Saturday, July 11, 2009

Announcing AP Watch

The Associated Press is by far the dominant news service for newspapers and other journalism outfits across the country. However, its articles are frequently marred by sloppy errors, poor logic and blatant misinformation. This is a disservice to readers, who get inaccurate information, and to the newspapers, that pay good money for what are supposed to be accurate stories.

That's the reason for AP Watch, a project to monitor and correct major AP errors, especially those that negate the premise of the story. We're concentrating on business and science, but may delve into other fields.

AP Watch is nonideological; we welcome contributions from those of all political persuasions. The founders of this site are Tom Blumer of Bizzyblog and Bradley J. Fikes, a business reporter . The founders have our own personal political beliefs; conservative for Blumer and Libertarian for Fikes. (Disclaimer: Fikes' views are not necessarily representative of his employer, the North County Times).

But we're not focusing on media bias per se here. Plenty of sites do such monitoring. We are specifically tackling blatant errors by the Associated Press. To our knowledge, no one else is doing that.

We're looking for errors such as that in a recent AP article on the growth of green jobs, derived from a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The article repeated without any skepticism Pew's nonsensical claim that jobs in the overall economy grew by just 3.7 percent over the entire decade of 1998 to 2007. That would have been nearly stagnant growth during a decade encompassing two booms and one mild recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs total job growth during that period at 11.1 percent, a much more believable number.

The point of the flawed number is that it makes the growth in green jobs during that period, of 9.1 percent, look far better than growth in the overall economy. This is the premise of Pew's report. It uses a method designed to better track additions of jobs at the micro-level than conventional statistics. However, when the method is applied to the total economy, it yields a nonsensical answer. The source, says Pew, is the “National Establishment Time Series (NETS) Database and data from the Cleantech Group LLC.”

If the NETS number is true, then all the other state and federal job growth numbers are false. This would be a major discovery worth follow-up stories. And to be consistent, AP should use the NETS number for all future job stories and not the BLS number. Of course, AP hasn't done so. The NETS number wasn't intended to track overall job growth, and the Cleantech data is from a company focusing on the environmental industry.

When confronted with the error, Pew stonewalled. And as far as we know, the Associated Press has not acknowledged the error.

Read the whole sorry story at Bizzyblog.

We don't know why the AP team of Chris Kahn, Sandy Shore and Tali Arbel swallowed such a nonsensical result. But good reporters should be able to spot such obviously wrong numbers and not be fooled by them. And if the AP team didn't, then the AP editors should be able to do so. That is, if the AP has good editors.

It's no secret that the Associated Press is having trouble making ends meet, as is the case with most journalistic outfits. So some reductions may be inevitable. But if the AP is cutting quality and substituting quantity, lowering standards and trying to get by on media hype, then we are all poorly served.

AP is trying to jazz up its coverage with more analysis pieces that purport to cut through the clutter, and more opinionated political reporting. We suggest AP's time would be better spent making sure its stories are accurate. That would also please editors, who would prefer dependably accurate meat-and-potatoes coverage to flashy but untrustworthy glitz.

With public trust in the MSM notoriously low, the survival of journalism depends on rebuilding that trust. And the best way to start is by focusing on accuracy. Without trust, nothing else is possible. A reformed Associated Press could inspire more trust, and be a model for other news organizations. That is our main hope.

We invite comments and suggestions. For now, biz (at) is the best place to send suggestions.


  1. OK. I've been checking in. When can I expect some content? Will it be just "catch is as catch can" posting - when something crosses your path you'll address it, or, will you be doing some sort of (minimum) once a week round-up, or something like that?


  2. Hello Bill,

    I'll have something up by Thursday. Still getting my sea legs here. Thanks for stopping by!