Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's In The Paper, It Must Be True!

Here's an example of some really sloppy thinking and writing that I truly deplore in newspapers:
What many locals long suspected is now official. Memphis is one of the least-walkable cities in the nation, according to walkscore.com.

Memphis ranked 35th out of 40 big cities on its America's Most Walkable Neighborhoods list released earlier this month. Unswayed by Marc Cohn's anthem "Walking in Memphis," the Web site found that 71 percent of Bluff City residents live in "car-dependent neighborhoods."
Some website with a press release said it, it must be "official." Gah.

Newspapers (and television) are forever taking whatever press release is sent out and shoving it at readers (and viewers) as though what's contained within it is true, is good science, and is unblemished by ulterior motive.

But almost immediately, if we bother to read past that opening headline and graf, we learn that the "results" are skewed by the website's owners' biases and their methodology is completely hopeless:
"We did not visit the cities as part of the ranking," said Walk Score executive Matt Lerner.

The findings were based on maps of how close residents lived to parks, stores and jobs. Street designs where compact grids were favored over winding roads. And the reported availability of public transportation, bike lanes, sidewalks and sophisticated crosswalks....

Lerner said one reason the South didn't fare well is because our cities are characterized by sprawl.

Lerner and friends Mike Mathieu and Jesse Kocher started the Seattle-based company last year to promote mixed-use communities.

Walk Score celebrated Downtown, Midtown and East Memphis as the most pedestrian-friendly local neighborhoods, because of residents' proximity to a plethora of businesses.
So, a more correct intro would be something like, "Advocacy group thinks we're a badly designed and laid-out city."

But that's not as zippy as "It's official! We suck!" Is it?

And what in the hell does a pop song have to do with reaching conclusions about a city's walkability? It's not just a non sequitur but a meaningless diversion to boot.

In the newer, smaller CA, where Editor-in-Sleep Chris Peck tells us the competition for space is tighter and the editing of stories is more important than ever, is this an example of how the same old-same old will continue to be ladled out?

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