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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cincinnati Enquirer: Puts Wrong Number In Poverty Story Headline

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The morning metro daily's print and online versions have headlines reporting the Census Bureau says "27%" of Cincinnati's residents live in poverty. But the Census Bureau never said that. It said 27% of Cleveland's residents live in poverty.

Suspicious minds might be tempted to think the newspaper deliberately fashioned a spinmeister headline so as not to reveal that Cincinnati had the highest poverty rate in Ohio. Would they be correct? Or was it just sloppy journalism? Without a change, the 27% number is going to be the figure that many search engines will find as they mine through news coverage of the U.S. poverty data.

The true and correct Census number for Cincinnati is higher, and is pegged at 27.8%. If the headline writer wanted to eliminate the decimal point, the proper move would have been to round the number up to 28%. The simplest rule of rounding as it is generally followed outside the Enquirer's newsroom is that one goes up --or down -- from the halfway mark. In this case, it would have been up from .5, because Cincinnati was at 27.8%. The error means the page 1-A headline in the Enquirer's print edition made this incorrect declaration in bold type: "Census: Poverty rate rises to 27% in city." In fact, the poverty rate exceeded that number.

To compound the confusion, the Enquirer did have the correct data in a chart and story accompanying the headline. Yet if one read that publication alone, there was no way to know which figures are correct.

So, which American big cities had 27% of their residents in poverty? As mentioned earlier, Cleveland. Also Miami, at 26.9% -- a number that rounds up to 27%. And St. Louis, at 26.8% -- a number that rounds up to 27%.


  1. Bad enough that the city has such a shocking poverty rate. Adding insult to injury is that the Enquirer's only local columnist is Peter Bronson, hardly a voice for the poor.

  2. The Census people say the margin of error was 2.4 percent, meaning the headline could have said the poverty rate was anywhere from the mid to high 20s.

  3. Anon 12:07 pm --

    The headline said the poverty rate was 27%. The Census Bureau said it was 27.8%.

    The headline said: Census: Poverty rate rises to 27% in city.

    As written, the headline is not correct. They should correct it and thank those who pointed out the mistake. It would be classy and big, and would show they are human, which they are and, as we all know, anybody can make a mistake.

    The headline was not about the margin of error, it wasn't based on the margin or error and wasn't referring to the margin of error. Still, thanks for pointing that out.