Friday, September 21, 2018

Bad Journalism, Bloomberg Style

Some days, you just have to wonder. What could be the motivation for an article in Bloomberg news that starts out like this?

U.S. Students Spend More Time Working Paid Jobs Than Going to Class

Facing mounting debt, U.S. college students spend double the time working paid jobs than in the library. 

The rest of the article goes on to explain how awful it is for students, what with all the work and borrowing. But the proof of this assertion is a survey by HSBC in which students were prompted with the question, "On average, how long do you spend doing the following each day?" Here are the answers:

Going to lectures/tutorials/seminars: 2.3 hours
Visiting the library: 1.5 hours
Studying at home: 2.8 hours

That's a total of 6.6 hours on school work.

Working (paid employment): 4.2 hours
Volunteering (unpaid): 0.9 hours

That's a total of 5.1 hours on work unrelated to school. So yes, based on these categories, 4.2 > 1.5 and 4.2 > 2.3, so the facts asserted in the headline and the statement that follows it are true. But 5.1 < 6.6, so what's the big deal?

But wait, there's more. The same survey reports the following responses for the rest of the day:

Texting/messaging/emailing: 2.3 hours
Watching streaming devices: 2.2 hours
On social media: 2.5 hours

So that's 7 hours on screens, more than both school work and paid work. (Also listed are 4 hours of socializing.) I guess if I were going to write a news article in Bloomberg and be objective about it, I would include that. But then how could I make the case that life is somehow unfair to students because, what, between school work and other work, they only get to spend 11 hours socializing or looking at screens?

When I blogged about the media earlier this month, noting that with the increase in quantity we have seen some bad examples of quality, this is the sort of media I had in mind. A survey has been cited selectively and incorrectly to push a point of view. Further, I first came across this in my local paper, which had no link to the survey. This is bad journalism. It is unprofessional. And it erodes the trust we'd like to have in those who bring us the news.


GrueBleen said...

Umm, let me see: 6.6 hours (student stuff) + 5.1 hours (employment stuff) + 11 hours (screens and 'socialising') = 22.7 hours per day. Which I guess leaves all of 1.3 hours per day for everything else, like: travelling, hygiene and sanitation, eating (unless that's all accounted for in 'socialising'). Where does 'sleeping' fit in ? Or is that all somehow fitted in during the weekend and public holidays ?

But then, it's all just "Fake news" nowadays, isn't it.

YoungUn said...

The texting, social media and watching streaming are most likely done while pursuing other activities.

The more "exclusive" activities are student stuff (6,6 hours) + employment stuff (5,1 hours) + socializing (4 hours) = 15,7 hours. It leaves 8,3 hours for hygiene, eating, etc. And that exclusivity is probably not complete: I see alot of student workers studying and texting during work hours in the office once they've completed their tasks for the day.

If that is the case, we can doubt the results of the survey, if it does not account for multi- tasking.

I Will Never Accept The Terms of Service said...

Yup. Per GrueBleen, it seems the study has invalid data to begin with.

Andrew Samwick said...

Agreed, all of which would strengthen the argument that there is no value to the article in Bloomberg.