Friday, October 21, 2011

Motha, a Mindless Mother, and the Misnamed Median

A few bits of media weirdness and misinformation for a sunny October day, just above freezing here in the upper Midwest.

Cover of Martha Stewart Halloween magazine with Martha in ice-blond wig and false eyelashes made from half a huge moth on each eye
I don't know if this special edition of Martha Stewart Living is a dadaist prank or a sign of the impending apocalypse. Yes, that is Martha Stewart in heavy makeup and wig, plus the partial remnants of a dead member of the order Lepidoptera standing in as false eyelashes. (Okay, so it's probably not a real dead moth, but still!) This qualifies as a "flight of fancy" in Marthaland instead of signaling a psychotic break.

Star Tribune headline On night / baby last / seen, lots / of wine and Pioneer Press headline Mom drunk when baby disappeared
Dueling headlines from Tuesday's Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

I saw the Strib headline first and had no idea what it meant. It's partly the short line breaks, I think: On night / baby last / seen, lots / of wine. Baby last? And the dangling word "lots" brought to mind the real estate meaning for me. The deck, "Mother admits she may have blacked out," is what finally made me understand what the heck the headline writer meant. The PiPress wording is much clearer, although the use of "disappeared" gives it a kind of magical quality.

Pioneer Press AP story with highlighting, showing the wording: While the average income was X the mean -- the figure where half earn more and half earn less -- was X
But all is not well in PiPress copy editing land, either. This bit of errata from an AP story in today's paper -- which I assume was read and approved by editors at AP before it ever got to the PiPress copy desk -- completely undermines the point of the story. Average and mean are the same thing, people. The word you were looking for was median, the midpoint in a range of data such as incomes in this case. How can we expect the public to understand the use of statistics of journalists and copy editors don't?

1 comment:

Ms Sparrow said...

I have been thrown off by a variety of Strib headlines of late. I'm wondering if a summer intern is at the desk?