Monday, May 26, 2008

poorly-worded headlines

Writers rarely choose their headlines (although they may make a suggestion that is taken by an editor). Here's a poor example of a headline within the C-J in an article written by the Indy Star's John Strauss.

Here's the Indy Star headline: "Trees worth $5.7 million a year to Indy, study says"

Here's the C-J headline: "Study shows trees' economic impact--$5.7 million saved in Indianapolis"

OK, here's the article. See if you figure out what's wrong with these headlines.

As a push to plant a million trees across Indiana nears its halfway mark, a new study shows that trees provide an annual $5.7 million benefit in Indianapolis alone.

Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service evaluated more than 117,000 trees managed by Indy Parks and Recreation. They found that the trees:

-Intercept 318.9 million gallons of rainfall a year at an estimated savings of nearly $2 million, or about $17 per tree, in storm-water handling costs.

-Cut electricity use by more than 6,447 megawatt hours, worth $432,000, by the shading effect of trees in the summer, which helps keep homes cooler.

-Remove 1.5 pounds of air pollutants per tree, valued at $212,000.

-Increase property values and provide other benefits worth $2.9 million or, on average, $24 per tree.

OK, $2 million + $432K + 212K + 2.9M = $5.7M. So, the arithmetic is fine.

What's wrong with the analysis-- and thus, the headlines?

It's Econ 101. You have to look at benefits and costs (and thus, net benefit/cost) in order to make informed decisions.

A well-written study (and story) would include costs and benefits. A good newspaper headline would distinguish between these as well.

Clarke Kahlo, a community environmental activist associated with the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, said the study may help conservation efforts by showing the economic value of trees....

Clarke may be correct, but it will be on the basis of distorted info.

Greg McPherson, director of the Center for Urban Forest Research and one of the study's authors, said even more trees are needed.

"Indianapolis citizens receive substantial environmental and aesthetic benefits from these trees, but the urban forest is at a critical juncture," he said in a statement. "The city has many mature trees that need to be removed. In fact, tree mortality rates now outpace tree planting."

Urban forest? Is there an urban jungle joke in there somewhere?

Not surprisingly, it's members of two interest groups who wrote and promoted the faulty (albeit useful) "analysis".


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home