Avoid oversimplification when reporting scary data

“U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio” says the headline in the Sunday New York Times.  The article goes on to say that job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000.

Fair enough, even though to this job seeker the ratio seems far worse.  And that’s the point.  The reporter got a bit distracted in his efforts to put a face on this story.  As I read through the story, I couldn’t find the answer to the question that matters most to me:  How bad is the ratio at my level?  The reporter needed to segment the data by income or industry, and he didn’t.

We didn’t need this story to tell us that businesses are still nervous.  That businesses can increase ouput by increasing the workload on existing employees.  That the economy is powered by consumers and that savings is up.

Elsewhere in the Sunday Times, in The Boss interview with Skype President Josh Silverman, who says “In Washington, no matter how complex the issue, you have to boil it down to one page.  That’s an invaluable skill for a leader.”

In my humble opinion, the Job Seeker story should have tried to break this data down in a chart or copy to let readers know whether their particular demographic (i.e., salary level or industry) has a ratio that’s worse than the country as a whole or better. 

 Simplicity isn’t always about getting to the most general number or the biggest number; it’s about getting to the heart of the concern of your audience and not telling them something they already know.


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