More on the NYT's "Trend" Piece
I just read a fantastic piece in the Columbia Journalism Review Daily by Gal Beckerman that takes the NYT to task for yet again creating a "trend" (albeit one emailed around feverishly) based on a few anecdotes and very creative interpretation of statistics. Remember that piece about the Yale undergrads who were already planning to opt-out and be stay-at-home mommies, where it was discovered that the reporter basically talked to one woman and her three roommates, and then called this a "movement"? Here are some of the CJR's points (shocking similiar to what Val called me to complain about yesterday):
..There is nothing that will turn our faces red faster than a story that lazily slaps together a few anecdotes, buffered by a minor statistic, and then presents itself as important news. Especially when the "trend" masks a much more complex and dark reality.
The New York Times reported yesterday that, by a margin of one percent, more women are unmarried than married in America. The article, to no one's great surprise, hinting as it does at the problems of sex and love, was the number one most emailed today (or as Gawker, in its inimitable style, put it this afternoon, "Also, 91% Of Women Are Now E-Mailing Spinster Article To Their Single Friends.")
Leaving aside what struck us as strange methodology (like the fact that the survey counted anyone over the age of fifteen as a woman), there was something else disturbing about the piece. It had a tone of exuberance that spun the numbers as an unambiguously positive piece of progress for women. A quote from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute captured the mood of it. The shift away from marriage, Frey said, represents "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."
But America is not a monolith. As much as we would like to persist in thinking that we are a classless and race-blind society, the Times, of all papers -- having run groundbreaking series on both race and class -- should realize that a phenomenon that might bode well for middle-class white women might be absolutely disastrous for poor black women.
Apparently, though, we are the only ones to see it like this. Because apart from a tossed-off paragraph that reminds us that, buried within these statistics, seventy percent of African-American women are single, there is nothing to indicate how the epidemic of single parentage in the black community contributes to this statistic. We imagine -- though aren't told -- that many of these women are raising children alone and being dragged deeper into poverty because of their unmarried status.
The NYT is possibly the most-marriage obsessed publication in the U.S. Stay tuned for a list of articles in the past year, and their mixed messages.