in stories that depend on numbers, I am not questioning whether or not the “trend story” seems accurate, or even whether or not it is accurate. No doubt, lots of small businesses have closed during this recession, and many of them are family businesses — some several generations old.
But that’s not my point.
My point is that when you must depend on crutches like “Experts Say” and “A Significant Number,” you’re a part of a significant number of journalists who experts say are the punchline in a joke.